Yes, it’s about the money, but Luhnow does have a clean slate


If Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow wanted a clean slate, the Astros are almost there. One by one, Houston has dispensed with players of consequence.

Is it about the money? Or is Luhnow simply taking advantage of all the organization’s assets to improve the team’s foundation and position?

At this point, the Astros are creating a new model. If Luhnow succeeds, 10-20 years from now, rebuilding teams will no longer refer to Tampa Bay and Oakland as the blueprint. If the Astros can return to respectability this decade, how many more teams will divest themselves of every bit of talent to get to the bottom?

Is it about the money? Or does Luhnow really have a plan that will prevail?

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Erik Bedard is the only Astro making over $1 million. Next up — and you’ll love this one — is Philip Humber’s $800,000 salary. Every other player is within a few thousand of the league minimum.

Yes, you can argue it’s about the money. But it does give Luhnow a clean slate, talent wise, dollar wise and every other “wise”.

Talk about maneuvering room. Jason Castro is due his first trip through arbitration this winter. But others due arbitration (Bud Norris, Wesley Wright, Justin Maxwell) or options/buyouts (Jose Veras) are no longer Houston’s problem.

Is it about the money? The only thing guaranteed on the books for 2014 is Jose Altuve’s $1.25 million. Nothing else is guaranteed. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

Yes, there will be some low-risk, high-reward hopefuls. They won’t be named Humber, Pena or Ankiel, but they’ll get their $750,000 or perhaps $1 million “tryouts”. It’s inevitable, but it cannot be the only investment in 2014.

Along with the prospects like Cosart, Villar and Springer, the Astros need to find some veteran presence that will help the Astros take the next step.  Playoffs? No, Jim, we’re not talking playoffs. But 2014 should — no, must — represent a huge improvement. Maybe even toy with .500, but nothing less than 75 wins.

A $50 million payroll should be in the equation. Spent smartly, the Astros could even get away with $42-$45 million.  If you think about it, that’s only 2-3 well-placed veterans to go along with some of those low-risk Bedards et al.

If you’re thinking the Astros will go from a $21 million budget (that’s what it was at the start of the season) to $75-$85 million in one season, you’re drinking some really good stuff. Take another sip and pass it around.

But this winter will indeed be the biggest 2-3 months in Jeff Luhnow’s short tenure. How he navigates this offseason will likely dictate how quickly the Astros return to that so-called respectability.

Maybe it’s time to pull off one of those trades where the Astros send prospects to pick up a young, promising major leaguer who hasn’t quite yet had a breakthrough. It’s unreasonable to expect the Astros to chase Robinson Cano, Brian McCann or Matt Garza, but there will be those affordable, solid options.

But here’s the key: Don’t sign those players with an eye on July. Bring them in for the long haul. Bedard and Veras were solid investments. It’s easy in hindsight, but the Astros should have held onto Veras (but that’s another story).

Is it about the money? Of course, it is. But it’s also about positioning the organization for the future. And it’s time that Luhnow invest for today rather than tomorrow.

Yes, it’s about the money. About $45-$50 million in 2014.

Finish these sentences:

  • If the Astros don’t win 75 games next season…
  • The biggest surprise this off season will be…
  • The Astros’ payroll on opening day 2014 is going to be…
  • If Luhnow were smart this winter, he’d sign…
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35 comments on “Yes, it’s about the money, but Luhnow does have a clean slate

  1. Chip –
    – If the Astros don’t win 75 games next season…I will still be here in 2015, but it will be getting lonelier and lonelier.
    – The biggest surprise this off season will be…if Crane lets Luhnow commit that $45 million you mention. He should do it, but I am not certain he will do it.
    – The Astros’ payroll on opening day 2014 is going to be…$38 million.
    – If Luhnow were smart this winter, he’d sign…tough question – not that much out there I’m excited about. How about an OF with a .400+ OBP – Shin Soo Choo of the Reds….

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  2. Let me start with biggest surprise: “IF” Astros spend $45M. I feel like we are band members on the Titanic. Here is the conundrum. Norris, Lowrie, etc. were too old for “the plan.” So, there are -0- FAs (5+ yrs) that are 23-24 yrs old. It would appear that we are going to have to wait for the prospects to mature. Don’t see how you get to 75 wins with only prospects for several more years. Last winter and probably again this winter, there will be only a few FAs that are 28-30 worth their money. But there will be at least 2-3 again. Did not sign them last year (Instead chose end of the career or past end of their career “cheapies”.) But to improve the current and future rosters, you are forced to sign some. So until the purse strings are loosened, we will NOT win 75. One begets the other.

