Evil Crane and his “Igor” Luhnow Hatch Plot to Ruin Prospects

by Brian Todd

So, here are the two options for the Astros: Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow don’t care what their young players think of them or the organization. “Sign our contracts or sit in Oklahoma City until we have another year of control over your lives. And if you don’t like it, too bad. We own you.”

Or …

Or, the Astros offered George Springer a seven-year deal that was a bit team friendly but still carried a bit of risk. The offer came with a side deal. Sign and you go straight to Houston, do pass Go, and collect your $23 million. Don’t sign, and (after we get our 40-man roster issues resolved in the winter) you will need to hit your way onto the team and take your chances.

Oh, sure, there are other theories out there. Just ask anyone on this blog. Heck, just ask me. I’m sure I could come up with a few.

But whether you believe Springer is getting the shaft or getting the shaft squared (let’s face it, he’s getting the shaft in one way shape or form), the question is this: Are the Astros doing something that sets them apart as a money-grubbing franchise that would anger young talent like no other club would do? After all, that’s what the Boot-Licking Bi-Coastal Media would have us believe.

Hmm, let’s go to the facts … something you won’t get from the BLBCM.

Look at 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers. The Rays didn’t bring up Myers until June 18, 2013. Why? Did Myers, a top prospect, struggle last spring? Hardly. His .762 spring 2013 OPS was fueled by a high SLG, and only dragged down by 10 Ks. Still, Myers was playing pretty well last March.

OK, so that’s one guy.

And the Rays are a top team? Keeping a guy down on the farm sounds a little more plausible when you’re a contending team, even a guy of Myers’ talent.

Anyone else?

Well, Miami included the 2013 NL ROY on its opening day 25-man roster. But the NL runner-up, Yasiel Puig didn’t debut in 2013 until June 3 despite 1.328 OPS from March of 2013. Yes, yes, yes. It was his first spring training. But he’d played in Rookie and A ball in 2012, so it’s not like the Dodgers didn’t know what they were looking at.

Hey, the Rockies got a little extra out of Nolan Arenado by not calling him up until April 28. His 2013 spring OPS? How about .852.

Yes, some players like Evan Gattis or Julio Teheran or Jose Fernandez were on their opening day rosters. But those teams are losing those players after six years.

So, is Springer being hosed? (Or Hoes-ed?) Probably. But let’s be honest, if his spring OPS wasn’t a lousy .527, I’d feel a bit more outraged than I do now. Even though a ton of teams do this. And the Astros didn’t invent this manipulation of the CBA.


35 comments on “Evil Crane and his “Igor” Luhnow Hatch Plot to Ruin Prospects

  1. I guess I’ll be a bit of a broken record here – my biggest problem with this mess is last September – you’ve got a guy who hit 37 HRs and stole 45 bases and had a 1.05 OPS in half a season at AAA and you can’t reward him by bringing him up to crack a lineup where the best OF OPS’s are Hoes (.708) and Grossman (.702) and where OFs – Hoes, Grossman, Ankiel. JDM, Maxwell, FMart,Krauss and Barnes totalled 32 HRs among them.
    I know it makes all the business sense in the world – but the us eveil, greedy, selfish fans want a bone thrown our way. We’ve been wandering in the spectator desert for years – we can see an oasis with clear running water – but we are being told to just keep drinking that recycled urine for just a little bit longer.


  2. Brian, in the first 3 examples, they were 22 upon arrival. Springer is 24 and counting. Had the Astros kept him down 2 years ago, no big deal. But the Minor League Players of the Year can’t make a call up or this squad. Come on. The Astros can play the game of “My Way or the Highway” – but come FA time, it will be The Highway. Plus Cosart or his agent complaining, and he gets the cheapest contract on the team. (I enjoy Brian’s posts, but this dog won’t hunt)


    • Astros45, if at age 22 Springer was barely out of college. That said, I’m not a fan of this move; I just think the idea that Houston created this problem is a little overblown. Every team does this, even to guys who hit the cover off the ball in Florida (or Arizona) each spring.

      I think they did give Springer a choice–and if you want to call it an ultimatum, that’s fine. He was told “sign and go to H-Town or don’t and force our hand.” He didn’t, and he didn’t.


