Notes and quotes from Jeff Luhnow’s appearance on “Astroline.”
General manager Jeff Luhnow kicked off the new year by appearing with Milo Hamilton on the first “Astroline” of 2012, which took place Wednesday night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Midtown. As expected, the show generated a lot of calls and tweets and ended up being a very informative hour with lots of questions answered by the new GM.
You can listen the show in its entirety by clicking here. Some interesting snipets:
On his opinion about the trades made before he was here and if he’s happy with depth in the Minor League system:
JL: I do believe we have a plan in place put together by (owner) Jim Crane and the ownership group and (president and CEO) George Postolos. That plan involves us building from within, developing a system that can be productive and allow us to compete year in and year out. How long it takes until we’re competing year in and year out, I don’t know at this point. I do think that the trades made last summer added some interesting players to the system. It’s hard from where I’m sitting to say, “Was that a good deal or not?” It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know what other options were available at the time. But I do know both of those players (Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn) were traded and there’s a lot that came back in return. I do think that going forward, the system is going to get better. There’s a lot of excitement around some of the players in the Minor Leagues that have come through the Astros drafts and the trades and it’s going to be fun to watch them develop and we’re going to hopefully add to that.
On his basic philosophy on building the Astros and signing free agents:
JL: From a free agency standpoint, there’s a couple of critical things. If you have a limited payroll you have to make sure you don’t make mistakes. You sign one bad big contract and that can set you back years….You can’t win with just free agents. Everybody knows that. Even the Yankees know that. We’re going to be a small payroll team for a few years here. We’re going to have to build from within. What does that mean? That means staffing the organization with the best scouts and best coaches at all levels. It means doing it internationally and doing it domestically. There’s no one silver bullet. You have to be excellent across all different areas. You have to have the best scouts in the Dominican. You have to have good development people throughout the system, good amateur scouts in the U.S. and pro scouts in U.S.
There are already good scouts in the Astros organization and we’re going to layer on top of that and make value decisions. What I mean by that is every baseball decision ends up being dollars and cents decision at the end of the day. How much is a Double-A prospect worth relative to a six-year free agent. There’s ways to value all of that and methods other teams use that I’m familiar with from my days in St. Louis. We’re going to institutionalize all of that here so that it becomes part of our nature.
What kind of payroll do you see the Astros having long term? Are the days of $100 million over?
JL: We’re going to need to demonstrate some progress on the field and demonstrate that the fans are coming back and getting excited about the ball club. You look at the Houston market — the Texans are very successful. The Rockets are very successful. There’s no reason the Astros can’t be successful. The market is large enough to sustain a payroll in the top 10. I would imagine if we do our jobs and get some breaks going our way and the fans start coming back, we’re going to be able to push the payroll to a point where we can compete year in and year out.
I’m used to $100 million-range payrolls with St. Louis and it gives you a lot of flexibility to sign free agents and keep some of your better players. As our young players come through and go through arbitration and become free agents, we want to have the flexibility to sign these guys and keep them around for a while. I know Jim and George and the entire ownership group are committed to that. But we have milestones along the way that we’re going to need to hit in order to get there.
What are Chris Johnson’s chances of being the starting third baseman in 2012?
JL: I don’t know if I have an answer for that right now. We have a couple of different options. There are not too many positions where you say, that person’s absolutely going to be there April 6 when we open the season. There will be open competition for a lot of spots and third base is one of them. We want to put the best product on the field this year but we also want to develop for the future. Brad (Mills) and his staff and myself will spend all of Spring Training trying to figure out the answer to that.
On Sig Mejdal, hired recently as the director of decision sciences:
JL: He really helped me do my job as scouting director (in St. Louis) and helped me pick the right guys and a lot of the guys that we, together, picked made it to the big leagues and helped the Cardinals win the championship this year. We’re hoping to replicate some of that and hope that some of that luck rubs off over here.
On using modern technology available for statistical analysis:
JL: From my standpoint, it’s not a matter of if you use the old school methods or new methods. You really need to use both of them. Nothing replaces the value of having an experienced scout go out and observe a player and give you his point of view about what that player is going to become. That’s information that’s been part of baseball forever and will continue to be part of baseball. It’s essential.
There is, though, so much additional information available to any baseball person today. No one person can analyze it all and understand it in their own mind. We’ll start using some of the more sophisticated technology to combine it with the scouting opinions and make the best decisions.
Other notable tidbits:
* Luhnow had a two-hour, get-to-know-you breakfast meeting with Craig Biggio on Wednesday. It was an informal discussion to serve as an exchange of ideas and gave Biggio a chance to share some of his ideas and opinions.
* While no player is untouchable, Luhnow does not plan to trade Bud Norris. “He is a critical part of the plan moving forward,” Luhnow said.