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We’re not going to pretend that Bo Porter had no idea what he was getting into, are we?

Sep 2, 2014, 9:21 AM EDT

Bo Porter AP

At the outset, allow me to say that none of this is a defense — or an indictment — of the Astros front office. I have no idea what really goes on there, and neither do you.

We have had reports in recent days that there was a lot of strife between fired manager Bo Porter and GM Jeff Luhnow. We have heard that there was dysfunction. But we don’t know how much dysfunction there truly has been. We don’t know if the strife between Luhnow and Porter was one guy’s fault or the other’s, although most of the time such things are a two-way street. We can likely expect to hear more about this in the coming days and, in all likelihood, sometime this offseason. It’s possible Houston is a nuthouse. It’s possible Porter and Luhnow simply didn’t get along in the way lots of GMs and managers don’t get along when teams lose a lot. Let’s wait and see about that.

But one thing I think that deserves some pushback at the moment is the notion — which I’ve seen creep up in the past 24 hours — that Bo Porter was somehow wronged in terms of how the Astros chose to rebuild. That he was sold a bill of goods about what his situation would be like or that he somehow had the rug pulled out from under him after he took the job.

The strongest argument in that regard comes in Buster Olney’s column this morning (sorry; ESPN Insider only). It starts out like this:

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we know a lot more about the position that Bo Porter signed up for in the fall of 2012, when he became manager of the Houston Astros. Whether he knew it or not at the time, this is what the job notice probably should’ve looked like . . .

After which Olney offers a lot of comments implying that it was unknown at the time that the Astros were going to have an extremely low payroll and run out a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time talent in the first couple of years of what was and continues to be a massive rebuild job. Also, that it was unknown that GM Jeff Luhnow was going to rely on his front office staff to an extremely high degree and take an approach that made the “Moneyball” A’s look like poster boys for laissez-faire front office management.

I have no idea if the Astros’ rebuilding plan is a good one. On the one hand, that organization was a smoking pile of rubble when Luhnow took over and new ownership came in, so perhaps something radical was called for. On the other hand, the Astros’ tear-down/rebuild has been really extreme, the losses have been close to unprecedented and there are lots of examples of teams who have rebuilt while still putting more resources into “win-now” efforts than the Astros have. Veterans that, while unlikely to be part of the next good ballclub for that city, at least push them closer to 90 losses a year than 110. Whether this is truly something worthwhile is something people debate, but it has been done. Maybe the Astros made a mistake in not doing that. Maybe they’ll be shown to have done OK with the approach they took.

But no matter what you make of all of this, it’s impossible to say that Porter had no idea that was what was coming. The Astros made all kinds of headlines in 2011 and early 2012 when they hired Luhnow.  He, in turn, made unconventional hires like a “Director of Decision Sciences,” and made several hires from the sabermetric community and/or online analysis world, such as Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein and Colin Wyers. The notion that this was a going to be a tear-down unlike that seen in recent years was pretty darn clear. Also clear: that a lot of baseball writers have scoffed at what the Astros have been doing, presumably because it’s either unconventional or because they are reflecting the displeasure of their baseball sources. Olney himself has engaged in this before.

Again, none of this is to say that the Astros are doing the best things or even the right things. It’s possible that the strategy ends up a failure. It’s possible that three years (and possibly more) of copious losing does more to undermine the team in the eyes of fans and others than the presumed reward at the end of the process gains them. It’s also possible that, yes, Luhnow is a flaming jackwagon and the Astros’ front office is a mess. I have no idea.

But to suggest that Bo Porter was somehow surprised and wronged by the low payroll, the piles of losses and the idea that this was going to be a front office which took an extremely active role in day-to-day decisions is just fiction. At least as far as those things go he, and everyone else, knew what he was getting into.

  1. timberwolvesbrisin - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    At least have the courtesy to fire the man after the season, I think thats why people have such a problem with it.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:36 AM

      Except if he’s causing problems in the clubhouse with the players, then it’s best to fire him now because he could still make things worse.

    • tigersfandan - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      If he’s going to be fired anyway, why not use the last month to audition one of his prospective replacements?

