New Astros president Ryan hits Chatting Cage
Within just a few minutes of his introductory press conference as the new president of business operations of the Houston Astros, it was clear Reid Ryan is a no-nonsense type who says what he's thinking and means what he's saying.
On Wednesday, fans who missed Ryan's first public appearance were treated to an extended give-and-take session during the latest version of the Edward Jones Chatting Cage on MLB.com.
Fan questions -- through Twitter, Facebook and video -- were asked and answered by Ryan, who was listening live from near the Astros' dugout on the field at Minute Maid Park. He didn't sidestep anything, including inquiries about Comcast SportsNet Houston and the massive rebuilding process the Astros have taken on, opting to sacrifice wins now for a brighter future, long term.
Ryan, whose first day on the job was May 17, was deliberate with his answers, many of which extended several minutes as he explained exactly what the Astros' intentions are as the team works to improve in all areas, on and off the field.
Jake from Baytown, Texas, asked about the criticism the Astros have received for how they're rebuilding the organization. Ryan, who saw five consecutive last-place finishes while running the club's Double-A team in Corpus Christi, noted an almost 180-degree turnaround now that the club has replenished its system with legitimate Major League prospects, thanks in part to several trades of star players in past years.
"I feel like [general manager] Jeff Luhnow and [owner] Jim Crane sat down and said, 'What's the best way for us to achieve long-term success?'" Ryan said. "Unfortunately for the fans in the short term, that was trading anybody that was of value. There were a lot of guys that left in the short term, from the [Lance] Berkmans and the [Hunter] Pences and the Wandy Rodriguezes and Jed Lowrie. Anybody that brought Major League value.
"So what we ended up having was the Astros getting two players, three players, four players in return for one big leaguer. Suddenly, the farm system was full of prospects. We saw it last year with our team in Corpus Christi that had five last-place finishes, suddenly [it] went to first place and was in the playoffs. This year, the Houston Astros, every one of their Minor League teams is either in first or within a game or two of first place. We have the best cumulative record in baseball right now."
A Twitter follower asked how the Astros plan to rebuild the fanbase, given the recent hurdles, such as the TV blackout and the mounting losses on the field. Ryan stressed the club's commitment to making decisions "for the long-term viability of the club," foregoing mediocrity for a few years in exchange for a good, contending baseball team that can compete indefinitely.
"You have to ask fans -- would you take a .500 season every year or do you want to have that year where you go to the playoffs and have a chance to win the World Series?" he said. "Everybody says we want to have a chance to go to the playoffs and win the World Series."
To do that, Ryan added, the TV deal has to be substantial. He acknowledged the process has fallen far short of expectations.
"Unfortunately, the move from Fox Sports to bringing in Comcast to having the RSN (regional sports network) partnership with the Rockets hasn't gone the way everyone wanted it to go," he said. "I've walked into it here over the last couple of weeks and really have had to bring myself up to speed in a short amount of time. When you look at the big picture of things, we are where we are."
Decisions were made a couple of years ago with the transition from former owner Drayton McLane to Crane, as Ryan explained it, and, "there's no going back on that."
"At this point, all we can do is try to drive to get the very best deal we can, to take care of the Astros on the field but also take care of the fans," he said. "If we lose some fans in the process, that's sad, but I feel like we can win them back with one-on-one conversations, by doing things consistently in a first-class manner and treating people like we want to be treated. That's all I can ask, is that people give me a shot, and they give the Houston Astros a shot, and then once we get this plan in place, we'll either succeed or sink on the decisions that we made."
There were some lighter moments during the Chatting Cage session as well. Ryan is the son of one of the most famous Texans in history, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, and he's used to answering questions about what it's like to have grown up in a family considered in these parts as baseball royalty.
Reid Ryan pointed to his father's respect for the game as the foundation for his own career, and success, in baseball.
"I think he always treated people the way he wanted to be treated," Ryan said. "He went about respecting the game, he went about working hard and he didn't take anything for granted. I think those influences rubbed off on not only me, but my brother and my sister. I've carried a lot of those core principles over into my management style in the Minor Leagues, and then now today with the Houston Astros."
As to what he did on his first day on the job, Ryan said he looked at a rundown of the names of the front-office staffers on the business side and said, "Who are all these people?" First up: get to know the staff, find out what works, find out what doesn't work. He'll study the operations of both the team and the ballpark, decide what improvements need to be made, and when that's done, he'll move to "outside the four walls" -- i.e., connect with fans, with former players, with sponsors and city leaders.
"Honestly, over the last couple of years, there's been some bruised feelings, and egos, and people have not wished what's happened to the Astros on the fanbase," he said. "Nobody wanted to have all the things transpire, from the RSN deal, to some of the situations that have happened at the ballpark, to the players on the club. It is what it is and I'm just moving forward. I can't really look behind, and that's what I've been trying to do."