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What the Red Sox Can Learn from the Champion Astros

The Red Sox can learn a few lessons from how the Astros turned into an annual contender, and the answer isn’t endless money.

The Boston Red Sox have been sitting at home for over a month now after missing the expanded playoffs, but hopefully they did not miss some important lessons.  The Houston Astros convincingly won the World Series Saturday night behind a balanced lineup and an unhittable pitching staff.  The way their front office has assembled the roster is a blueprint for many organizations, and it would behoove the Red Sox to get on board.

How the Astros Were Built

The Astros are led by General Manager James Click, who has made some shrewd decisions to keep their competitive window open.  His predecessor was the disgraced Jeff Luhnow, rightly fired over the sign-stealing scandal, but his imprint is still clear on this team.  The organization’s plan over a decade ago to gut the Major League team in order to receive high draft picks and save money paid off with an annual contender and a title in 2017.  As early adopters of analytics and investing in international scouting, the Astros, led by Luhnow, built up a strong farm system bolstered by superb development.

The star homegrown core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman, along with blockbuster trades for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole made Houston a juggernaut.  But unlike other teams who put together a strong core (like the Cubs, for example), the Astros have managed to remain a contender instead of selling and starting over again.  This is where the development and scouting shine brightest.  The Astros traded for Yordan Alvarez when he was a teenager with no professional experience.  Much of their rotation today were unheralded amateurs who signed for little money.

Since Click took over in 2020, he has made the tough decisions to let Springer and Correa walk away in free agency just as Cole did earlier.  He has been able to do that because the Astros have capable in-house replacements who cost much less.  Alvarez and Kyle Tucker have turned into stars.  Rookie Jeremy Pena was a third-round pick and now World Series MVP.  Chas McCormick was a 21st-rounder out of a Division II school.  No matter how much the roster changes, the Astros find new players to step up.

What the Red Sox Need to Do

After the firing of Dave Dombrowski, Chaim Bloom became GM of the Red Sox with the stated goal of creating a sustainable pipeline of talent.  Coming from Tampa, where he overlapped with Click in the Rays front office, Bloom wants to fill out the farm system and spend money smarter.  The Astros do both of those things well with a budget in between Boston’s and Tampa Bay’s.  The Red Sox have encouraging early returns on the state of the farm system, but they are far from being one of the best teams.

The Red Sox aren’t stuck in the past like some other losing teams.  Boston already has a solid international apparatus and trustworthy scouts.  They wouldn’t have notable prospects like Nick Yorke or Ceddanne Rafaela otherwise.  The Sox also have more potential in-house bullpen options than most teams.  Rafaela originally signed for a paltry $10,000, and rookie Brayan Bello signed for a mere $28,000.  The key is to turn more unheralded signings into contributors, like the Astros have done with Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier.

It is very easy to look back on past trades and say they went poorly, but Bloom has made some deals that were unpopular at the time.  Getting more prospects is definitely a priority, but they should not come at the expense of a Major League team trying to win.  People in the front office seemed to be the only ones surprised that Jackie Bradley cannot hit anymore, while Hunter Renfroe had another productive season with the Brewers.  The puzzling decision to buy and sell at the deadline left the farm system marginally better while the Red Sox stumbled the rest of the way, quickly losing any remaining playoff hopes.

Next Steps

The Red Sox have a busy offseason ahead of them.  By far the highest priority is resigning Xander Bogaerts, but Bloom needs to piece together the starting rotation and find a true centerfielder.  Most likely he will look to the trade market, where the Astros can once again serve as inspiration.  Since rosters are not at all finalized this time of year, the offseason is the best chance for trades involving multiple Major Leaguers.

The Astros pulled off the rare deadline swap between veterans when they sent Jake Odorizzi to the Braves for Will Smith.  They wanted a lefty reliever and had an extra starter on hand, so they figured out a deal.  The Red Sox did something similar when they sent Jake Diekman to the White Sox to get another catcher in Reese McGuire.  The front office needs to trust their evaluations of their own players to decide who can go to bring back someone better fitting.  Bloom has been unafraid to make unpopular moves, so expect eye-opening trades this winter.  There is a path to winning the AL once again, but it goes through the toughest division in sports and toppling the new champions.

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