CHIPALATTA

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Dan compares the Astros and Cards using the Luhnow influence


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….

Shrewd Trades

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?

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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in Colorado Springs, CO, and is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 40 years. A native of Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. He came up with Chipalatta, and it’s stuck.

45 comments on “Dan compares the Astros and Cards using the Luhnow influence

  1. chipalatta
    July 27, 2013

    Dan, good analysis. The only thing I’d point out is that the comparisons — at least in one respect — is apples and oranges to a degree. The Cardinals seem to always operate from a positive, or at least a break-even, foundation. For the past several years — and currently — the Astros’ organization is operating at a deficit. I do believe it’s quite possible Luhnow wanted to bring other free agents in last winter and some just didn’t want to play in Houston. Lance Berkman is a perfect example. Though he indicated otherwise at times, he ultimately said he didn’t want to be back in Houston. For others, Luhnow may have had to overpay for their services.

    But, yes, from my perspective the Astros are using the Cardinal model and sticking to the blueprint. It will take years, though, to reach the Cardinals’ level of consistency and foundation.

    Like

  2. Dan P
    July 27, 2013

    It is an interesting question Chip. We’ve seen in basketball where players have made free agent moves purely to go to specific teams, but in baseball it almost always comes down directly to money (unless a team is as putrid as the Astros). I think that is because the salary cap in basketball keeps the salary offers very similar when players are comparing – so they move for other reasons.
    In doing this exercise I was encouraged by the first item – minor league system and discouraged by the other 3 especially the number of players developed and making it to the big team. We do have a long way to go.

    Like

  3. wags
    July 27, 2013

    Sometimes it feels like a three-card Monte Hall. It’s hard to know what’s behind Door Number Three.

    I believe Luhnow has a positive plan in place, and depending on the luck of the draw and the absence of drug suspensions, there is a light, perhaps dim now, at the end of the tunnel.

    In spite of the spate of Wade-haters, he did put the team in position to begin the baby steps of its long hard climb. The lightning-in-a-bottle free agent deals Drayton allowed him to make were his stamp of disapproval, but his trades for young talent and latter-day drafting in many cases paid off. I look forward to some GM, hopefully Luhnow, giving Wade a few props, Pat Gillick-like, once the Astros jump the next hurdle.

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    • Dan P
      July 27, 2013

      Wags – showing that age with the Let’s Make a Deal (orIginal)
      I always was Luke warm about Wade. Did not know what he was allowed to do and what he was forced to do. He was usually better on trades than FAs.

      Like

  4. Astro45
    July 28, 2013

    DanP, interesting & thorough comparison. Ever had that conversation with your wife where you both look at a child, and your wife says, he has his mother’s eyes, and nose. And you look and look, and don’t see it. That is where I am. I see a plan like no other team, ever. First, the last time the Cardinals lost 100 games two years in a row was 1908. Second, their payroll is near $100M. Third, the Astros were losing big time WITH Roy, Lance, Michael, Carlos, Hunter, Brett, etc. No contender was going to give up starters, so we could only get prospects and dump salary. That had to improve the minors, and those guys had to go. And finally, the Cards have the ability to evaluate picks, and then coach them up. Just have not seen that yet. (Maybe that is why Bobby Heck, et al were let go) It is too soon to say what Luhnow/Crane can not do, but we need some improvement quickly. To borrow that quote from Ross Perot, when General Motors told him he did not understand the car business and that it took years to build even a “top quality fender”, his reply was “Hell it only took 5 years to win WWII.”

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    • Dan P
      July 28, 2013

      Yes, Astro45 – I am bugged that there have been so few picks that made it through – probably more about picking the wrong guys (or not signing picks) than anything else, but yes I don’t even see the guys getting to the majors showing a good understanding of the basics.
      Have to do better picking players and coaching them up – totally agree.

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  5. Becky
    July 28, 2013

    The one thing that the Cards never did, was go all IN for a quick fix. They quietly went about the business of building a VERY GOOD team, for years. When they were pounding the NL central, the Astros were neck in neck with them. This year is no different, they will be the team to beat in the NL this year…..and not too many NL
    teams can compare. By the way, I was impressed with Cosarts start today. He didn’t have his best stuff, but holding the Blue Jays to one run, gives me hope. Becky

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 28, 2013

      Becky – the Cards did not let their minor league system go to pot like the Astros did. A house built on a poor foundation will not stand. God would have made a great owner!
      Last two starts – Cosart showed a lot of heart. And Barnes continues to defy his fielding metric making catches Crashing into the wall ….

