The Houston Astros are in the World Series, the culmination of a substantive rebuild that was the process of years of hard work, and also a bit of suffering. Jeff Luhnow had a clear plan of action when he took over as the General Manager, and if the Astros beat the Dodgers and are crowned champs, it will have all paid off.
Houston has left a blueprint for other teams to follow. If the Detroit Tigers are smart, they will realize the best way forward is to, first, go backward.
In case you weren’t paying attention to Houston’s rebuild, after years stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity, Luhnow decided to tear it all down. They traded away their veterans, kept their payroll incredibly low, and lost. A lot.
In 2011, they went 56-106. In 2012, they dropped to 55-107. Then, in 2013 they hit the nadir with a 51-111 record. Those were rough years for the Astros and their fans. It sucked. However, Luhnow realized that winning 65 games only sucks a little less. By being so awful, the Astros racked up great draft picks. They picked first overall for three years in a row. Granted, only one of those picks really paid off, but that pick was Carlo Correa, who has emerged as one of the best players in the league. Plus, since Brady Aiken ended up not being signed due to an arm injury, in 2015 the Astros got the second overall pick, which they spent on Alex Bregman. They also turned those veterans into prospects. They took gambles on players because they had nothing to lose.
It paid off. The Astros were garbage in 2013, but in 2015 they made the playoffs. Now, in 2017, they are in the World Series. This was basically the process without all the press coverage and memes. In baseball, it’s even easier to do, since they don’t have a draft lottery. If you have the worst record, you get the top pick. Granted, one baseball prospect can’t change a team’s fortune as much as one basketball player can, but you lose for a few years, you add a few blue chips, and you can turn a team around. It sure as hell beats the road of mediocrity.
The Tigers spent a lot of desperate years chasing a title for now-deceased owner Mike Illitch. They spent a ton of cash on their veterans. They traded for established players. They also inexplicably hired a manager with no experience in Brad Ausmus, but that’s mostly because the team had been mismanaged. Hopefully that mismanagement is over, because the Tigers need to burn things to the ground.
To be fair, it seems new GM Al Avila has kind of embraced a rebuild. Last season, they gave up and started to trade players like J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and Justin Verlander. They managed to pick up a few decent prospects in the process. The Tigers finished with a 64-98 record and will have the first overall pick in 2018. It’s good, but it’s not enough. Detroit just hired Ron Gardenhire as their manager, a decision that doesn’t point to a teardown. It also doesn’t point to an analytic approach, but that’s a whole different problem.
The Detroit Tigers today named Ron Gardenhire as the 38th manager in franchise history, agreeing to terms on a three-year contract. pic.twitter.com/N5tVKTFgil
— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) October 20, 2017
Detroit needs to trade Miguel Cabrera, if anybody is dumb enough to take on that contract. Ian Kinsler should be gone. Even Jose Iglesias should be on the trade block. This is a team without a future franchise cornerstone. Hell, this isn’t even a team with a good farm system yet.
The Tigers could be the Astros, sucking for a few years and then finding yourself with a young, talented team that could win for years. Or they could be the Philadelphia Phillies, not realizing your window is closed before it’s too late and floundering season after season. Detroit has a choice. Hopefully they make the smart one.