Any chance to lob haymakers at the Yankees and Red Sox quickly has passed. Instead, Astros owner and CEO Jim Crane and president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow have become the early-season punching bags of choice. Crane, speaking on a media conference call on Monday to discuss his team’s pursuit of reigning Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, lashed out at the Yankees for falling short of a goal he’d set back in December, but offered a shot of vitriol at both the Red Sox and Yankees:
“They wanted a bridge to the playoffs, and it doesn’t work with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros. And also, the Blue Jays are coming down the stretch. So if we really want a bridge to the playoffs, why don’t we get one ourselves?”
Crane later clarified that he didn’t think the Astros’ bridge was unfixable. (Does Crane also believe in the doctrine of the “shared trauma”?) Either way, Crane doesn’t appear to have accepted the Astros’ entry into the postseason fray and launched into a dog-and-pony show of snake-oil salesmanship about the “guaranteed home-field advantage,” “ledgers in the wallet” and … “pitchers on steroids?”
“I know your Yankees’ press release on Keuchel is going to grab your attention. From all our good ratings, we know it’s a great rivalry. We’ve got a fine young team, and we just gave you a starting pitcher to win a world championship. So let’s be our best.”
“I know what you’re going to say, and I’m going to be frank with you: ‘See, you don’t have the best. You’re not the Yankees.’ It’s a fair point. I do believe you’re always not the Yankees. To me, we’re the Yankees, especially when you’re in our city, where we’re from, and we have all the things that you do, we really are the Yankees. But for those people who say we’re not the Yankees, we’re going to show you that we are.”
Under Crane’s purview, the Astros are in the first year of a television rights deal reportedly worth $7 billion, so come 2015, all that TLC will flow straight into Crane’s wallets. It’s hard to imagine him paying for Dallas Keuchel in 2019 or 2020, unless Luhnow decides he’s won the Man of the Year in Astros management and gets that franchise captain elected to the Hall of Fame.
And Luhnow would be wise to toe the line. Yes, Crane has a point. Everyone remembers the first time Keuchel did his “breakfast on the Farm” workout after coming to the Astros and having an MRI to confirm a sprained left elbow. The Astros might’ve had to dump Keuchel had the Yankees not decided to play hardball and offer a four-year, $60 million contract (with a $16 million club option for 2021) instead of providing the Astros with a contender’s start price. But there’s an awful lot of money to come, a lot of pitching prospects to develop and the promise that the Astros’ limited payroll will be expanded by more consistent playoff success — not the ideal combination, at least by Crane’s logic.