    • DJ MC - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      At least have the courtesy to get it over with now, so that as soon as the season ends Porter is all set to find his next job. As opposed to waiting it out as a dead man walking and having to fight with all the other applicants as soon as his pink slip comes in.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:38 PM

      A lot of good comments here on both side of this question. I think the answer is going to be different depending on the clubhouse.

  2. djdvd - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    I don’t feel bad for Porter and I won’t be sad for Luhnow when he gets canned in a few years. I’ll just feel for Astros fans because they’ll have to endure this garbage for years as being one of the worst run teams in the mlb

    • recoveringcubsfan - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:28 AM

      All eight Astros fans appreciate your condolences, I’m sure.

      • joekapp - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:41 PM

        Pretty big talk from the fan of a team with a part time grounds crew.

    • jc4455 - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:33 PM

      The Astros are in a much better position than most teams. Lots of young talent and almost endless space on the payroll to sign free agents. Why is this hard to understand?

      • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 1:06 PM

        Because management is showing a pretty strong propensity for screwing up.

      • natstowngreg - Sep 2, 2014 at 5:13 PM

        Not hard to understand at all. In 2008-2009, we Nats fans endured horrible baseball. But we were promised better times, as the young talent arrived. Our patience was rewarded with a contending team.

        Seemed to me, the Astros were on a similar path. Now, I have to wonder how well their management can execute a rebuild.

    • dan1111 - Sep 3, 2014 at 4:24 AM

      The Astros are amassing an impressive stockpile of talent. They already have a number of exciting young players on the big league team. They are also on pace to improve their record over last season by 15-20 wins.

      I don’t follow them day-to-day, admittedly, but from a distance they sure don’t look badly run. They seem like an interesting team to follow even now, and the future is very bright.

      • stex52 - Sep 3, 2014 at 8:30 AM

        Management moves this year have set them back a year or so. Reference the Aiken draft fiasco, for one.

  3. chill1184 - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    As the old saying goes; “If you sleep with the dog, you’re going to get the fleas”. While I’m in the camp that an employer has every right to fire an employee for whatever reason (no matter how stupid) it still should be criticized. I believe that Bo got the ax because he dared to speak unfavorably of what Luhnow is doing.

    • Paper Lions - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      He got the ax because he isn’t on board with the organizational approach to building a team and acquiring/developing talent, that fact that he said so publicly (if he did) is just a by product.

      Very few teams have managers that are autonomous. I have no idea why fans in general think managers develop their own strategies for in-game management or coaching or player development. They may have their opinions, but teams are looking for a guy that is part of the organization and that has views and is willing to manage within that philosophy. If the manager’s approach differs from that of the rest of the organization, he’s unlikely to be hired or retained (just like any other coach). This doesn’t make the Astros different from other teams, people are just noting it because they have been willing to lose while rebuilding their organization.

      • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:30 AM

        Porter, to my knowledge, did not air it out in public. It had become known in the press, though that there was a split in the organization over strategy. And it was also pretty clear that he and Luhnow had problems with each other’s performance. But Luhnow was the boss.

      • Paper Lions - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:49 AM

        I didn’t think he had said anything publicly, but I don’t follow them closely enough to know for sure.

        Like anyone else, I am relying on comments from writers/reporters that have sources within the industry. And I haven’t seen anyone suggest that Luhnow et al. (let’s not act like he is on an island in the organization, they have a large group of people that contributed to decision making) are in over their heads, even if they don’t always agree with ever decision and lambasted them for the Aiken fiasco….whereas I have seen a number of people refer to Porter as being in over his head wrt both in-game management as well as building a club house culture. When you don’t have much information, you just have to rely on those that have more and are willing to share their opinions (if not the information itself).

      • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        I am very much on the fence about Luhnow. He has a grand strategy; sometimes I think he is too clever by half in trying to implement it. It may all blow up in his face. Or it may be a great success. I’m afraid it will be one or the other; nothing in between.

        But I can’t disagree with the assertion that Porter was in over his head. Sad, too. Both for him and for the fact that the Astros desperately need some continuity.

  4. xsturmin8 - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:37 AM

    What a shock. Calcaterra saying the Astros of course did nothing wrong. This apologism because you like the way they evaluate players needs to stop. Treat them like you treat every other team and criticise them for every possible reason! All I’m asking for is a little consistency.

