The Houston Astros have been historically bad since the start of the 2011 season, losing 100 games in each of the last three seasons. This season, the squad is 59-79, needing just four wins over the next 24 games to avoid a fourth such disastrous season, but it wasn’t enough to save the job of the Astros’ manager, Bo Porter. Porter was, ironically, relieved of his managerial duties on the day that we all celebrate the hard work and efforts of those in the labor force.
— Houston Astros (@astros) September 1, 2014
Porter’s squads have not been good, going 110-190 over the last season-plus (.367 winning percentage), but it didn’t have a lot to do with what Porter was doing on the bench. Ken Rosenthal recently reported tension between Porter and General Manager Jeff Luhnow stemming from Mark Appel making an appearance in Houston for a bullpen session for Astros’ pitching coach Brent Strom that Porter had to explain to players on his roster, who were upset over the struggling prospect’s possible special treatment from the organization. Beyond that issue, there appeared to be some separation from the analytical team at the top of the organization and what was being done from the bench by Porter, which was creating relationship woes within the organization.
The Rosenthal piece details those woes at greater lengths, but the firing of Porter clearly wasn’t for what he was doing on the field, as he can’t be held accountable for the recent failures of the franchise.
Luhnow, hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals in December of 2011, developed an awkward approach to rebuilding the Astros’, essentially gutting the entire roster and eliminating as much payroll as possible to field a horrific team that would be capable of landing high-upside talent through the draft, while building the farm system and promoting talent from that pool to compete for championships within a window. Upon taking the position and immediately producing horrific seasons, the team was able to “earn” the No.1 overall pick in back-to-back seasons (after having the No.1 overall pick in 2011, which Luhnow used on Carlos Correa), Luhnow’s plan was becoming somewhat relevant, as the Astros will, likely, finish ahead of the Texas Rangers in the AL West in 2014, barring some kind of sudden change from the injury woes to the Rangers’ 2014 season.
Porter, though, had done well with what he had. He and his coaching staff had guided a very young, inexperienced squad to some very high peaks among the very low valleys, watching Jose Altuve become a star, while handling the franchise’s quick rising future stars, as Jon Singleton, George Springer, and Jake Marisnick had arrived to showcase their talents at the Major League level. He had very little control over the day-to-day roster, watching Jarred Cosart, one of his top pitchers, get dealt at the deadline (which brought Marisnick but didn’t help the pitching staff), while having limited options in the rotation and a horrific group to run out of the bullpen.
Of course, Porter was bound to be limited in his roster, as the club wasn’t going to call-up a player sooner than necessary and risk service-time becoming an issue, especially as the team continued to try to limit their expenditures.
Perhaps the complete breakdown of the roster was too bold, and perhaps the club had a manager with too much emotional attachment and fire to sit back and wait for the Astros to build a team that he could truly manage successfully. Regardless, what looked like an intelligent move in guiding the Astros to become what Sports Illustrated called the 2017 World Series Champions, suddenly became much more complicated, and whether Bo Porter was actually part of the long-term plan or not, his firing has created a lot of questions about the long-term goal of the Astros’ organization, as well as the ability for Jeff Luhnow, who was so quickly admired for his plans, to work well enough with those around him for his ideas and visions to become a reality.
Bo Porter didn’t fail as a manager of a horrible team, he failed at working with an ego that had grown beyond repair. Jeff Luhnow must now build this winner from the front office and the field, as he has no one else to blame for the team’s future struggles but his own actions and decisions.