Every year. By July, we're used to a new reality that we would have scoffed at in April. Remember when the Phillies were good? The Phillies were so good. Then one year, right around July, we were used to them being bad. Every danged year, there's one of these teams.
This year, we have the Texas Rangers, winner of pennants, divisional stalwarts, and current debacle. In February, the team seemed to have one of the strongest 25-man rosters in the game. It's July, and Carlos Pena is the starting first baseman. Either Dan Robertson or Dan Robinson is the DH. Unless it's Don Robinson, who could always hit. Colby Lewis, signed for depth and emergency uses only, is nominally the #2 starter. Phil Irwin is temporarily in the rotation, despite being a golf pro.
Yu Darvish was hit in the head with a line drive on Tuesday, and before we knew he was okay, the responses on Twitter mostly ranged from "of course" to "oh, of course." The good news is that he was fine. The bad news is that he's been roughed up in each of his last two starts, the last of which allowed the Astros to climb ahead of the Rangers in the standings.
Also, that's what we call "burying the lede." The Astros are ahead of the Rangers in the standings, even if only by percentage points. It's July 10, and the Astros are ahead of the Rangers.
Which brings us to the I-swear-I'm-not-trolling question of the day. You are highly desirable general manager looking for a job. Jeff Luhnow and Jon Daniels have left their jobs to start Krangle (makers of an app that matches fans up with ballpark hot dogs less than two hours old). Two GM spots are open now.
Would you rather be the GM of the Astros or the Rangers right now?
You were about to yell an opinion. But before the words left your mouth, you thought, "Wait a sec." It's a tougher question than you might originally have guessed. We're past the point of giggling at the hapless Astros. They appear to have hap now. The Rangers have slowly lost hap.
The case for the Astros
They're going to win the World Series in 2017, for one. Once you realize that, you start to get less nervous.
More realistically, the Astros have a 1-2 combination of factors that make them a fascinating team for the future. The first one is obvious: The farm system is loaded. They have prospects like George Springer already doing well in the majors, with others like Jonathan Singleton and Jared Cosart adjusting to the majors already. They have a host of younger prospects, like Carlos Correa, Delino DeShields, and Rio Ruiz. They also have Jose Altuve locked up, and he's young enough to be a prospect.
The second factor might not get you excited just yet, but it's just as important: They have hardly any long-term commitments. They're a blank slate. They have $5.5 million committed to 2016, and that's to Altuve and Singleton. They could sign Giancarlo Stanton to a deal worth an annual salary of $30 million and still have enough left over for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. That might put them above $100 million, but not necessarily.
This is the sort of flexibility that allowed the Mariners to sign Robinson Cano to a crazy contract, while not caring that it was crazy. The Astros will be that kind of menace if they want to hop into the free agent market in the future. Even though they're having issues with their TV deal, they still play in the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the country, and they have a newer, desirable ballpark.
There is so much potential with Houston right now, and it isn't all in the minor leagues.
The case for the Rangers
The Rangers have just as much, if not more, young talent as the Astros. Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Joey Gallo might be the most desirable young troika in baseball. They have Yu Darvish, on a short list of the most valuable pitchers in baseball, and he's on something of a team-friendly contract. They're similar to the Yankees in that the losses are stacking up as quickly as the bodies, but they don't have a similarly bleak future. There's young, affordable talent that should be around for years. It's a head start that's still the envy of most organizations.
The flexibility, though, isn't close to what the Astros have. It's a highly leveraged organization, with big commitments to Prince Fielder (broken), Elvis Andrus (merely okay), and Shin-Soo Choo (over 30). They also inked speculative deals with Matt Harrison and Derek Holland that looked great at the time, but aren't exactly gimmes right now. They certainly don't help with the flexibility to build a good team for 2015, and it's hard to assume they're going to be viable options (Harrison especially, thanks to his multiple back surgeries).
They have a much better TV deal already in place, so the money is coming in. That helps mitigate those concerns. And they don't have to spend time rebuilding their #brand like the Astros do. Even if the roster-melting of the Astros over the last three years was necessary and smart, it still didn't exactly make them more popular. They have to do a lot of convincing.
The Rangers aren't in the same pickle. If they start winning next year, everyone will assume this season was a fever dream and forget about it. If the Astros get lost in the land of the permanent rebuilt -- and prospects are jerks, remember -- there will be no such patience.
I have a guess. But there's a poll, and I don't want to taint it with my expert opinions. Vote in the poll, then come back in three years to laugh at yourself.
(The real answer is probably "Cubs.")