    That said I’m sure he knew the team would be bad, but the worst 3 year stretch in modern baseball history? Probably not.

    • themuddychicken - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:47 AM

      This feels like a combination of poor reading comprehension and projecting something onto Craig or the article that isn’t really there.

    • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      Craig never said that. He very clearly said he had no idea where to assign blame or praise. That is a very reasonable position to take on this issue, given the lack of information available to date.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:57 AM

      What a shock. Calcaterra saying the Astros of course did nothing wrong.

      Again, none of this is to say that the Astros are doing the best things or even the right things. It’s possible that the strategy ends up a failure. It’s possible that three years (and possibly more) of copious losing does more to undermine the team in the eyes of fans and others than the presumed reward at the end of the process gains them. It’s also possible that, yes, Luhnow is a flaming jackwagon and the Astros’ front office is a mess. I have no idea.

      Missed that whole paragraph, did you?

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:10 AM

        Add the Ignore feature to the Edit function request we made a while back.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:43 PM

        Look, we’ve all known that Craig has been covering up the Astros for decades now. It’s the only reason I come here.

        /s

  5. stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    The local press has been saying for a little while that there is a division in the organization between some baseball guys who are very comfortable with the “lose now to win later” model and some fraction who think that some effort to try to win as many games as they can now. The narrative is that the infamous Sports Illustrated cover was a catalyst to a lot of the disagreement. Porter was not impressing me as a field manager. Not that he couldn’t have prevented them from losing – a lot. But he also didn’t appear to be getting much in the way of fundamentals out of the team.

    Luhnow has had a lousy year. With the draft fiasco, the marked regression in development of Appel (and a couple of others) and the inability to rebuild the relief corps, he is making a lot of people impatient. You also have to remember that most of the young guys coming up now are Ed Wade products. Luhnow’s drafts have had no impact to date. And he would tell you himself the 2013/2014 teams were much worse than he anticipated.

    Luhnow won this round. Most who are familiar with the world of big business will know what
    is happening now. The owner is sticking with his vision; giving him the rope to hang himself, as it were. I expect if 2015 doesn’t show significant growth, we say goodbye to Jeff next year.

    In the meantime the Astros remain the butt of all the league jokes. I am so proud.

    • nbjays - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:56 AM

      Hey, at least the Astros are 5.5 games up on the Rangers. So much for the offseason predictions of the Astros being the cellar-dwellers in the AL West.

  6. clydeserra - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    Listeningin to what little of Astros games I did, Porter seemed like a bad tactical manager. odd pitching changes, IBBs and A little too much “old school” attitude.

    But he was very aggressive with positioning, which lead me to believe he was really listening to the “science” people and trying to walk the talk of the front office.

    But one thing the was consistent with in all the interviews I saw (about one every time the A’s began a series with them) was that the team was rebuilding and they were “doing something” there. He knew what was happening, he was aware of the low payroll.

  7. Bob - Sep 2, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    Bo Porter was in over his head. That said, Luhnow has made numerous missteps this year, and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s in over his head. I’m not sure he deserves to hire a second manager.

  8. ctony1216 - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    When a manager gets canned after such a short time with the team it says as much about the team/GM who hired him as it does about the manager. Did Luhnow and the Astros make a mistake when they hired Porter originally, or are they making one now by firing him, and what message does that send to the next manager they might want to hire?

    • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      I think Craig talks in the neighborhood of the answer. What the Astros have done is radical. The results to date have been awful. Some (probably Porter included and most likely Luhnow) knew it would be bad but they had no idea how bad and are getting queasy about the whole thing.

      As to hiring a new manager, there could be some challenges. It’s been a merry go-round there for several years. There are always ambitious guys who want the promotion. But you have to go in knowing it is going to be difficult for a while back and that the field manager has very little power. I think they may have trouble hiring one of their preferred candidates.

  9. yahmule - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Luhnow wants to take some of the attention off his bumbling.

    • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:26 AM

      Well, he got his wish from the owner. Now it’s all on him.

  10. cbosa - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Guess that SI prediction of the Astros becoming World Series Champions in 2017 is not going to come true then.

    • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      Who knows? That’s three years out. It’s a blind stab to pick any of the thirty teams to win a WS in any given year. But in three years who knows what will happen?

    • covertman - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      In 2003, the Tigers very nearly broke the ’62 Mets’ record for most losses in the modern era. Three years later, they were in the Series.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        … plus, the best three players from that era (Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodgriguez and Curis Granderson) weren’t even on the team in 2003.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/graphswd.aspx?teamid=6&pos=All&season=2007&season1=2003&grid=25

        You’re not stuck with the same roster forever.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. They were AL Champions in 2006. Things happen fast in baseball.

      • kopy - Sep 2, 2014 at 1:21 PM

        Of course in 1990 the Braves were the worst team in MLB, and the Twins were the 4th-worst (and last in their division). These teams faced each other in the World Series next year (where Ron Gant fell off first base on his own).

  11. shaggylocks - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    Hey, remember when the front office was telling everyone Porter was going to the Houston manager for “decades?”

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/03/13/bo-porter-cold-be-the-astros-manager-for-decades/

    • 18thstreet - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:55 PM

      Nice find!

  12. sportsfan18 - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Craig,

    As you said, none of us really know. I do think Porter knew that they’d be bad, have a low payroll etc…

    My take is that while he knew of the general direction the team wanted to go (management that is), he probably thought he’d have more control with the team they gave him.

    Sure, Moneyball is known and sabermetrics are out there in the game now and many teams utilize them.

    But even if a team uses developmental science folks and sabermetrics to determine which players to draft and trade for, once they have been acquired and are on the roster, the manager probably thinks they are now his and he is in control.

    It used to be that way, it was the managers domain.

    Today, more front offices reach down into the dugout so to speak and affect decisions and how things are done.

    Again, I’m guessing and don’t know for sure, but I think Bo knew the general direction (rebuild, tear down, low payroll and use sabermetrics) but I don’t think he realized what the relationship would be like day to day between the front office and him.

    The NFL uses photos of game action during the games and now they have tablets on the sideline to view the photos on instead of actual photos.

    Some geek will be sitting on every bench someday with a laptop telling the manager what the pinch hitters on the bench have done during night games, against pitcher X in the other teams bullpen warming up, telling the manager that on 2 balls and 1 strike counts the pitcher likes to throw a fastball low and away… to right handed hitters he’ll say and it’s down and to lefties, but only during day games…

    yeah, I’m exaggerating on purpose. my point is that the manager’s and the front offices are still in the middle of learning how to co-exist and utilize all of this sabermetric info and stats…

    It used to be a relay race where the front office did their work, either with or without sabermetrics etc… and they obtained players and then handed off the baton to the manager’s and coaches…

    Now, some front offices seem to be riding shotgun with the managers during the games so to speak…

    That’s my take on Bo Porter and Luhnow.

  13. deep64blue - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    Buster Olney doesn’t know what he is talking about you say? In other news the sky is blue and grass is green …..

  14. andreweac - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    Porter seemed to not know the rule book on more than 1 occasion in games against the Angels in the past few years. Not a ringing endorsement…

  15. DJ MC - Sep 2, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    I wonder how many people really see where the Astros are this year?

    With a month to go, they’ve already won more games than at any point in the past three years, and have a good shot at 70 or more wins. Now, while they aren’t looking to print playoff tickets yet, a 15-win jump from that 55-win base of the last few years is pretty significant. Suddenly they are looking to build off of a 70-win base, and that means it might make sense to start adding other pieces in free agency along with what is coming through the system.

    Another dozen additional wins next year and they’re over .500. Then it’s only a few more to true playoff contention.

    Whether or not they will do that, now or ever, is as Craig said not yet knowable. But they are in a far better position than they were starting the season.

    • NatsLady - Sep 2, 2014 at 3:07 PM

      How many of those wins came off the Rangers, who are so shredded by injuries it’s hard to call them a major-league team?

      That said, we liked Bo here in DC, but it was pretty clear Rizzo wanted Matt Williams if he could get him and that was that, Bo saw the writing on the wall here.

