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.