A day after the season ended, members of the Houston Astros organization tried to take a day off from baseball and enjoy the Astros Foundation’s annual golf tournament. But nobody could deny being disappointed with the way the season ended the day before as they reflected on the year that was and moving forward.
The Astros finished with a franchise-record 15-game losing streak to bring their number of losses on the year to 111, another franchise record.
"The team hit rock bottom yesterday,” team owner Jim Crane said before the golf tournament. “Nowhere to go but up from here. Bo [Porter] and Jeff [Luhnow] have assured me of that. We will spend some money on the team and we'll improve the record.”
“It's definitely a disappointment to lose as many games as we did at the big league level, but overall I think we had a very successful year as an organization,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We pushed our goals forward and we're in a much better position today than we were 12 months ago or 24 months ago to take advantage of the future, and we plan to show that next year.
“We have to pay attention to how we construct the roster both to protect our guys as well as to add in critical areas that will help us win games next year, and that’s probably going to be our priority for the whole offseason.”
This is one critical area everyone admits the Astros need to improve.
“We lost a lot of close games with a depleted bullpen,” Crane said.
“I think we all know had we kept a couple of back-end-of-the-bullpen guys, we probably would have won a few more games,” said Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan, who is also the son of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. “When you bring up guys that have to learn on the job, you're going to have failures and they're going to have to learn from it.”
But the Astros' brass were pleased with the development of their young starting pitchers and are still committed to the rebuilding plan put in place when Crane took ownership of the team.
"We accomplished what we set out to do when we bought the team two years ago," Crane said. "We told people we were going to build the farm system, which was ranked 30th when we bought the team. I think you'll see that come in ranked very high this year, and we've got it really stocked. We've spent a lot of money on signing the Draft picks.
"We signed almost all of our Draft picks last year and this year we do have some depth in the system and some big-time Draft picks in there that will come up in waves throughout the next few years. This year we really established some guys that can play in the big leagues and we've got a nucleus, and now we'll start adding to that as the offseason comes on and start spending a little money.
"We're not happy with the record, but we're happy with the progress of the ballclub."
The Astros had the lowest payroll in the majors last season, starting with about $21 million on Opening Day and dropping to around $14 million after the trade deadline.
"Going into next year, if we spend a little money this offseason and can bring in a couple of key pieces, and if we let the Matt Dominguezes, Jonathan Villars and Robbie Grossmans of the world come in with another year of experience, I think we could see a really nice increase in wins next year,” Ryan said.
The Astros minor league system had the top combined winning percentage in 2012 and the second-best in 2013 when the Astros became the first organization since the Pirates in 2003 to qualify six domestic Minor League affiliates for the postseason. That is quite a turnaround after finishing dead last in 2010 and 2011.
“We’re not too far off, but we still got a ways to go,” said Astros legend Craig Biggio, who is a special assistant to Luhnow. “You feel for them and you feel for the fans, but this is kind of the direction that we had to go in, and the depth that we had in our minor league system is tremendously a lot better, but we just got to be a little bit patient and stay true to the course.”
Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who's also a special assistant to Luhnow, said the Astros season was kind of what he expected, and he had some advice for players in the organization.
"I guess the best thing you can say going into the offseason, there's plenty of opportunity,” he said. “If you are in the Minor Leagues with the Houston Astros, you have a great opportunity, and I suggest that you get after it starting in about 30 days and get yourself ready for Spring Training. You have an opportunity to secure a job and make a little money for yourself."