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    • Astro45, I believe — right or wrong — that Luhnow looked at Lowrie’s injury track record and gambled that he might never be the everyday answer for the Astros. Further, he may have considered he was selling at Lowrie’s high point.

      On Norris, it seemed clear that Norris wasn’t happy and he was letting people know about it, even publicly. Can’t have that, so I don’t have a problem with the trade. Moreover, Norris didn’t seem the type of player who was an example and leader of the younger guys.

      That’s what the Astros need: Someone(s) who can play the game and help mentor the younger players at the same time. Pena was apparently one of those mentors, except he just couldn’t hit any more.

      If Lowrie turns into an everyday player for the next several years, Luhnow lost the gamble. He sure would have looked nice in the three hole behind Altuve.

      But, yes, the point is that the time is coming — and hopefully next year — when the Astros sign players to keep, rather than just hoping to flip them at the deadline.

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      • Even if Lowrie does turn into an everyday player for the next several years, and Carter remains a one dimensional semi-bust, there is the chance that Peacock and Stassi both pay off in the long run. I’m especially optimistic about Stassi, in that he’s gone from a hitters league last year to a pitchers league this year and kept on hitting. He’s also thrown out 38% of would be base stealers in AA. And he looks like a catcher behind the plate. Peacock? Well he’s a longer shot.

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      • I got us way off topic in the way I made my initial post. I was talking about player’s “age” – as those trades are history. So just to use as a ridiculous example – lets say Oakland offers Bartolo Colon $3 M (Age 40) for David Martinez (Age 26 -OKC) – even up. I don’t see Luhnow taking the trade due to age. So if you pick a cut off on FAs due to age (again just an example) – 30. Then the selection group is very small.

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    • Chip –
      I think the Lowrie trade may take awhile to really analyze correctly. I’m not sure Carter will ever be more than he is – but at some point someone might want him as a DH/PH. Peacock has done better on his recent call-up that would be a big positive. The pivot point is Stassi. If he keeps his current arc and is a good defensive catcher with decent power and average – then that could even off-set things if Lowrie stays uninjured. But I don’t think we will know for 2-3 years.

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  3. To me Astro 45 – the one thing that makes some sense is to trade for a targeted veteran like Chip set out. Perhaps you package someone that has made the big club but is not in the long term plans with a prospect at a crowded position.
    To me that is the only way to add a younger vet.

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  4. I’m not sure how we get to $45-50M intelligently. Let’s look at the starting 9 and potential free agents:
    –Catcher – Defensively it would not be difficult to upgrade, but offensively Castro has done enough damage against RHP to position himself beyond most of the FA crop.
    –1B – Wallace and Carter are your likely placeholders until Singleton is ready. With a strong offseason of work he could challenge for a spot in spring training.
    — 2B – Ok, get out your tar and feathers. This is one of the easier spots to “upgrade.” Cano, Infante, Utley, Zobrist all have value in one way or another that may be a net upgrade, EXCEPT for the fact Altuve is only 23 years old and just signed that extension. Bringing in a free agent would cost us more than we’d get back in WAR (please put the tar and feathers away now).
    — SS – There’s not much here. I think Villar gets the nod in ST unless he collapses over the next month and a half. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them give Brendan Ryan a call…but that’s even more a shot in the dark than Tyler Greene would have been.
    — 3B – Do you want a couple years of overpaying for Michael Young? There’s not much else there of interest. You could potentially bring a guy like Mark Reynolds to camp (did the Indians release him?) with hopes the short porch can offset his warts if he made the team. Dominguez has some major flaws (speed, OBP, lack of consistency) but the promise of his glove likely makes his spot solid heading into 2014.
    — LF / CF / RF – Hoes, Springer, and ??? I like Barnes and Grossman, but don’t see either as better than bench or platoon guys. If they wanted to make a splash, they could chase Jacoby Ellsbury…but he’s making $9M in 2013 and is a Bora$ client. After that I think you have a couple guys like Hunter Pence and Luke Scott that could get a phone call. I don’t see much else.
    — P – Alright, this is where we can spend some money. There are a lot of guys out there. The question is how many should they chase, and in what order?

