No one saw what was to come of that October night in 2005. The Chicago White Sox had just swept the Houston Astros in four games to win the World Series, and the celebration that occurred in Minute Maid Park was one that left a sour taste in Astros’ fans mouths. Little did they know that it was a precursor to the next few years of Astros baseball.
But with a long rebuild finally in the rear-view mirror, fans have a winning team again. That night in 2005 seems a lot longer ago that 12 years, and that is in large part thanks to the success the franchise is experiencing. But how did a team that hadn’t finished better than 11 games back of first place average 85 wins in the past two seasons and have one of the best records in the majors this season? It took some savvy moves, and the ability to admit that change was needed.
Cultivating the Farm
Even though the Astros lost the World Series in 2005, the core of the roster was held onto long after their glory days. With aging stars like Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and other core components still on the roster, management made a change for the better that came to a head in 2010.
Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were both shipped off to contending teams, but their hauls didn’t bring back any impact players for the Astros. Even so, their trades were still a key component in the rebuild process.
With the team being stripped to the bare bones, the rebuild was officially underway in 2011, as Houston lost 106 games.
But that season saw the first glimpses of the dynamic and diminutive second baseman, Jose Altuve. They also drafted center fielder George Springer in the first round of the MLB Draft that year. The duo of Springer and Altuve have become the core of the Astros, and have set the franchise up for a succesful future.
Young studs like Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman were also acquired via the draft, and have helped to lift the club back into contention.
They also found a Cy Young winner in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB Draft. After struggling in 2012 and 2013, Dallas Keuchel would go on to win the 2015 AL Cy Young award. But it wasn’t just the farm system that helped lift the Astros to relevancy
Bargain Deals and Smart Investments
The Astros were just as good at finding talent on the free agent market and waiver wire as they were in the MLB Draft. Right hander Collin McHugh was one of the worst starters in the league in 2012 and 2013, putting up a combined 8.94 ERA in that time.
But when he came to the Astros in 2014, he became a whole new pitcher. His 3.71 ERA in an Astros uniform is a stark contrast to his younger years, and he has developed into one of the Astros’ better starting pitchers.
But it hasn’t been just the starting rotation that has benefited from free agency. Will Harris came into Astros spring training in 2015 just trying to make the roster. Little did anyone know that he would finish the season with a 1.90 ERA out of the pen. His contributions were also joined by another relief pitcher in 2015.
Prized free agent reliever Pat Neshek made the move from St. Louis to Houston in 2015 and immediately made an impact. With a 3.36 ERA in his two seasons in Houston, Nesheck became a valuable member of a much improved bullpen.
Joined by fellow free agent additions Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, the Astros have had excellent success in the free agent market. By not overspending on free agents and being able to exploit the bargain bin, the Astros have put together a consistent winner in Houston.
Putting it all together
The Astros have had an interesting approach to rebuilding the team. By tearing the team down to its roots, they lost in the present to win in the future. And the future has finally arrived with a 31-16 record in the AL West and a young core to build around.
The front office has proven to be more than adequate at picking up well-priced free agents and finding contributors on the waiver wire. With the ability to put solid contributors around an excellent young core, the Astros are primed to fully wipe away the taste of the 2005 World Series and replace it with a savory World Series title.
Featured image by Troy Taormina, USA Today.
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