The headline on this piece is supposed to grab attention. But it is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Yes, George Steinbrenner spent money on top of money to bring in free agents and other high priced talent for the Yankees. Jim Crane is spending as little as possible and will be, to many, the laughing stock owner of Major League Baseball in 2013.
Steinbrenner’s Yankees were either champions or very close to it during the bulk of his reign. No one knows yet what the Crane legacy will include. But the method used by both to run their clubs is not that much different…just the method of allocating funds.
They both used the theory that competition makes for better clubs. In George’s case if he needed a pitcher he signed three or four. Most, if not all, were experienced free agents or high priced trade acquisitions. He would find the hurler he needed from that number and either trade away the others, relegate them to different roles, or maybe just “eat” the contract. For George, money was rarely an object. It was also not an object to put that much faith in his farm system. If he needed a third baseman he signed A-Rod. If he needed an outfielder he signed three of them. As it turned out during the latter years of George’s leadership the Yankees started to put more attention to their farm and in recent years have been much better in helping to supply the club. But in the Steinbrenner hey day that was not a priority-even if Derek Jeter was a prize product.
In Houston, unlike Steinbrenner’s New York, money is very much an object so the Crane club is trying use that same competition theory with inexperienced players now. They operate in a market that has more limited resources than New York. Instead of signing three free agents to find one starting pitcher the Astros are signing (or acquiring) three minor leaguers. They are playing the odds that the more players of some recognized potential or proven minor league talent they have the more likely some of them will break through as major league stars. They are trading away experienced, but marginal major leaguers for more minor league prospects. The players they have dealt will have value to their new teams who may be contenders even if they are not stars. Someday the Astros will need players like that. Just not yet.
The difference, of course, was that Steinbrenner acquired players who had already proven to be outstanding major league players. He was choosing from among them. The Astros are choosing from among a group of players that are living off the word “potential.”
As has been often quoted the word “potential” means you haven’t done it yet. Therein is the Astros future prospect. How many or will any of the prospects who have potential develop into anything but just marginal major leaguers? A few must develop into All-Stars for the club to ever have hope of returning to being a winner.
For the Astro promise to open the purse-strings when they are ready to win is nice to hear. But can the club actually get to that point before it is too late?
The support aspects of Astros baseball is in a rough place. Their new television network–in large part due to the failures of the team on the field the last few seasons and low expectations this year–is not likely going to be available in anywhere near as many homes as their old one. Their radio broadcasts will apparently be bereft of familiar voices and are moving to a much less powerful station with coverage problems. What is worse is that the Texas Rangers who were never a threat to Astro popularity in most of Texas for the first 30 years of their 40 year life are gaining strong footholds in Austin and San Antonio–two huge markets the Astros need. The longer the Rangers are good and the Astros are not the problem for Houston is exacerbated.
Steinbrenner never had to worry about those things. The Yankees never lost their spot as the top dog in New York even when the Mets had some pennant runs and even World Championships. Any excessive “Met-love” would be reduced as soon as he made the Yankees a factor again.
Comparing the Yankees under George Steinbrenner to the Astros under Jim Crane may be a reach if we only let the dollar signs dominate. But they both had the plan to build. Steinbrenner stripped the under achieving club that wore Yankee pinstripes unsuccessfully from 1965 until he took over in the 1970s. Crane is stripping the similarly under achieving Astros of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
We know that George succeeded using his method of throwing money at multiple players. We do not know if Jim Crane can succeed using his of acquiring mass quantities of potential talent. Baseball as an industry and would be better off if Jim Crane’s model worked. The big question is: Will it?