    — Getting to 75 wins will require an offensive upgrade and a bullpen overhaul. I don’t see it happening in 2014, but maybe 2015 will be the year.

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    • Becky – are you dating Bopert?
      Seriously, I agree with you – I don’t think they will be getting to that number with next year’s team.

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  5. The holes I see in your assessment is……..how many of those guys
    who are going to be on the free agent market, will be willing to lower themselves
    to play for the Astros? Not dating Bopert, just being realistic. The payroll MIGHT
    get to $20-$25 million next year, but I wouldn’t put money on it…..even THOUGH
    I’m a gambler!!

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  6. More walking around money for Crane today. The Rangers just traded for Travis Blackley for cash, and a PTBNL. No big loss, because Blackley had accepted
    his OKC assignment.

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    • Dan, it is odd, but it may be just a timing thing since they were recently involved in other moves. Maybe something is going on in their rotation/bullpen and they’re just looking for some type of safety net. He’s headed to Round Rock though and isn’t on the Rangers’ 40-man roster. I’m surprised Luhnow could get much of anything for him, cash included. (Of course, cash considerations could include his bus ticket to Round Rock and the rest of 2013 salary.).

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  7. Well, if the Astors don’t win 75 games next season, the revenue will plummet, and that will be the real problem.
    The biggest surprise this offseason will be a trade involving some top 20 prospects … ours.
    The payroll on opening day will be about $30 million again. I don’t see too many free agent signings … at least above the $3 million to $5 million range.
    If Luhnow was smart this winter, he’d sign a decent bullpen. Maybe three or four guys ranging between $3 million and $5 million. Maybe a closer at as much as $7 million.

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    • Brian T – maybe sign one closer, one set-up or 7th inning guy and fill-in with younger arms? Hopefully Luhnow does not sign a Lyon type for too many years at too high a price…I’m betting he won’t.

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  8. Let me add that from where I sit (in the dark except when we play the Rangers) we are in the middle of a 5-7 year plan. I may not like it, but the plan is the plan. Right now, we don’t have a man on the 25 roster that would bring anything. We got only prospects for Veras, Lowrie, Wright, and Norris. The roster is completely depleted. So the posts of not getting to $35 – 45 M are correct, in my opinion. The plan does not call for bringing in anyone over 28 unless they are dirt cheap. So as much as I don’t like the plan, it is what is going to happen. In 2-4 more years, it might yield a .500 club, but can’t imagine them spending for a 1st tier player for at least 2 more years. (I just re-read my post and am on my way to hide all the guns and knives in my house)

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  9. Free agency is absolutely the wrong way to go. If they are going to spend $50MM it should be to lock up their own. Sorry Dave and Becky, but Castro is next in line. He is by far the best position player on the team and one of the top two or three on the AL.

    At $4.5MM per win above replacement, $45MM doesn’t get you even close to 75 wins (if that is to be our measure). To replace Dominguez’s replacement player performance with a couple of WAR from, say, Juan Uribe will not get anyone excited, and he will cost every bit of $4.5MM per WAR. Springer is the only player who could reasonably be expected to bring 2 or 3 WAR by next year. Maybe Villar and Singleton chip in a couple each. I think we have to count on Hoes, Dominguez, Grossman, and Wallace(again next year!?) getting better.

    The best improvement they can make is to have no significant negative WAR players. Staying away from FAs like Ankiel and Pena, and divesting themselves of players like JDM, Jimmy Parades, and Chris Carter’s glove are all relatively free and will do more than adding an already peaked Hunter Pence.

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    • Flash, I would agree that Castro is our best position player against right handed pitching, but I don’t want to build my contending team with a guy that mostly sits against lefties (because he has not shown an ability to hit them) and plays his position poorly. It will be interesting to see if the club wraps him up with an Altuve type deal, or if they shop him and look ahead to Stassi. In fact I wouldn’t mind seeing a Corporan/Stassi platoon behind the plate next year if Castro was to get traded for some real talent.

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      • I agree he has holes in his game. But, I would refer you to one AJ Pierzynski whose splits against LHP where atrocious at a similar point in his career. He improved over his career as Castro has in his short career.

        My point is, Castro is a young, quality major leaguer at a premium position just entering his prime years. It puzzles me why so many want him off of the team.

