I thought I could answer that question in five years. With how things turned out, that answer has to be, yeah, but it could have gone a lot better.
It's not that the moves I made were bad. Actually, we went from a 101 loss team in 2013, to only losing 86 in 2014, and 84 in 2015. But when 2016 rolled around and a rash of injuries struck yet again as they had the two previous seasons, I decided to call it quits.
There are a various number of reasons that I stopped. First of all, it's well known in the The Show community that there are these rosters known as the OSFM (Operation Sports Full Minors) that put all of the Top 100 prospects into the actual rosters. It actually fills out the AAA and AA rosters with actual minor leaguers, making running a franchise much, much easier. Having the random fictional players really does you no good, but I decided it would add to the challenge. I actually built a decent organization. It's just we kept getting hurt.
My frustration, and my inevitable leaving it behind, will not discourage me from doing another Houston Astros franchise, or any other franchise for that matter. It's just I'll be waiting for those Full Minors rosters, which should be out in April. In the meantime, I'll be continuing my Road to the Show (which is going pretty well as a pitcher, actually) and be doing Season mode instead (which is basically Franchise without the minors). It's not worth investing 10-15 hours or more without the Full Minors rosters for reasons I'll be outlining shortly.
The Positives of MLB 13: The Show's Franchise Mode
All this time spent on the "failed" Astros franchise was not for nothing. I learned a lot about how this game functions. While I do like the improvements to the scouting and training assignment aspects of the game, it certainly requires you to be far more on top of them, something very difficult to do when you're simulating seasons. I'll be dead honest, I like these changes. It makes you need to be far more aware of the daily operations of your franchise. But they also took away a lot of things in this year's version, some of which are good, and some of which aren't.
Basically, all you have to worry about any more is your on-field performance. Your profit and loss statement is based pretty much solely on that. Actually, that's good because even though our Major League team struggled to even break even on wins in each of the four full seasons that I simulated, our AA and AAA minor league teams made the playoffs three out of the four years, and one even made it to the championship series. So the performance of your minor leagues actually matters now, apparently. It did before, but even more so now.
One thing that they took out that sort of interested me is the lack of franchise goals in MLB 2013. Previously, your budget was decided by certain goals. I do believe that they actually took out those goals in the 2012 version, but since I never bought that one, I'm not entirely sure. What puzzles me is that each of the seasons I played I had a 10% player budget increase during every season, even while not doing well. As I said, I think the minor league success had something to do with it. I drafted quite well and always stocked my minors with B potential talent. But not knowing what I'm graded on is a bit disconcerting. I guess, just win a lot of games? It doesn't seem very realistic.
One thing that is more realistic is that when you draft, you'll notice that minor leaguers actually take quite some time to develop after you've drafted them. In previous games, within two or three seasons most of your prospects would be figured out. But in MLB 2013, your prospects are actually given MLB ETA dates. I really like this because you can tell just how close you want your prospects to be to the majors when you draft them. My strategy was just go for the fully scouted players with A potentials. I only had I think one bust out of all of them, and I had something like 20 picks that ended up being C potential or better, two of which were going to be Major League starting pitchers in 2016. The thing is, I stocked my major league roster with some really decent talent on the cheap.
One thing they changed in MLB 2013: the Show is the rating system. While they still have the red bars for overall ratings, they give you a number rating, as well. Be wary of the potential value though. They've had the potential value for quite a few years now, but it can be deceiving. Especially when you're dealing with older players, that A potential doesn't necessarily mean anything. I'll get to how the aging curve in this game works later (actually to be fair it's a bit more realistic than in the past) However, it can also help you find diamonds in the rough, which worked out well for me.
The postitives: I made a risky trade during the 2013 trade deadline, where I dealt franchise second baseman Jose Altuve, pitcher Carl Pavano (who just kept getting injured anyway) and outfielder Grady Sizemore (who I signed just as outfield depth) to the Mariners for second baseman Dustin Ackley, outfielder Michael Saunders, and pitcher Blake Beavan. To be fair, this trade was extremely lopsided at the time, and it continued to be as Ackley and Beaven both went on to be B+/A- players for me. Altuve remained an A player, but his offensive numbers continued to be terrible. I like Altuve a lot in real life, but this game, while it rates him so highly, does not simulate his offensive numbers well. I guess he's all speed and defense.