      Rizzo, though he uses stats, is more traditional than Luhnow, the Nats aren’t a “project,” and the Nationals organization doesn’t seem to have that rigid “my way or the highway” approach to either players OR staff. Most fans would have been happy with Bo as Davey’s successor.

      Matt Williams, who was an unknown to us, has made mistakes, but he’s growing up as a manager before our very eyes. Rizzo (apparently) stays out of the way and lets him learn. We expected this fiery, old-school “big Marine,” whereas he’s turned out to be even-keeled, non-confrontational, He trusts his coaches, and he makes use of every resource. The overturned call that the video room caught (when Gio tagged out a runner on his heel) was AMAZING.

      The main question is how will he do in the playoffs (assuming we get there, of course). The way he managed last night suggests he won’t be overmatched.

      • simalex - Sep 2, 2014 at 5:08 PM

        Rizzo is the anti-Luhnow.

      • natstowngreg - Sep 2, 2014 at 5:42 PM

        At first, I didn’t understand why Matt challenged that play. It took at least the 3rd replay angle to show that Gio tagged Gordon’s shoe. Score one for replay getting it right.

        Don’t know how much Luhnow and Bo knew each other before the hiring. If they knew each other at all. Rizzo knew Williams from their time together with the D-backs. So Rizzo had a better idea of what kind of manager he was getting. Has it made a difference? Darned if I know, but it’s a lot harder to see Rizzo and Matt getting crosswise with each other.

        Count me as one of those who would have been with fine with Bo managing the Nats. Randy Knorr as well. However, I’ve been favorably impressed with how Matt has been handling his job. Hardly perfect, as he is an imperfect human being. After a mediocre first half, the team is winning and enjoying itself. Emphasis on “winning.”

      • binarymath - Sep 2, 2014 at 7:34 PM

        If you are going to compare Astros vs. Nats in terms of GM/Manager harmony when the team was struggling, Rizzo/Riggelman is closer to the current situation with the Astros.

        Might be as simple as Porter (like Riggelman) thinking he deserved an extension for managing though the tough times, and Luhnow (like Rizzo) thought otherwise. Friction causes heat, and the manager is the first one to go.

        The question is what happens now. My guess is Luhnow goes for an established manager who has a track record for turning sub-.500 teams around. Buck Showalter is one of those guys, but he will be a bit busy this October. Kirk Gibson may soon be available, but is a TOTAL mismatch of personality with Luhnow. Sandberg may be sacrificed by Amaro; has considerable minor league experience, and may need a change of scenery.

  16. jsala02 - Sep 2, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    I am in Houston, and I really hope they don’t hire Biggio as the next manager. That is what the fans want, but I don’t see it working out. I am not sure who they should hire, I just know Biggio or AJ Hinch would be a mistake.

    • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      They are going to want an extremely compliant manager who also happens to have a knack for developing the kids. Biggio has worked with youth and HS baseball and was known as a pretty good clubhouse leader in his time. But he never struck me as the type who took criticism particularly well or was fine with just taking orders.

      Beyond that he just doesn’t have the experience for the job I think he is a bad fit for the job. I can’t see that they would even interview him.

  17. coltssteve - Sep 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    maybe the explanation can be filed under clueless. Prior example, see Bo Porter try to remove a relief pitcher before said pitcher faced a batter.

  18. jpvh6651 - Sep 2, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    Good article and I agree it’s tough to call how this will shake out right now but there is one critical stat I would like to see entered into the debate – money. Let’s not ignore that this is matter of economics not winning baseball games. Yes, I agree that they are relative to one another. I would be willing to bet that the economics of the team improved this season or, better said, they probably lost less money this year than last year. That’s important since it will allow the front office to point at this minor success and say “See, we are on the right path”. I predict it’s going to take three more head coaches until the Stros get a coach that lasts longer than two years.

  19. nottinghamforest13 - Sep 2, 2014 at 5:44 PM

    Porter had an uppity attitude from the beginning. He knew what he was getting into. He wanted to prove “the man” wrong. He got everything he deserved.

    • stex52 - Sep 2, 2014 at 10:09 PM

      That is so abysmally stupid that I have to assume you are trolling us.

      Bad job. Try for a shade less stupidity.

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