      Like

  6. Sandy
    July 28, 2013

    Becky, I saw Cosart pitch here last week. He struggled a bit that night too but I was impressed by his demeanor. Kept his cool through a couple of errors.

    Another thing about the Cards. ( they were my team before the Astros) They always had a good coaching staff.

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Good point Sandy – the Cards had a great base for so many years with LaRussa and Duncan- but they have not missed a beat since. Small sample but Cosart is one of the few guys on this team who have shown up looking like they belong.

      Like

  7. Astro45
    July 28, 2013

    Don’t want to be “piling on” – but thought Astros missed out on FAs this winter. Many posted that these guys were “placeholders”, and would be traded at the deadline for great prospects. With 3 days to go, I hope those that were not already released get traded. I would not be upset if any (except Norris though not a FA signing) only bring a “A” ball prospect. If they are still on the roster by 8-1-13, then there must be -0- takers at any price, and we might as well write off 2013, and DFA most of them. I just can not fathom having this same roster in 2014. (I am going to hide the rat poison right now)

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    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Veras may bring the best haul – has been nails lately – 11 saves in a row – no walks or runs in July.

      Like

      • Sandy
        July 29, 2013

        Right again Dan. Vera’s gone to the Tigers for a 19 year old outfielder.

        Like

      • Sandy
        July 29, 2013

        Sorry, Veras. Spell check mistake

        Like

    • devin_
      July 29, 2013

      It sounds like Luhnow has kept the asking price(s) well above the perceived value of his trading chips due to the relatively weak market.

      Like

      • Dan P
        July 29, 2013

        Can’t really blame him Devin. He is not at a point where he has to trade away his better veterans. Was reading an article where one of the GMs (I think it was Billy Beane) was complaining that there were so few sellers out there. The 2nd wild card has kept a lot more teams on the buyers side.
        So, if there is an Astros trade, hopefully it will be slanted towards the home teams favor.

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  8. Dan P
    July 29, 2013

    As Sandy has noted – Jose Veras has been traded to the Tigers for a 19 year old OF named Danry (that is not a typo) Vasquez and a player to be named later – who will likely not be named Danry.
    Luhnow is supposedly not that close to any other trades – but when did we ever know where or what he was about. These trades occur without any pre-talk occurring.

    Like

  9. Becky
    July 29, 2013

    I thought Luhnow wanted MLB ready players, in any trade. Who’s gonna close??
    This should be *REAL* interesting.

    Like

    • devin_
      July 29, 2013

      Why do we need a closer when we consistently give up the lead in the 7th and 8th innings?

      Like

  10. Dan P
    July 29, 2013

    Becky – Here is a little write-up on Vasquez from Baseball America
    http://www.baseballamerica.com/majors/tigers-trade-for-bullpen-depth-with-jose-veras/
    Based on this – I’m hopeful that the real prize is the player to be named later – perhaps someone who can’t be named until we pass the 1 year anniversary of their signing with the Tigers from the 2012 draft. If not – Vasquez sounds a bit like JDM Jr to me. Lack of speed, range and arm in the OF (though offensively he is not a whiff machine like our other OFs).

    Like

  11. daveb
    July 29, 2013

    Indeed, Danry does not seem to be much of a prize.

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Well, he is only 19 – but if he is not fast now – he won’t be next year.

      Like

  12. Astro45
    July 29, 2013

    I think this is the best trade Luhnow could get for Veras or just about anyone else on the team. Teams “buying” now are not going to give up MLB players nor their top prospects for what we are “selling.” The only prayer would be a team that has a young player (like Altuve) and a great 2nd base prospect stuck in the minors behind him. Norris should bring a quality player or several low prospects. The rest will probably bring “A” prospects at best. I really think some on the current roster would not make the 40 man roster on any other team.

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Personally, I was thinking Veras and Norris are the ones that would bring the most back (assuming that some folks like Altuve are not for sale). I wonder what Castro would bring if offered out there. Not pushing it, but just sayin’

      Like

  13. Dan P
    July 29, 2013

    Looking around at some other sites – they do like Vasquez’s plate discipline and think that with his frame 6′-4″ 175 # that he has power potential once he starts filling out – as long as he does not fill out like Dan P has. He will have to put up big power numbers if his fielding is as pedestrian as they are claiming.

    Like

  14. Sandy
    July 29, 2013

    Don’t make a lot of sense to me. At this point, if you can’t trade for quality, why trade.

    Like

    • Becky
      July 29, 2013

      Sandy…….Exactly!

