I asked Luhnow about whether he’d been to the Dominican Republic yet to look at the players in the instructional league in hopes I could hear about a player or two who had caught his eye. Alas, he won’t be going until after the winter baseball meetings, but told me that he would be going with Assistant GM David Stearns and Director of Latin American Scouting Oz Campo to “watch a couple games, do a couple tryouts.”
I mentioned something that Lancaster Manager Rodney Linares said to me in talking about the increasing depth in the farm system, calling it “a good mess.” Luhnow agreed that there are challenges, “Once you start to have depth, you put pressure on your 40-man, you have to worry about playing time. That decision [is something] that Quinton [new Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken] and the rest of us will have to make next year as far as who gets what spots, what level, what playing time. [It] becomes a much more important decision when you have a number of prospects and your system is starting to become more robust like ours is, so those decisions will be carefully weighed. It’s always a challenge not to over weigh what you see in Spring Training in two weeks of at-bats or in two weeks of innings pitched because, as we all know, Spring Training is an OK predictor of what’s going to happen during the season, but it’s not perfect and sometimes looking at [the player’s] track record may be just as important.”
I spoke with Luhnow on the 20th shortly before the 40-man roster had been set in advance of the Rule 5 draft. In speaking of the process of protecting players, he said, “I wouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is for a team to keep a player on their 25-man roster all year. It is a challenge. We were able to do it last year in large part because Marwin [Gonzalez] was so important to our team and he really became a regular player, and we have enough bullpen depth where we could pitch [Rhiner] Cruz in certain spots and not necessarily overexpose him so we were fortunate in that way. I think it would be a lot more challenging going forward to protect two more guys this year. We’re certainly going to take players but whether or not we are able to keep them? [It’s] going to be difficult to repeat that.”
I was curious about the level of control that the team has over players who play winter league ball in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, among other places. In particular, I was thinking of how Jimmy Paredes was being used extensively in the outfield in his time in the Dominican Republic. I assumed that this was something that the Astros front office would want as Paredes continues in his transition from second base to the outfield. According to Luhnow, “It’s a negotiation. What we do is whenever we can possibly legally prevent the team from using the player, we usually trigger that using the extreme fatigue clauses so that we can have a little more control over how they’re used. A lot of those players, we were able to say you can’t use them, but then we do allow them to play but under certain conditions. We do that whenever we can and that allows us, especially with pitchers, to dictate the number of innings, how they’re used, how often they can go back-to-back, all those types of things. And then with respect to Paredes, I think it’s a combination of he wanted to play outfield, we talked to the team and we asked them to make sure that he gets extensive playing time out there and it’s also just a good fit for them as well so … it’s a negotiation. There are ongoing relationships that we have with all the winter club teams and they know we’re all in this together for many years. They know if they do something against our wishes this year, it might come back to haunt them next year because we might not let them have the player they want so it’s definitely one of those things where we work collaboratively with a team.
On Thursday: Some final thoughts from Jeff Luhnow on rebuilding and his first year in Houston