Astros Sunday Roundup: Carlos Beltran, Jim Crane And A Bowl Of Petunias

HOUSTON - MAY 14: A fan basks in the sunlight at Minute Maid Park on May 14, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

What will change if and when Jim Crane takes over control of the Houston Astros?

Curiously enough the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was, "Oh, no not again."

Reflecting on the latest gut-wrenching loss by the Astros on Friday night, the refrain from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy seemed especially pithy. You have heard of the expression 'the will to win', well the Astros seem to have that in reverse, the 'will to lose'. 

Just when everything is going gravy, you still have a sneaking suspicion that it will blow up in their faces and night after night they invent new ways to implode, ways which usually involve the bullpen. 

Perhaps driven into a rage by another unspeakable pitching collapse, part Bud Norris, part Jeff Fulchinosome bloke produced the most entertaining play of the night by springing onto the field in the 6-4 loss to the Mets, up Tal's Hill, over the fence, and onto the grass behind the center field wall and then onto freedom, to the sound of rapturous applause from fans who had not vacated their seats when their team blew a late 4-0 lead.  

Impressive work for a guy who must have been dusted to the eyeballs on $9 beers. He was eventually caught outside the stadium according to ESPN's Adam Rubin

Like King Theoden putting on his armor as 10,000 Uruk-hai descend on Helm's Deep, so must Drayton McLane look out from his Union Street office at moments like this and ask himself the same semi-rhetorical question: "How did it come to this?" while a nervous-looking Ed Wade shuffles papers in the background. 

As I posited when the Rockies agreed a 7-year $80m deal with the Colorado Rockies earlier this year, how different things would have gone over the last six and a bit years if Carlos Beltran had chosen to stay in Houston. 

If anything is so tear-inducing it is the WAR difference between Beltran during his seven year contract ($117m) and Carlos Lee since he signed his six-year $100m deal. Beltran has amassed a solid 30.2 bWAR (27.2 fWAR) since 2005, while Lee has a 3.2 bWAR (fWAR 9.3) over four-plus seasons. Sniffle. 

One of the Chronicle's fan-bloggers, Paul Sherrill, talked about McLane's biggest mistake, and argues it was the hiring of Tim Purpura, but the entire Beltran saga set the stage for two-and-a-half years of blunders, some Purpura's fault, but a few of the moves reek of McLane himself and Tal Smith.

It would be easy to criticize Purpura for letting Jeff Kent go, but the whole point of letting him go was to free up second base for Craig Biggio, who was blatantly not up to manning the outfield. 

The Beltran saga is less easy to dissect in a sentence. Confusing and contradictory reports have emerged since, and the negotiations could probably fill a whole book. This is no place to go over who screwed up on the missed opportunity.

But as much as he glosses over his turbulent stay in New York, which might come to an end within two months, I still feel as if Beltran would have been better suited to staying in Houston. 

The Star-Ledger has this article on Beltran's move from Kansas City to Houston, and Joe Posnanski had this to say on Friday about comparisons between the Mets outfielder and Derek Jeter.

For me, the inability to sign Beltran sent the Astros down a path that has seen blunders a-plenty. The decision to sign Lee at all costs was precipitated by the inability to sign Beltran two years before. They have Beltran and perhaps they flip Brad Lidge for Cliff Lee instead of Michael Bourn. Ever since they failed to sign him they have been playing catch-up and it led to a rash of bad decisions, like signing Preston Wilson in 2006, or trading for Miguel Tejada in 2008.

Even Luke Scott, who the Astros traded away in the Tejada deal has been more productive than Lee since 2007. 

These were moves born out of desperation. 

Still, I will feel a bit sorry when Boffo is shown the door and a new owner brings in his own team. What the Astros needed in 2007 was a master magician. What they got was a second hand car dealer. 

What was McLane's biggest mistake you ask? Near-sighted as he was, he mortgaged the franchise's future to give the Astros a ten year long window to win. By cutting down amateur investment, he freed up cash for Gerry Hunsicker to spend in the early 2000s, something that is now beginning to be felt, as the minor league farm system lacks a stock of premium talent. 

If Jim Crane does indeed purchase the Astros it will change very little in the way of the franchise's direction, unless he decides to go on a crazy free-agent spending spree in the offseason, which would make absolutely no sense. 

There are problems. Not having enough premium talent in the pipeline is a problem. Having a 25-man roster full of dross is a problem. Declining attendance is also a problem. 

But it does mean that they can put in a truly long-term plan and get the proper people to implement it, distributing resources that will enable the Astros to win now and win later, something McLane was unable to achieve. 

When the new dawn eventually breaks on the franchise, don't expect a quick rocket in the temperature. New ownership will not cure the Astros' ills overnight. 

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