      Like

  15. Dan P
    July 29, 2013

    I’m getting some mixed signals reading about this trade. One of the Detroit Tiger prospect blogs has Vasquez as the #3 prospect in their system at the mid-season. And we do not know what the player to be named will be.
    I’m thinking that Luhnow is selling Veras (who is 32) at his highest worth – thinking he will not continue to pitch at this high a level (walks are way down as is his ERA).
    My problem is that now there are no pitchers in the bullpen that I trust. That #1 overall pick is closer to being clinched (unless the Marlins get rid of Giancarlo Stanton).

    Like

  16. Becky
    July 29, 2013

    Some have compared him to Hunter Pence……….others, not so much.
    He has some problems with defense, kinda like a young JDM. I see a
    season loss of 110-115 for 2013. Becky

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Well, I would certainly take a young Hunter Pence for an old Jose Veras – but I guess we will see….

      Like

      • daveb
        July 29, 2013

        Pence might be funny looking out there, but unlike Vasquez, he’s always had an arm, can run and covers good ground in right. From what I’ve read about the new kid, he does not run or throw well. That won’t change whether he’s 19 or 29. In no way does he compare to Pence. If Vasquez grows into a power hitter, he’ll be a DH. I question why we take a 19 year old guy with limited tools. I want to see more kids that can run and throw too.

        Like

  17. Sandy
    July 29, 2013

    I guess we’ll have to see who the player to be named later turns out to be. Hopefully a pitcher near MLB ready.

    I have concerns about the kids coming up and how playing on such a bad team will affect them.

    Like

  18. Becky
    July 29, 2013

    The PTBL is “probably” a very good prospect, it will henge on how successful Veras
    is for Detroit. PLEASE……PLEASE…let it be a *catcher*. Becky

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Becky – I don’t think it will be tied to Veras’ performance – I’m sure the player has been agreed to and that it is someone who cannot change teams just yet due to draft rules….

      Like

      • Eric Girard
        July 30, 2013

        Disagree with Dan P. and agree wholeheartedly with Becky: the PTBNL is among two groups: 1) if Veras is successful; 2) if he isn’t. As Astros fans, hope Veras is a big hit in Motown!

        Like

    • Dan P
      July 30, 2013

      Eric it is possible but it would be awfully complex – how would you set it up? What if he gets 90% of his saves but has a crummy ERA and WHIP? What if they don’t use him
      In save situations? Etc.

      Like

  19. Dan P
    July 29, 2013

    Sandy – I would not worry too much about young guys coming up – being ruined by losing. Hark back to 1991 – when the Astros lost 97 games – Bidge (25 yrs old), Bags (23), Luis Gonzalez (23), Finley (26), Kenny Lofton (24), Harnisch (24), Kile (22) and Schilling (24) were all green players and came thru just fine. Talent is talent and good players know that better things will be coming (but maybe not with the team they are on).

    Like

  20. Dan P
    July 29, 2013

    So who is the next domino – Norris or Bedard?

    Like

    • Sandy
      July 29, 2013

      Norris. I’d be surprised if Luhnow can talk anyone into taking Bedard.

      Like

      • Dan P
        July 29, 2013

        But lefty innings eaters can be popular …

        Like

      • Billy Castillo
        July 29, 2013

        Honestly? I’d rather have Bedard than Norris.

        Like

  21. Sandy
    July 29, 2013

    You’re right Dan. I remember those early 90s and then 97 came along and we were back in the playoffs.
    Of course Dierker managed that 97 team. We need another Dierker right about now.

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      A dark moment when Dierker was tossed out of here. You will not find too many people who get fired with his kind of record.

      Like

  22. tedf1948
    July 29, 2013

    Good article Dan. I remember even before last season, some of the posters were hollering to “bring up the kids, let them play.” Well, our kids can’t play and the attendance and record proves it. I just hope we cut bait with some of these kids at the end of the year. All that being said, I agree with Luhnow’s methodology and in hindsight, it’s probably a good thing that this season has not been viewable. I just want Luhnow to try and get one good FA next year. If we don’t find a least one hitter, our pitchers will always have to throw shut-outs. And at some point, Luhnow needs to trade for a major league ready player, any major league ready player. I am tired of the “high upside project” that it appears we have gotten for Veras.

    Like

    • Dan P
      July 29, 2013

      Lets face it Ted – most of the young guys on this team are not the guys who were ever expected to carry the team to better days.

      Like

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This entry was posted on July 27, 2013 by in Astros.
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