One sad note is that I ended up losing Saunders because of a roster crunch. I signed so many players that I felt Saunders was expendable (he was listed as a C potential, I believe). Well, as I said, that potential rating can be decieving, because he ended up being a B potential with the Blue Jays and staying a pretty decent player. While JD Martinez worked out prtetty well for me in the outfield, there were injuries that kept Chris Carter from playing much, and Ackley basically took over center field when I signed Chase Utley. I got Mike Morse to play left field, and Fernando Martinez (who never become the B potential the game said he would) actually made for a pretty good fourth outfielder.
We had a pretty solid team. Jason Castro, the catcher, ended up progressing well, as did Matt Dominguez our third baseman. They both worked out quite well. The only real disapointement was Brett Wallace, who after two and a half seasons of pretty poor batting stats went to AAA and started hammering. I signed Travis Hafner to cover some of that in 2014, as I had signed Jim Thome to do in 2013. But Hafner, while okay, never did fantastic and started regressing rating-wise very quickly. Fortunately, I'd made a steal of first baseman Jose Casilla (not the reliver who was recently released by the San Francisco Giants) in the Rule V draft in the offseason and a steal of a catcher/1st baseman in John Pederson. Thing is neither Casilla or Pederson are real players, which sort of saddens me that they were fictional players made up by the game developers. Still, they did well for me, so I liked them.
My problem, besides Chris Carter continuously getting injured (and the game constantly sending him to AAA instead of the majors and playing the less powerful Fernando Martinez in his place), was my pitching. You might say, well, Carl Pavano isn't too great, but actually, he was good for the few starts I had him, and he ended up getting me Beavan anyhow. Beavan was great for me, as were a few other of my pickups. No, my problem was Bud Norris, who was consistently horrible, for some reason. Jordan Lyles and Lucas Harrell were horribly inconsistent for me, both often having ERA's over 5. Anyone else who was good that I signed kept getting hurt. Phil Hughes was great when he wasn't hurt, as was Colby Lewis, who I got in a trade for Ubaldo Jimenez (who I'd gotten off waivers!) I just couldn't get the A and B potential starters to actually pitch like their potentials said they should!
To end off the positives, the bullpen was fantastic, and trading closer Jose Veras for Addison Reed of the White Sox paid big dividends. I saved a ton of money and got an A-grade closer. The rest of my bullpen was a bunch of starters who kept failing in my rotation, but doing okay in the pen, plus I had a couple of really good ace relievers that I plucked out of free agency on the cheap. My drafted pitchers were doing well, but their overall ratings were far too low to make the majors.
So my overall strategy was working ok for the most part. But here come the parts that actually really frustrate me about this mode in MLB 2013, problems I've never had before.
The Negatives of Franchise Mode
First of all, I must thank the game for not penalizing our poor Major League performance. It seems as if the game developers felt sorry for the Houston Astros organization, because every year I consistently had a 10% increase in payroll budget. I think it had to do with my minor league team's successes. Much of that, though, has to do with my old strategy of loading up my minors with ex-major leaguers and mixing in my successful draft picks. That worked for my AA and AAA teams, as why would I want to pay my C and D overall prospects like they were major league backup players? I'd rather pay major league backup players to serve as depth in my minor leagues and help them win games.
So that part of my strategy worked well as always. Here's the problem: I usually sign guys out of free agency to fill holes for about a season or two before i can make a big signing or get a great draft pick. The problem is that this game loves to immediately regress all of your older guys. Now signing the likes of Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu understandably does not get you very far most of the time. But signing guys like Chase Utley, who should remain positive players for several more years, almost immediately hurts you. Utley had a minor injury in his second year with me, and that was it. The computer for some reason refused to keep him in the lineup. and kept removing him constantly to play Maicer Izturis over him. Now Izturis is nice to have, but why was it playing Utley over Izturis? Because Utley became a C- player overnight, out of nowhere, even after putting up decent numbers with me.
Now Chase Utley may just fall off a cliff. But this happened with more than a few guys. Fortunately, I was smart enough not to invest tons of money in these guys. So I ended up eating some money with Utley and simply releasing him. I think I lost about 1.7 million one year and about a million the next. It's just frustrating because the free agent markets were absolutely terrible after my first season, so I was limited to only internal options.