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      • Flash, don’t be puzzled. Maybe I’m wrong. Certainly would not be the first time. But as far as the catcher position goes, I’m willing to give up some offense for a backstop that really plays that part of the game well.

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      • As bad of a hitter as Ausmus was, I enjoyed watching him play the position, albiet not as much as Mrs. Flash. It seems it is much easier to develop Castro’s defense than to try and replace his offense. I like Stassi and I hope he ultimately forces Castro to DH/1B (Singleton is no guarantee).

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    • Flash, I am serious and not arguing as I have seen similar posts and articles concerning signing FAs. But I get lost on metrics sometimes. (Just as an example ONLY) What do you do if you have no decent players to wrap up? And the second, if you have a player on your team that is eligible for free agency, is it still unwise to sign him? Do you only keep them through the Arb years? However I completely understand your last paragraph, and don’t need a chart on those guys.

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  10. Since we keep talking about Castro being a good FA hitter against righties, I am betting Luhnow signs him in the same range as Altuve which makes the both of them better trade bait. Although I am an Altuve fan, he doesn’t fit the mould of the typical Luhnow player, i.e.. plate discipline. And this is his third year and he is still the essence of impatience at the plate. However, he is now under a contract for a few years and there are some teams that could use him because they have more hitters that can cover for him. Castro could fall into that same category very easily because we appear to have better players on the way up. All that said, both of them may be much better than the box scores indicate, since I can’t watch them play.

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  11. Flash…..*IF* Luhnow is a smart cookie, (and we have seen him make some bold moves)…….he will sign the best catcher he can find in next years draft. Castro
    didn’t start the year hitting, that has come in the last two months.. I want to see
    him block pitches in the dirt…….which was Ausmus’s biggest plus side. He throws
    out a small amount of guys trying to steal , and HAS to work on staying “quiet”
    behind the plate……..THAT is what Corporan does VERY well. I like Castro, but not
    $5-$7 million dollar like. Pierzynski has pin point accuracy, and not too many
    guys tested his arm back 5-7yrs. ago. Glad to see you here! Becky 🙂

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  12. Have to wonder how Jarred Cosart felt when he left the game with a 1-0 lead and was replaced by a guy (Humber) who has been giving up more than 1 run per inning. And then watched him lose the lead….He did not feel as bad as the A’s must. I’m sure they penciled in a sweep of this series at home, especially the way the Astros have played against them and how they have played lately. Now it is the Astros going for the sweep.
    What are the chances of the relief grouping of Humber, Chapman, Harrell and Fields giving up only 1 run over 5 IP to pick up a win (Harrell) and a save (Fields)?
    And have I missed some moves? With Blackley getting traded and DeLeon getting sent to the minors in exchang for Marwin – I would think we are short in the bullpen.

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  13. If you didn’t stay awake to listen (no tv) to last nights game, you missed a GOOD one! Cosart was AWESOME! Chris Davis made Grossman show him the ball
    that Robbie tracked down…..Grossman’s play was Web gems#1 last night! I’m glad I stayed up to hear it!!! Glad Gonzalez is back up! Becky

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    • I watched last night until I had to go to sleep. It was not as awesome as Grossman’s snag, but Barnes saved a run making a catch crashing into the wall with a guy on first earlier in the game.
      Also, I don’t know how Angel Hernandez keeps a job. Every umpire has a different strike zone, but most of them are consistent. Hernandez’s does not even match himself inning to inning, bat to bat. And this is not a complaint from a mad fan… he called some of Cosart’s strikes as balls and just as many balls as strikes. In some ways he is consistent – consistently bad.

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    • Is it possible Grossman is preventing Young from becoming the 2014 starter in CF for Houston after the A’s decline his option…or have we decided Springer has that spot all locked down?

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      • devin_ Young is gonna want BIG money, and I doubt he would want to play for Houston anyway. I can see Grossman in left, Springer in center, and Barnes in right,
        or a platoon with Krauss. Young is hitting 187 right now. Grossman is a ball player…
        period!

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      • Becky – Chris Young is putting up an amazing .191 / .276 / .374 this season through 291 plate appearances. Sure, he has 10 HR, but there is no way Oakland picks up that $11 Million option. A one-year, lower dollar image rehabilitation signing is not out of the question.

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