“Next year with a lot of those salaries gone, we’ll have some room to fill in some players when we see what we ended up with,” Crane said. “You’ll see some more players coming up at the end of the year, and we will continue to see who can play at the big league level.”
Luhnow said he knows it’s difficult for fans to get excited about the team as it stands now, but he believes it was the only way for Houston to be successful later.
“Trading our veteran players was the most effective way to (gain talent),” Luhnow said. “While short-term it’s certainly a loss in terms of what they were able to do on the field, I think in the medium- and long-term it’s going to be a real benefit for us. So that was the objective going into it and with every trade, we had that in mind.”
Houston’s struggles this season, which include the league’s worst road mark along with the worst overall record, have been hard on everyone in the organization, perhaps none more manager Brad Mills.
“When we first got here it was kind of a slow transition, now all of the sudden with the new regime changes and things we decided: `Let’s do the whole thing now,’” said Mills, who is in his third season in Houston. “It definitely puts things in a situation where wins are tougher because you’re dealing with a lot of inexperienced individuals.”
In managing the youngest team in the National League, Mills has struggled to help his team find consistency. He has tried to teach the players that doing all the little things right will eventually add up to more wins. He has found he doesn’t have to say anything different as the losses piled up.
“They understand where we’re going and what we’re getting to and it’s easy to see and they want to put themselves in a position to be aboard when we move forward,” Mills said. “And I think that’s a big, motivating factor in itself. To be with the ballclub when it moves forward.”
Indeed, a number of players on the roster are likely to be part of Houston’s future as the Astros move to the AL West next season. A key piece is second baseman Jose Altuve, who was named to his first All-Star team this season. The diminutive 22-year-old entered Monday hitting .299 with 128 hits, 30 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.
Brett Wallace is another player the Astros believe will help turn things around. He has alternated between Triple-A and Houston this season, but looks to be up for good now and is hitting .307.
Houston also has seen improvement from young starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Jordan Lyles and Lucas Harrell.
Luhnow’s hope is that fans will learn about the up-and-coming players and enjoy watching them develop as major leaguers.
“The next generation of stars are in our minor league system and they’re starting to get here to the big leagues, guys like Altuve,” Luhnow said. “And those are the guys that we’re going to build around and hopefully increase the connection between the fans and those players, so that when we are back in a position to compete for titles, that they feel they know those players and have an affiliation with them.”
The Astros nabbed Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, whom they believe can become the face of the franchise, with the top pick in the draft and right-hander Lance McCullers with a first-round compensation pick. They’ll almost certainly have the No. 1 pick again as they head for their second-straight 100-loss season after finishing a franchise-worst 56-106 last year.
Houston hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. Crane, a former athlete turned shipping magnate, hopes things turn around soon.
“We’re certainly optimistic that speed can come into the program,” he said. “When you look at Oakland, they weren’t supposed to be able to compete for a few years, and they are running after a wild card, with a similar situation. … The good thing about our situation is we’ll have a lot more money than they will at the end of the day, so we should be able to build.”