In retrospect, it would seem prudent to simply focus on younger players. Actually, I did sort of do this, and this is why Ackley and Beavan paid off so well for me, as did Casilla and Pederson (fictional or not). This is why the Full Minors rosters are so important. I never needed them before, but this franchise mode is a LOT harder, and you NEED those younger foundational players. I drafted them just fine, but I would've had to punt the next two or three seasons before they saw the major leagues, so I just gave up on this incarnation.
Here's the major problem I have with this game. The CPU roster management is AWFUL. Understandably, the CPU management has never been great, but it consistently sent guys like Chris Carter down (who was having a great season, and never had a bad season for that matter) and constantly took BETTER players out of my lineup when I simulated. It didn't matter that I put them in on the lineup screen. Just by the total numbers you could tell the computer wanted to play worse players for no explicable reason. Fernando Martinez, who is a nice player, kept getting started over Carter and JD Martinez, superior players, for no reason.
What really gets me is the pitching. My pitchers CONSISTENTLY had more walks than strikeouts. The rates were so unrealistic it shocked me. The strangest thing is that the other team's pitchers didn't seem to have this problem. Is our coaching staff THAT bad? Or is this game purposely designed to make the user team's simulated stats that awful? We only lost as many games as we did because the computer handled our starting pitchers horribly. I have to look into why this is, but in the future, I have to at least use the Sportscast Manager mode to make sure the computer doesn't lose me more games. I know I was building rosters that should've won 90 games. We were winning about 75 a year. I had just had enough of getting screwed by the computer and destroying the development of guys like Lyles and Harrell, and especially Chris Carter, who took a lot longer to produce than he should have.
Now you might say, why simulate seasons? Well, the whole point of franchise mode is to make teams that can simulate well! The thing is whatever they did to the potential system in this game apparently messed up a lot of the rating systems that go into how well teams perform in simulation. I'll chalk up some of the struggles to injuries, but watching how we were losing the games, I have to blame poor simulation algorithms only compounded by horrible line-up management. In MLB 11 I never saw bad line-ups like this, and from what I've seen of MLB 12, it never handled things this badly. I have a feeling that all teams are being simulated this badly (the game put Mike Aviles at DH for the Indians!?) and it really hurts the integrity of the game.
Obviously, I can fix a lot of these problems by playing all of the games, or at least managing them. But when you're rebuilding a franchise, you want to simulate a few seasons, so knowing I can't do that really bums me out.
The Verdict: Is Franchise Mode Worth Playing?
MLB 13: The Show is a great game. The game play is excellent and the Road to the Show mode is probably worth buying the game alone. If you like online play (The Diamond Dynasty mode first introduced last year is particularly interesting), this game's awesome. I personally just don't like investing too much time in online modes, as they'll likely go away when the season's over. But my favorite part of baseball games has always been the franchise mode. To think I have to switch over to season mode just so I don't lose my mind over an apparently terrible player progression system really makes me sad.
The bright spot here is, though, that a lot of the rating issues could well be fixed in the next roster update, as well as the OSFM rosters coming out. I just wish that the AI for your CPU management was as good as it was in the past because having to constantly reshuffle my lineups (batting my 1st baseman in the lead-off spot instead of Ackley?) is such a pain.
There's definitely more realism in the drafting and training processes, and I like that. But taking away a lot of the peripheral stuff kind of sucks. While I certainly don't miss having to do housekeeping like picking a TV contract or caring about your advertising budget or billboard in the outfield, there are more fundamental things like setting ticket prices, concession and parking prices, and putting out promotions that can easily affect your income considerably. I never cared much for the promotions, but they did help. Now having only a flat "it's how your perform on the field" to determine your profit and loss is a bit underwhelming. I liked having goals to go after (even though apparently MLB 12 didn't have these, either) and your budget simply going up 10% every season, which is all I've seen so far, isn't exactly realistic. I think they over-simplified things a bit and it hurt the mode.
I'm definitely going to give the Astros franchise another go, and until then I'll focus on Road to the Show and Season mode, just because I love how this game is presented and how it plays. It's great to have a new baseball game. I just wish my pet project of rebuilding the Astros wasn't so overwhelmed with simulation issues. I'll get there eventually, and I'll be sure to post an update when I do.
I tend not to be very patient with these things the way that I was with my Indians franchise in MLB 10, which took me six or seven years to win. But this isn't 2010. I'm going to have to learn to be more patient, and understand that the CPU is really, really stupid.