For years, we have run a moderately successful defense contracting business in Bangor, Maine. It is called J&K Screw Inc., and our main job is supplying expensive screwdrivers to the Pentagon. Identical screwdrivers can be bought for $4.95 in any hardware store, and they cost us only $1.95 to manufacture. However, like all defense contracts, ours contain many clauses to allow for cost overruns, administration charges and the like, so we can unabashedly attach an $8,000 price tag to each of our screwdrivers, which we do.
We have prospered for many years, but during the crisis in the Persian Gulf, we at J&K Screw were called upon to increase production by 1,000%, which we did. Our resultant soaring profits have made us suddenly rich beyond our wildest dreams. Looking back, we do not attribute our great wealth to random world events and insanely good luck; we attribute it directly to ourselves and our infallible insights into the complex universe of screwdrivers and the national defense. Thus, with egos as swollen as our wallets, we are anxious to expand into new ventures.
We decide that we are ready to own a major league baseball team.
We begin by making a few telephone calls to some of the game's bigwigs to find out what's for sale. After it has been duly confirmed that we have the massive wealth and matching egos to qualify as prospective owners, we are informed that the only club publicly on the block right now is the one in Houston. So be it. We begin our quest to buy the Astros.
The first two things we discover are that 1) the price for the Astros will be more than $100 million and 2) Houston is a strong candidate to finish dead last in the National League West this season. Now, $100 million is no problem for us, because we have made roughly twice that much in the last six months manufacturing our desert screwdrivers. However, we want to be sure that we are looking at true market value, and we quickly deduce that this $100 million figure is based on the National League's intent to award expansion franchises to two as-yet-unnamed U.S. cities.
Each of those franchises, which will field teams for the 1993 season, will cost its owners $95 million. Thus, we are told, $100 million-plus is a reasonable price for a smooth-running, 30-year-old baseball machine like the Astros, which comes complete with players under contract, front office staff, season ticket holders, TV and radio deals, marketing programs, farm system, scouting network and spring training facilities—not to mention the famed Astrodome for home games (though we're told the lease on the 'Dome is not part of the $100 million package).
O.K., but what about the second point, this last-place business? We are told that, yes, the Astros are definitely expected to lose a lot of games—perhaps 100 or more—in 1991. We do some research. How bad was Houston last year? Its record was 75-87. We ask, Why are the '91 Astros, our 'Stros, as we've taken to calling them, expected to be so much worse?
The answer is quickly apparent. Over the past several months, the current Houston management has stripped last year's 25-man roster of no fewer than 11 veterans, all of whom were at least 30 years old, and several of whom were the Astros' best talents. Five are pitchers who accounted for 41 of those 75 wins as well as 35 of the Astros' 37 saves. Three are hitters who accounted for 55 of Houston's 94 home runs.
Even before the 1990 season was over, the Astro front office had traded away reliever Larry Andersen and second baseman Bill Doran. After the season, the Astros lost six other players as free agents, including starting pitcher Danny Darwin, who led the league with an ERA of 2.21; closer Dave Smith, who saved 23 games; and outfielder Franklin Stubbs, who had a team-leading 23 homers. Houston then completed its winter clearance by trading away slugging first baseman Glenn Davis.
We want to know, of course, what the Astros got in return. We are told that Davis was dealt to Baltimore for three young but as-yet-undistinguished major leaguers: outfielder Steve Finley and pitchers Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch. For Doran, Houston got two minor leaguers and a second-string catcher. For Andersen, Houston got Jeff Bagwell, a promising young infielder. And that's it.