Astros Firing Shame
Repugnant, noisy firing of Bo Porter makes Astros look like losers again: Luhnow clumsily buries his own strides
Bo Porter was fond of hokey cliches, and as the walls of organizational discord continued to crumble down upon him last Friday, it seemed inevitable that Porter would utter one of his favorite motivational phrases — "ignore the noise" — as local media peppered him with pointed queries regarding his clearly irreparable relationship with general manager Jeff Luhnow.
There was no disregarding the din on Monday, not with Porter fired one month before the conclusion of his second season as the Houston Astros manager, and not with the organization striking another chord in this summer of discontent. There was no recourse for Porter in his power struggle with Luhnow.
This laundry list of largely avoidable, self-inflicted miscues has undermined the organizational development made where it matters most.
Porter lacked the managerial track record to match the success Luhnow enjoyed helping craft the St. Louis Cardinals into perennial championship contenders, and Luhnow had already meticulously shaped the Astros to reflect his uniquely analytical image.
Given those realities, there was no reason for Luhnow to distort the truth regarding his dismissal of Porter: His manager was no acquiescing foot solider. Despite his flaws as a novice manager, one with a clownish adherence to unwritten rules and occasional double talk regarding clubhouse relations, Porter was unbowed and apparently unrepentant.
Whatever the issues that existed between Luhnow and Porter, conflicts that Luhnow addressed indirectly on Monday, what became clear was an unwillingness for Porter to retreat or relent. He did not have the skins to counter those of his direct superior, thus any unapologetic show of pride or insubordination would be met with ramifications. Those repercussions came in the form of a pink slip.
"What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization," Luhnow said in a statement before he talked in a press conference. "It is essential that as an organization we create an atmosphere at the major league level where our young players can come up and continue to develop and succeed.
"Ultimately, I am responsible for creating that culture, and I will do everything in my power to do so — even when it means making difficult moves like the one we made today."
It isn't so much that Porter was dismissed — everyone with a close eye on the proceedings, a firm grasp of the Astros' rebuilding plan, and a reasonable understanding of how these things typically work knew that someone other than Porter would occupy his dugout seat when (if?) the Astros contend again — but rather the timing of his jettisoning. The Astros have been overwhelmed with negative publicity this summer, and the unceremonious ousting of Porter is the latest in a series of smudges on their organizational profile.
Perhaps singularly the Astros could have adroitly sidestepped their bungling of the Brady Aiken signing, Bullpen-gate featuring top pitching prospect Mark Appel, the embarrassing 'Ground Control' information leak, and the questionable service-time manipulations/contract shenanigans of George Springer and Jon Singleton. But in totality, these public missteps reflect poorly on Luhnow and his staff.
Furthermore, this laundry list of largely avoidable, self-inflicted miscues has undermined the organizational development made where it matters most: On the field. Beyond the fact that the Astros have surpassed their 2013 win total by eight victories with 24 contests remaining and, with Texas, Arizona and Colorado saddled with worst winning percentages, the Astros might avoid the indignity of picking first in the amateur draft for a fourth consecutive summer, the pieces of a solid foundation for a sustainable winner appear to be steadily falling into place.
Altuve, Springer & More
Second baseman Jose Altuve has taken aim at the franchise single-season record for hits (210, Craig Biggio in 1998) and stolen bases (65, Gerald Young in 1988) and is pursuing the first batting title in franchise history. Chris Carter has performed resoundingly as a top-of-the-order slugger, mitigating his gaudy strikeout rate with awe-inspiring power.
Were it not for a troublesome left quad strain that has cost him six weeks (and counting) plus an antiquated set of rules that qualifies a 27-year-old former Cuban professional (Jose Abreu) as a rookie, Springer might have made a run at American League Rookie of the Year honors. Singleton has his warts, but his power and walk rate are far better served in Houston than Oklahoma City.
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel has emerged as a staff ace, right-hander Collin McHugh reinvented himself off the scrap heap, and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer continues to deliver enough gritty performances that the Michael Bourn trade might no longer be considered the most lopsided negative transaction in club history. Even the mildly controversial trade of 24-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, who mouthed off recently following a fabulous August, has the potential to work out superbly with outfielder Jake Marisnick showcasing breathtaking defensive skills with the Astros while third baseman Colin Moran validated his promise as the franchise third baseman of the future over 27 games with Double A Corpus Christi (not to mention the compensation pick the Astros surreptitiously plucked from the Marlins, one that allows them to partially offset their failure to sign Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall along with Aiken).
If perception is reality, the Astros are a franchise in complete and hopeless disarray, led by a distrustful owner and a numbers-crunching general manager.
Even Appel rebounded nicely from a frightful start to his season, finishing with a 1-2 record and 3.69 ERA over seven appearances with the Hooks following his contentious promotion. The Astros have ample right-handed pitching depth to offset the loss of Cosart, have shortstop Carlos Correa on the mend following an untimely injury that came just prior to his pending promotion, and have the personnel in place to draft soundly and trade smartly. Sports Illustrated immodestly declared the Astros 2017 World Series champions, but the trajectory of the organization doesn't make such a proclamation laughably foolhardy.
That the Astros should flirt with .500 next season and with postseason contention in 2016 isn't an absurd prediction.
But given the current state of the franchise and the myriad distractions, is anyone taking heed of the steps being made toward respectability?
If perception is reality, the Astros are a franchise in complete and hopeless disarray, led by a distrustful owner and a numbers-crunching general manager with the people skills of a rabid wolverine. For so long the narrative sullying the Astros was their commitment to rebuilding as opposed to winning, but now that winning, even modestly, appears on the horizon, the narrative has shifted to their summer of egregious misdeeds.
Casting Porter aside over personality conflicts is the latest in a sequence of repugnant, noisy decisions that have become increasingly difficult to ignore and disregard.