Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jeff Luhnow Interview Part 4

In Part 4 of my interview with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, we talked about rebuilding and his first year in Houston. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the interview are here, here and here.

I asked Luhnow what he thought was the biggest misconception about rebuilding a team. “First of all, I don’t think people understand [that] rebuilding comes in a lot of different forms. There’s rebuilding the major league team -- you could have a bunch of veteran players and you promote the prospects -- that’s technically considered rebuilding, but that’s just getting younger and going with your prospects as opposed to your veterans. That’s one form of rebuilding. And actually there’s also the idea of rebuilding while you’re good at the major league level. That’s something that we did in St. Louis. The team was having a lot of success – ’04, ’05, ’06, back in the playoffs in ’09, so the team really never went through a significant down cycle, but at the same time, there was a tremendous amount of effort going into injecting talent into the minor league system through the international program and the draft and some of the other things that were going on.

But, really, how long it takes to rebuild [is a big misconception]. In order to really understand how long it’s going to take, you need to have a pretty thorough understanding of what the system looks like in the minor leagues compared to other systems. And that can give you a hint as to whether it’s going to be a couple of years or five-plus years. We’ve seen teams like Pittsburgh and Washington and Kansas City (and Tampa Bay did it a while back) pick high in the draft for sometimes five years or more. And then even after that point, it takes a few years for those high-end players to come through the system and reach the big leagues. I think we’re looking at a much shorter time frame, hopefully. There’s a lot that needs to go right for that to happen, but because we were able to do some of the things we did this year with the trades, because we felt like we had a better system than we were being given credit for and because we’re just going to make sure that from now on, we utilize our draft pool and international pool to maximize the impact, [I think we are poised to make that happen]. I think every situation is unique and I think that’s probably the one thing that fans don’t necessarily understand. It seems like sometimes in other sports [when] you rebuild, you’re bad for a year or you’re bad for two years, and then you’re back. In baseball, it’s like turning a battleship around [my emphasis]. It’s not something that you can really do very quickly.”

The final question I had for Luhnow was what he thought about Houston after his first year as the Astros General Manager. “I love the city and I love the team and the fans are great. [Me: And the bloggers are a little insane?] No, the bloggers are great as well (laughter). I really appreciate the passion. It was one thing to have passionate bloggers and people following the minor leagues in St. Louis where the team was in the World Series and all that, but to have it here in Houston... There’s just such a core group of really passionate fans and followers, it’s great.

"I think we have our challenges ahead, but I like the team that we’re building here. We’ve basically replaced the entire front office. We’ve replaced a lot of the scouting, player development, the field staff, and I really believe that we have a staff in place now that can match up against any staff in baseball. And that’s a starting point because it’s a people business and people are the ones that make the decisions. We need to have the right people making the right decisions with the right information. I know it’s been frustrating for our fans to go through two seasons like we just went through and the only thing I can continue to promise (I won’t give a timeline because if I do, I’ll be wrong), but I promise that we are working as hard and as smart as we can to win as many games as quickly as possible at the big league level and, once we get there, [to] sustain that so it’s not a situation where … we made a run at it and now we have to go back and start over again. That’s the goal and I think we’re well on our way. The first year, while on paper at the big league level, may not appear to have been successful, the number of things that we were able to accomplish, setting up the infrastructure and the underlying fundamentals that are going to help us in the future -- it was a huge success. So the key for this next year is to continue to build on that and to allow some of that work to begin to show its fruits."


I sincerely thank Jeff Luhnow for taking the time to talk with me. Astros fans have been through some very trying times the last few seasons. Personally, I take comfort in knowing that the Astros system is being rebuilt the right way and that a smart, focused and highly motivated individual like Luhnow is in charge. I think he has this battleship turned around. Now it’s just a matter of getting it up to speed. That may take a while, but once we get there, I think we’ll be cruising along smoothly for a long time to come.


  1. Problem is, there is no way to prove the battleship is headed in the right direction. At this point, we Astros fans are only getting lip service. The top prospects are not MLB ready and won't be for a couple years. We have done nothing to improve our record for the next couple years and reports are the team salary is going to be lower than most fortune 500 CEO's salary. Most of the trades did not get top tier talent and Crane and CO have not shown an interest in free agency. We will be bad for several more years before we even know if the plan is working. Luhnow is a politician, salaries are not fluid, he knows what budget he has, he just doesn't say because their would be a mutiny.

  2. First of all, the improvement from dead last to first in domestic minor league win percentage in one season was huge. Secondly, after having studied the minor league system for the last couple of seasons, I can assure you that the improvement in depth of talent is also huge (and any number of experts in these things will agree with me). Thirdly, it would be a complete waste to make any big free agent signings right now. We are still at the point where we need to see where we are internally and what our needs are before we sign any premier free agents that we will eventually need to fill in the holes. Signing free agents without addressing the underlying problems is part of what got us into this mess in the first place.

    Personally, I think that we will have one more bad year as we make the transition to the American League and then we will start to be competitive in 2014 as our players start to mature and get more experience. Can I prove that? No. But I can tell you that Jeff Luhnow is one of the smartest people that I have ever met and I've met a lot of smart people in my life. He knows what he's doing and I have faith that he will get us there.

    This is just my opinion, but I'm willing to stand by it and put my name on it. Thanks for reading.

  3. I enjoy reading your blogs and I don't disagree with your ideology....but until Crane and Co attempt to field a successful MLB team, they have not improved. The end result is wins and losses at minute maid, not Lancaster. I know the minors have improved, but this is about the MLB team, and they have not improved. Furthermore, there is no near term belief that they will improve. I completely disagree that there is no reason to get in the FA market. We have holes in pitching, outfield and bullpen just to name a few. Not to mention the glaring hole at DH. The mission should always be to field the best team possible, but we are not attempting to do that currently. Just because Luhnow is smart, doesn't prove anything. Wins and losses is the measuring stick in a competative sport.

  4. We'll have to agree to disagree. I'm willing to live with a little short-term pain because I see the long-term gain ahead.

  5. I have to get you on many 100 loss seasons are you willing to endure? I seen the same enthusiasm with Wade. Drayton was a saint while spending 22 million a year on Clemens, but the media turned on him. How many losses is acceptable?

  6. You already have me on record up above, but I will reiterate. I think we will have another tough season in 2013, more due to the move to the American League than anything else. More specifically, I don't think we'll lose 100 games again, but I can't really tell you much more than that until the 25-man roster is set in April. In 2014, I think we will be competitive. By that, I mean that I don't think we will be bottom dwellers any more and should at least have .500 in our cross hairs for much of the season. I base this on who I think will be promoted between now and then and how I think they will do. Also, I think we will start spending more in free agency that year. Could I be wrong? Of course. But that is what I believe will happen. And that will have to be my last word on this because I'm going to be unavailable to comment the rest of the day. Thanks again for reading.

  7. Thanks for your blog and your responses, as an Astros fan for life, I hope you are right. I disagree with you, but I hope I am wrong and you are correct.