Houston is football country, there is no denying that. That’s not what I’m here to state. But in June of 2014, why are we still trying to decipher Andre Johnson’s absence from voluntary workouts and his potential truancy from mandatory OTA’s? Why are the Texans’ non-contact workouts the talk of the town in this specific month? I say this month, June 2014, specifically because this summer isn’t like any other.
Astros Baseball is finally relevant again in Houston. After declining the option on F Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are poised to embark on what looks like a wild free agency period, only one year after winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Speaking of basketball, while the NBA Finals are indeed a rematch of last year, this particular series has a feel of a dramatic grudge match. Houston’s not much of a hockey town, but eyes will be glued to the Stanley Cup Finals, arguably the most dramatic and action packed championship series of the Big Four North American sports. Even Game 7 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals this past Sunday drew ratings that only Game of Thrones was able to top. And lastly, live from Brazil, the most watched sporting event in the world, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is set to begin on June 12th, where Brad Davis of your hometown Houston Dynamo is a member of the United States Men’s National Team. Not to mention that the USMNT is grouped with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal, all very strong teams, in what will be this tournament’s Group of Death.
Are people so oblivious to anything that’s not the NFL that they wait on pins and needles for reports about grown men working out? It gets tiresome having to hear record predictions about a team with an incomplete roster, Andre Johnson’s behavior, and the possible resurgence of injured player’s like Arian Foster and Brian Cushing. “Kareem Jackson loves Romero Crennel’s defense.” Well, let’s throw a parade! I swear Brian Cushing said the same thing about Wade Phillips’s defensive scheme when Son of Bum took over in 2011.
June is packed with a ton of sporting events that will intensify through July. And then in July, real NFL training camps will get underway. I’m certain I’m not the only one who doesn’t care how much money Andre loses from fines of skipping mandatory OTA’s, just as long as he suits up in late July and August, when preseason workouts matter a whole lot more. There’s a whole lot of sports about to go down, and instead we’re talking about a whole lot of nothing happening in the National Football League.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Bud Norris has been in a very grumpy mood lately. The former Astros right hander has taken any opportunity to bash his former employer over whatever he feels are legitimate grievances. Earlier in May, he shared his opinions on the direction of the Houston Astros organization in a really well written and compelling article by Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. In it, Norris says,
“They are definitely the outcasts of Major League Baseball right now, and it’s kind of frustrating for everyone else to have to watch it.”
It is frustrating to have to watch a team to lose 100 plus for 3 straight years, but how is that the fault of anyone in the current front office? It’s not as if Jim Crane bought the 1998 Astros and turned it into the 2011-2013 team we all know in one off-season. Jim Crane isn’t running the late 90’s Florida Marlins. He bought chickens**t from Drayton McLane and is about to turn it into Chik-Fil-A. Pure deliciousness.
And outcasts? They do their baseball operations differently from everyone else, yes, but they are hardly outcasts. The Chicago Cubs are in the same boat as the Astros. The Minnesota Twins know what the Astros are going through. You know, that whole “Major league team has barely any major league talent but the farm system is stacked and the future is very bright” thing. The Astros may have lost a lot of games but they can’t be labeled outcasts because they lost a lifetime’s worth of baseball games.
But David Stefan Norris wasn’t finished there. His reaction to another Astros related piece of news had to be heard. He took to Twitter to let out his opinion on Jon Singleton’s new contract.
Seriously, Bud. Are you upset that you won’t have any kind of significant role in this revolutionary rebuilding process anymore? Are you pissed off that you were just a pawn and not a knight or rook or whatever chess metaphor you want to use? The Astros aren’t the only team doing this kind of thing. The Pirates tried it with Gregory Polanco and the Diamondbacks tried it with Archie Bradley. Baseball front offices are doing this all over because its how the game is played now. That union you wanted Singleton to listen to set this up back in 2011 when this current CBA was ratified. That’s who you should really be upset with, not a kid who just got financial security is about to play the game at the highest level it can be played. This is another case of educated businessmen, aka the owners, taking the player’s union to school with a document that features a lot fancy diction and dialogue. The NFL player’s union knows how you feel. Personally, I wouldn’t listen to a union who gets outplayed by old men in suits either.
Yes, Jon Singleton could earn more money in arbitration and eventual free agency if he’s the next Jeff Bagwell. But at the same time, he could also be the next Brett Wallace. If he’s great, then he might have lost an opportunity at even more cash, but he could still earn up to $35 million, which is still more money than you could shake a stick at. But if he busts, then he still gets his $10 million, instead of the minimum $500,000 a minor league call-up usually gets. This is the new way major league front offices will handle top prospects. Dangling financial security and a major league roster spot on a fishing line hoping for a bite. Sounds like a sweet deal, and it really isn’t the worst thing in the world if someone takes it.
So to Bud Norris, quit worrying about the state of the Houston Astros. You were a nice pitcher here during a really rough stretch in Houston baseball. But please, Bud, worry about your ballclub winning your division because that 3-5 record and 4.04 ERA is helping about as little as your opinions of your old team.
On June 2nd, the Houston Astros finally, at long last, made the call to the Oklahoma City RedHawks and brought up slugging first base prospects Jon Singleton, to not only provide some stability at first base, but also move on in the organization’s rebuilding effort they began back in 2010.
Some wonder why Singleton even stayed in Triple A this long. Probably due to the atrocity that currently resides at first base on the 25 man roster. Between Chris Carter’s on and off again contact, Jesus Guzman’s limited playing time, and Marc Krauss’ incompetence at the plate, fans have been clamoring for Singleton’s call up for a long time. Fact is, the three major league first base options are hitting a combined .191 with 14 home runs between them. For some perspective, George Springer, the Astros’ other power hitting rookie sensation, launched 10 home runs in a 2 week span by himself, including his historic 7 HR in 7 games stretch.
Singleton hit 14 home runs with 43 RBI at Triple A Oklahoma City, to go with a line of .267/.397/.544 in 195 at bats. He drew 42 walks, and hit an impressive .309 average against left handed pitchers, which probably means there won’t be a platoon role for Singleton in the big leagues. Astros manager Bo Porter is a man who loves his matchup, sometimes to a fault, but all indications point to Singleton receiving first base all to himself.
To top it all off, the Astros signed Singleton to a landmark 5 year, $10 million contract with 3 team options, where it can be a total of $35 million if all 3 options are picked up. Singleton is the first minor league prospect to sign such a contact without ever stepping foot on a major league diamond. This type of contact offer is not uncommon, however; the Astros offered similar deals this past off-season to the aforementioned Springer, 3B Matt Dominguez, and OF Robbie Grossman.
Around MLB, teams are offering these contracts to their prized prospects, most notably Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco rejecting a 7 year, $25 million contract earlier this year in spring training. The Astros effectively buy out Singleton’s arbitration years, as opposed to Springer, Dominguez, and Grossman who will have their salaries increase with adequate performance after their 3rd full season of major league service. Instead of having a gradual performance based pay raise, Singleton gets his salary guaranteed.
With or without the contract, Singleton is only just the next piece in the effort to bring Houston Astros baseball back to prominence.