2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Sky Sox see perfect example of Astros’ rebuild

Published: July 2, 2014, 11:06 pm, by Brent Briggeman

Much been made of the Houston Astros organizational makeover, and a perfect example of it took the mound in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

Mike Foltynewicz is impressive. He’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and slings his fastball at 99 mph (he recorded more pitches of 100 mph last year than anyone in the minor leagues). I knew all this about Foltynewicz coming in. What I didn’t anticipate was a breaking ball he tossed in the upper 70s and a mid 80s change-up.

He’s far from unhittable, as the Sky Sox had eight hits against him in six innings. But you can see how every at-bat against him is a challenge. Over time, that will favor him more often that not – particularly as he continues to develop as a pitcher.

So, how did Houston get him? By realizing what they weren’t.

Jose Valverde had saved 69 games for Houston in from 2008 and 2009 when his contract expired. The Astros made a qualifying offer when he reached free agency, but didn’t bother trying to compete in the bidding with the Detroit Tigers, who paid Valverde more than $22 million to close games over the next three years.

The move made sense for Detroit, which used Valverde in postseason series in 2011 and 2012. He saved 49 games in 2011 and 35 more in 2012, not counting four more in the playoffs.

Houston understood that closers are a luxury that rebuilding teams need not possess. What use is protecting a lead if you rarely have one?

In losing Valverde, they gained the 19th pick in the 2010 draft as compensation. They used that pick on Foltynewicz.

As Foltynewicz is putting up a solid Triple-A season and preparing to become a fixture in Houston’s rotation, Valverde is rapidly deteriorating. His ERA has climbed for four straight years and he currently has a 5.66 ERA in 21 games for the Mets. The 36-year-old will not be playing much longer.

It was interesting to see such a concrete example of how this franchise turnaround is taking place, and to see it in person.

I’m not saying the Rockies need to follow this example, either, as their situation has consistently been so different.

While Houston clearly had one generation face at the same time – Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman at the middle of it – setting the stage for an obvious rebuild, the Rockies have consistently refreshed their roster with a trickling stream of young talent. Troy Tulowitzki was followed closely by Carlos Gonzalez, who was followed closely by Jhoulys Chacin and Wilin Rosario, who were followed closely by Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson. The temptation to fill in any gaps with free agents like Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Drew Stubbs is perfectly understandable and it saves fans from total throwaway years like those experienced by Houston.

So, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But maybe if that day comes when Gonzalez and others are traded or depart for more money elsewhere, perhaps the reaction should not be one of panic. Sometimes the calm comes after the storm.