Into the crevasse

After last night’s Athletics/Astros trade which saw Oakland acquire Jed Lowrie for a handful of prospects, Ken Rosenthal had some harsh words for the Houston ballclub:

And as the Astros continue their teardown, it’s certainly fair to ask how low can they go, how many games can they lose before they become an embarrassment to Major League Baseball.

I frequently criticize franchises that lack direction, that get caught between trying to rebuild and trying to remain competitive. The Astros certainly aren’t guilty of such wavering. But not even the team they traded with on Monday, the low-revenue Oakland Athletics, ever resorted to this blatant a scorched-earth policy.

How will Astros survive AL West?

Rosenthal isn’t wrong, per se. Since taking over in December 2011, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has traded away Carlos Lee, JA Happ, Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Johnson, Wilton Lopez and now Jed Lowrie. As a Padres fan we can recognize this for what it is: a fire sale. But thanks in large part to this fire sale, the Astros now have the fourth best minor league system in baseball according to Keith Law. And they’re placed right in front of another team that’s shown no fear in starting over, the Chicago Cubs.

Make that Jed Hoyer’s Chicago Cubs.

Jed can take at least partial credit for two of the top six farm systems, as your/my/our San Diego Padres landed right behind Jed’s Cubs at number six. In fact four of the six Padres who made Keith Law’s list of the top 100 prospects were brought to the Padres by Jed and company (Hedges, Kelly, Gyorko, Ross). While Jed has continued building towards the future in Chicago, his successor has taken a different approach in San Diego.

Last year at the trade deadline, while Luhnow and Hoyer were selling off everything that wasn’t bolted down, the Padres’ own Josh Byrnes chose to hang onto his big chips: Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin and Huston Street. He then went a step further toward committing to trying to win now signing Quentin and Street to contract extensions.

Byrnes would later tell the New York Times “Our mind-set was more about keeping this group together than prospect hoarding.” And to Byrnes’ credit, he has a solid group of players on his team. With Alonso, Grandal, Maybin and Gyorko, the Padres are loaded with breakout candidates and it’s easy to see why they would open the window of opportunity now. But, as the 2012 season showed us, shit happens. Players hurt their elbows or get busted for taking performance enhancing drugs or they don’t tap their foot correctly before they swing. With the rebuilding process over, and this offseason has really suggested that it is, there’s not much more for the Padres and the fans to do but to keep the faith.

I don’t need to tell you about keeping the faith (but I will anyway to pad my word count). It’s been the rallying cry for the Padres for years, from the run in 98 to the current #KTF edition. The idea is that you try to believe that the  Padres won’t let you down. Even if it’s the bottom of the ninth and they’re behind a by a couple runs, keep the faith. Or when the team isn’t as physically gifted as the Dodgers or the Giants, keep the faith. When has the team let us down before?

In Houston, “keep the faith” means something else entirely. The Astros lost 106 games in 2011, 107 in 2012 and they could very easily lose 108 in 2013. But Astros fans should keep the faith, specifically in Jeff Luhnow. He understands that at some point, you need to cut the rope and climb down into the darkness if you ever want to come back up.

Otherwise you’re stuck battling the Diamondbacks for third place.

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