Is Justin Verlander headed to the Hall of Fame? Will Jose Altuve break Pete Rose’s record? And will the Houston Astros get back to the World Series?
These were the burning questions on the minds of a select group of guests at a recent panel discussion featuring Astros vice president of business operations Reid Ryan. The son of Texas legend Nolan Ryan (Reid was actually once a young batboy for the Astros when his father played in the Astrodome), Reid Ryan is one of Major League Baseball’s youngest executives. He is widely credited for spearheading one of the best fan experiences in baseball.
As the founder and CEO of both the Corpus Christi Hooks and the Round Rock Express minor league franchises, Ryan was lauded for running two of the top franchises in minor league attendance, stadium satisfaction and franchise value. Now celebrating his fifth year as Astros president, Ryan was frank about the team’s never settle attitude as he chatted with ESPN 97.5 host John Granato in a talk at the Houston Country Club that was sponsored by Park Towers and TPMC Realty Corporation, and Gow Media.
“We know we’re not a perfect team — we weren’t a perfect team last year,” Ryan told the audience. “We could’ve easily lost to the Red Sox, that was a heck of a series. We could’ve easily lost to the Dodgers. But we found a way to win.”
As a regular presence at team events, Ryan says fan excitement is at a fever pitch after a World Series win. “With this young team, everybody sees that we’re going to be together for at least a couple more years. They see that we’ve locked Altuve up and we’ve made some moves. We feel like we’re in a great spot. But you’re not gonna see us stand still,” he promised.
Ryan offered a rare glimpse into the off-the-diamond challenges facing the team, such as how the Astros compete with the big markets like Los Angeles and New York. Breaking down the financial elements of the major leagues, Ryan cited “three pots” of money available to teams, the first being national money that all MLB teams split, such as jersey sales, the MLB app, XM radio and other packages. “All that money is shared,” Ryan explained. He added that individual teams keep what they create at the respective ballparks, and finally, they generate revenue via local media rights.
The Astros president pointed out a wide chasm in resources: The Astros have a budget of $30 million less than their peers in the American West division and more than $100 million less than “the big boys” in baseball.
“So we have to be really good at creating a great experience at the ballpark,” he said, “and making sure that we’re priced appropriately, and making sure that every dollar that someone is paying to go to an Astros game is being funneled back into the players’ payroll.”
He acknowledged that those financial challenges become more apparent when renegotiating player contracts. “If it comes down to money, and someone wants more money, there’s a chance they can go somewhere else,” he noted. “Jose Altuve could’ve gotten more somewhere else, but he loves this organization and Houston. So we hope we can do that with some of the other guys.”
Ryan added that while the team does its best to provide GM (and metrics whiz) Jeff Luhnow an ample budget, the team won’t break the bank: “We’re not the team that’s going to go out and overspend in free agency,” Ryan added. “We’re the team that’s going to draft and grow from within.”
Talk then turned to stars Verlander and Altuve. Ryan pointed out that Verlander, who now has his 2,500 strikeouts and 200 wins, has an incentive to stay with a contending team and earn another World Series ring — and possibly a Hall of Fame induction.
And Altuve, who his current age of 28 has more hits than Rose, has a chance to break Pete Rose’s batting record, according to Ryan. He promised the crowd that the Astros are ready for the long part of the season. “We’re in the marathon business right now. We can beat you with starting pitching, home runs, steals, defense, and good relief pitching. This club has a lot of flexibility,” he said.
He echoed the popular #NeverSettle team slogan in closing, which starts with owner Jim Crane. “Jim Crane is not satisfied with us having a good team, he wants us to have a great team,” said Ryan. “The ownership group is committed to building something we can sustain for a long time.”
Among the audience were prominent business leaders and high-profile commercial office tenant-rep brokers — all who beamed at the Astros gift bags and hats they received. “Our clients enjoyed hearing Reid Ryan speak so candidly about the 2018 team and season so far, as well as the 2017 World Series win,” said Steven M. Seltzer of TPMC Realty Corporation.