Astros welcome new faces on, off field in 2011
As eager rookies emerge, Crane takes ownership of team
HOUSTON -- The Astros didn't make many headlines on the field in 2011, but there certainly was no shortage of news away from the diamond.
Not long after completing their 50th season -- and suffering through a club-record 106 losses -- the Astros were sold to a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane and soon learned they would be moving to the American League in 2013.
Yep, after a half-century in the National League, the Astros will be welcoming a new batch of teams and a new style of baseball to Minute Maid Park in 2013.
The Astros believe they will be more competitive in the next few years, thanks to some of the moves they made in 2011. They continued their rebuilding efforts by trading outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence for a bushel of prospects and announced in December they were putting Jeff Luhnow -- formerly the Cardinals' vice president of player procurement -- in charge of getting the team back to contention by naming him general manager.
Houston fans watched the Astros play 20 rookies at some point in the 2011 season, some of whom will be key figures for the club in the next few years. Instead of cheering for Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Bourn and Pence, Astros fans went wild for J.D. Martinez, Jordan Lyles, David Carpenter, Jimmy Paredes and Jose Altuve.
New faces, new ownership and a new league are on the way for the Astros. Here are the top story lines from an eventful year for the Astros:
5. Catcher Jason Castro misses the entire season with knee injury.
Castro, the team's first-round Draft pick in 2008, was lost for the entire season after injuring his right knee early in Spring Training. Castro underwent surgery in March to repair a large tear in the meniscus and had a reconstruction of the ACL, an injury suffered when he stepped awkwardly on first base while running out a ground ball. After getting his feet wet in the Majors in 2010, Castro was looking forward to his first full year in the Majors. He's expected to return next season, despite having another surgery in early December to remove the sesamoid bone in his left foot.
4. Club-record 106-loss season gives way to rookie charge.
The Astros suffered through a club-record 106 losses in 2011 as they continued their rebuilding process. For the second year in a row, the Astros traded key players at the Trade Deadline (outfielders Pence and Bourn) and watched several eager rookies break into the Majors. Pitcher Lyles, starting third baseman Paredes, second baseman Altuve and left fielder Martinez each showed promise in their Major League debuts.
3. Popular outfielders Pence and Bourn are traded.
For the second year in a row, the Astros traded two key players near the Trade Deadline by sending Pence to the Phillies and Bourn to the Braves within a 48-hour span. They were arguably the team's two most popular players, but both were due big raises in arbitration. The Astros used the opportunity to move them in the prime of their careers while the club rebuilds for eight young players, including outfielder Jordan Schafer. Three of the four players the Astros got from the Phillies are among their top prospects in an improving Minor League system.
2. Luhnow takes over as GM; Ed Wade, Tal Smith dismissed.
Less than a week after officially taking over the club, Crane and president and CEO George Postolos made their first big decision by dismissing Smith, the longtime president of baseball operations, and GM Wade on Nov. 27. Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of player procurement, was tabbed as the team's 12th GM a few days later. Smith had worked for the Astros for 35 years, including 17 in a row, and was a fixture on the Houston baseball scene, while Wade had been on the job for more than four years and was charged with the beginning of the Astros' rebuilding efforts.
1. Astros are sold, will move to the American League.
A new era in the history of Houston baseball was ushered in when an ownership group led by Houston businessman Crane formally took control of the club, with the condition the team would move to the AL in 2013. Crane purchased the team for $610 million from longtime owner Drayton McLane, but a stipulation of the deal was the Astros would move to the AL West after 51 seasons of playing in the NL. Crane, a former college baseball pitcher at Central Missouri State University, is CEO and president of Crane Capital Group Inc., the owner of Champion Energy Services and owner of Crane Worldwide Logistics, a premier provider of customized transportation and logistics services.