Astros continue to deflect outside criticism

Astros continue to deflect outside criticism
March 31, 2013, 9:00 am
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The Astros don’t live in a bubble, although sometimes they’d probably like to.

The Astros live in the real world with the rest of us. A world of TVs, radios and newspapers. A world of online banter and water cooler talk, in which everyone is an expert.

And all the experts are saying the same thing.

It’s just that the Astros don’t care.

Sure, they’re aware that they’re being picked to be the worst team in baseball for the third straight season. One longtime and well-respected baseball writer even challenged the integrity of the team’s long-term plan as a whole.

Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he’s right. Maybe they’re all wrong. Maybe they’re all right. But on Sunday night, when the Astros kick off their season against the Rangers, none of that will really matter.

The Astros are still a baseball team. They’re still trying to win baseball games. There’s some beauty of simplicity there.

“I think it’s something we preached from Day 1,” new manager Bo Porter said. “The first day I talked to the team, I wrote it on the white board in big, bold letters: ‘IGNORE THE NOISE’ because when you start to listen to the outside sources and all that, it can weigh on you, it can cause your mind to think negatively.

“Like I told the team, I’ve never met a person who said, ‘ya know what? I think I’m gonna lose’ and then ended up winning the game. That’s not our mindset. Our mindset is that baseball games are won and lost on the field.”

The Astros make their switch to the American League West this season, which will make them face teams like the Rangers and Angels with more frequency. They don’t have an easy schedule. They don’t have a very experienced or polished team. But that hasn’t made it any harder for the new manager to set the right mindset for his players – or so he says.

“That’s not tough on me at all because when I look in the mirror, I see a winner,” Porter said.

It seems like the Astros are channeling the harsh criticism and low expectations around the team into fuel. While the rest of the world (Houston included) waits for the next generations of Astros to finally make their way from the farm system, the players who will wear the new bright orange uniforms want to be better than last.

“I think we’re all on the same page here,” new outfielder Chris Carter said. “We all want to win here, instead of it being a team that’s just like rebuilding. We all want to be better than everybody thinks.”

And they might end up being better than everybody thinks. But then again, the bar has been set pretty low.

The bulk of the criticism surrounding the Astros isn’t just about this team; it’s about the franchise’s plan to eventually build a winner. The Astros’ payroll will be miniscule in 2013. Their highest paid player will be Bud Norris, who will make $3 million. That’s less than the league average.

The payroll as a whole will be around $25 million – the lowest in baseball. Alex Rodriguez will make more than the entire Astros’ team.
 
“You’re gonna get the criticism,” owner Jim Crane said. “We told people what we’re gonna do and we’re going to stick to the plan. Everybody’s welcome to their opinions and we’re going to get a lot of opinions. Hopefully we’ll prove the naysayers wrong and we’ll play a lot more competitive this year.

“But you’re gonna see a good foundation here and we’ll draft first again next year and we’re going to stick with the plan.”

See, Crane’s not even hiding it. The Astros aren’t going to be very good this season and most fans understand that. Furthermore, they’ve put their faith in the plan the management has set forth.

Even while the criticism keeps coming.

“We don’t pay attention to that,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We’re focused on our goal and that’s to get this organization, this team to the point where we can consistently compete for championships. And we’re a lot closer to that goal today than we were a year ago.”