Most of us know that Jeff Luhnow cut his teeth in the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of us know that the Cardinals – one of the Astros’ long time rivals in the NL Central – have to be considered the gold standard for long term success in the National league. Since the start of the new millennium (OK – I never can remember if the millennium started in 2000 or 2001) … since the 2000 season the Cards have had one losing year, 10 playoff appearances, 3 World Series appearances and 2 wins and currently have the best record in baseball. That is strong.
So how have the Cards done it and are the Astros following in their footsteps?
MINOR LEAGUE SYSTEM
Cards – One of the things that the Cardinals recognized that the Astros ignored moving towards the mid-2000’s was the need to replenish their minor league system. Both Baseball America and John Sickels proclaimed the Cardinals as having the most talent in their minor league system of any team in the majors heading into the 2013 season. This analysis usually also includes players that had a cup of coffee at the major league level prior to the season. Having the top minor league system while simultaneously having the best record in the majors is what all teams should strive for.
Astros – After floundering near the bottom of the minor league systems for a number of years, the trades for youth and multiple good drafts have given the Astros a shot in the arm. Heading into the 2013 season, they had moved up into the top 10 in both BA (9th) and Sickels (10th) rating systems. After a big 2013 draft, and early signing of most critical picks, plus the potential of more veteran for youth trades – it is conceivable that the Astros could be in the top 5 heading into 2014.
Summary – The Astros are well on their way to building a deep and talented minor league system – like the Cards.
HOME GROWN – DRAFT PICKS TO THE MAJORS
Cards – One of the strengths of the Card’s organization has been their ability to fill their roster with players they have drafted. And they have been very good at picking up big time players after the first couple of rounds – 13th rounder Albert Pujols being the poster boy most folks recall. The 2013 roster is filled with their own picks and I’m not just talking about the cream of the draft picks. Yes, they have first and second rounders, like pitchers Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and IF Pete Kozma, but they have also been successful later in the draft – picking up All-Stars Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter in the 4th, 8th and 13th rounds respectively. Other contributors include OF Jon Jay (2nd round) and pitchers Joe Kelly (3rd), Seth Maness (11th), Trevor Rosenthal (21st) and Jaime Garcia (22nd round). They brought up youngster Kevin Siegrist, a 41st round (not a misprint) draft pick and he has given up 1 run in 14 innings. Between the 25 man roster and the disabled list the Cards have 18 of their own draft picks – only 7 of those from the first 4 rounds of the draft / 6 of them from the 21st round and later.
This is a tremendous base of talent and includes many bargains.
Astros – The current version of the Astros have only 6 of their own draft choices on the 25 man roster and only one of them – JD Martinez (20th round) was taken after the 7th round. It is obvious that it will take a number of years to match a team like the Cards with home grown draft picks in the majors. In reality the youth movement for the Astros for the next 3 to 4 years may well be equal parts their own draft picks (Springer, Folty, Fontana, Correa, Appel) and youth picked up in trades (Cosart, Villar, Singleton, Asher Wojalphabet, Santana).
Summary – The job is less than ½ done, but at least there are good prospects up and down the system for the Astros.
SOLID FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
Cards – The Cards have not needed to pursue a bunch of free agent signings, but they have done a good job of picking up players at the right time – ala Lance Berkman or Chris Carpenter. Carlos Beltran has been the best example of that recently – giving the Cards two very good years at a fairly advanced age. Jake Westbrook technically was traded to the Cards but almost immediately became a free agent that they chose to sign at fairly reasonable terms and he has given them 3 solid under the radar years since that time.
Astros – This is where the rubber meets the road in judging the future of this team and especially their management team. Will they make strategic FA buys – not the collective c&%p sandwiches they have been purchasing for most of the last decade – Hampton, Ortiz, W. Williams, KazMat, Hall, Feliz, Lyon, Pena… I know there are those that think that Jim Crane will shoot down all FA signings of any size. Personally, we need good quality, not high quantity here. This is a place where Luhnow could easily out-distance Ed Wade who seemed to choose the wrong people and to give them too much money for too many years….
Summary – To be determined….
Cards – They turned a washed up icon, Jim Edmonds, into David Freese, who has been both an All-Star and a World Series MVP for the Cards. They pried Adam Wainwright and Jason Marquis from the Braves for JD Drew and Eli Marrero. (Who did we get for Michael Bourn again?) They traded 3 young prospects (the best of which was probably Brett Wallace) for Matt Holliday and then made sure he did not leave when he became a FA. They traded a so-so minor league 3B for a replacement closer – Edward Mujica.
Astros – Up to now – Jeff Luhnow has been completing fairly obvious trades of veterans for potential. The tale will be told on his ability as they move farther down the road and try to pick up more immediate help.
Summary – Too early to tell, probably the most positive sign is Luhnow’s ability to trade with almost anyone – hopefully that brings the best value back to the team.
So, are the Astros headed down the fine road occupied by the Cards or are they pulling the 3 Card Monte on the fans?