    • Terrific point about age but only the guys who think Springer got shafted care about those facts, while others ignore them.
      Springer got his yearlong1.05 OPS in real games while all the other numbers mentioned in the article are during spring training(when pitchers are out there “working exclusively on my change up command”.)
      You are right about Cosart, and when Buchanan’s wife tweeted her feelings on the subject he was sent down the next day. Of course, that is all just coincidence. Luhnow wouldn’t do that on purpose.


  3. This is one of those arguments that no one can/will win, at least not today. Sort of like that plane crash. It’s all speculation since there isn’t enough data (read: information) from which we can draw conclusions. Astro45, not sure you can compare ages because some were drafted out of high school and others (Springer) out of college. Until late last year, Springer wasn’t even a real option to consider.

    All that said, with Crane’s PR record, this ain’t helpin’ the Astros. Sometimes, these things are forgotten once contract time comes, but IF this develops into a pattern with other players, then we go back to the ol’ Houston/problem quote.

    For me, I’d be happy if we didn’t have to mention George Springer’s name on the blog again until he goes 4-for-5 on OKC’s opening day.


    • Chip, I knew this was beating a dead horse. I also knew I’d get a lot of curious head shakes from people (at best).

      Is Springer one of our three best outfielders? Sure. He might be one of our one best outfielders.

      But the CBA created a scenario where teams are foolish if they don’t screw over young talent. So Crane, who’d rather get bad press than lose a buck, has told Luhnow to squeeze every minute of service time out of these kids that he can.

      And here we are.


      • I have recently changed my mind about both Crane and Luhnow, but in this case, how do we know that Crane is pulling the strings? If Luhnow is such a numbers kind of guy, and those guys are all that he surrounds himself with, why would it be out of character for him to make the decision to send Springer to OKC. The entire front office is staffed with numbers people and they have taken the people out of the game of baseball. And yes, I am disgruntled.


  4. Honestly, I feel better about Springer @OKC a little more each day. If he starts to knock the cover off the ball they can promote him once the pitching staff is ready to drop from 13 to 12. I had forgotten how bad our non-Norris starters were last April. No doubt his performance warranted a shot last Sept, but the business decision made sense. Also, as the 11th pick in the 2011 draft he received a $2.5 million signing bonus. Let’s not feel too bad for Mr. Springer and his agent.


    • Oh, yeah let’s not make our team better by including one of the best players on it. After all, he got a big signing bonus three years ago. Being a 1 percenter alone should disallow any consideration for that jerk! I’m just thrilled you are feeling more comfortable about this, after all, none of us are really into being a fan for the wins, we’re in it for the good feeling about business decisions.


  5. Again, if Springer’s .523 ops in ST is enough to keep him off the team, what about Hoes’s .423 ST OPS? It’s kinda like the same situation as disciplining your youngest player for a baserunning mistake and doing nothing to your most experienced player for leading the league in getting picked off.


    • You can’t take the side that the Astros are greedy and preventing him from earning a living without considering what they have already paid him.

      I’m already on record saying I would have started Singleton and Springer against the Yankees on opening day. I would not have traded for Guzman and would carry only 12 pitchers. They didn’t like those options though.


      • I, personally have never said that the Astros are greedy or that they are preventing Springer from making a living. What I am saying and have said all along is that the Houston Astros Baseball Club is not playing their best players and are keeping Springer in the minors because they want longer, cheaper control over his future, thereby making their team a poorer product on the field than it could be and denying the team’s fans of their deserved right to see the best product possible for the huge amount of money those fans have to pay to see a game in person. The people who have invested big amounts of money in season tickets deserve their money’s worth now and for some reason or other the team is willing to screw them now and is worried about 2019 instead.
        Now, if you look at Luhnow’s 25 page plan, which I haven’t, and it were to intimate that the most important thing is to keep players down as long as possible at the fan’s expense and that player’s expense, then maybe some name calling would be richly deserved.


      • Oldpro1,

        I totally respect your opinion here. And I do agree with you. Honestly, I wrote this post to let us all have our say. As Chip says, hopefully our final say for a week or two.

        This is a business move by the Astros, not a baseball move. I’m not bothered by the business aspect of it. It is what it is. I am bothered by the fact that they’ve seemingly chosen business over baseball. I hope this doesn’t become “business” as usual for our front office.


  6. For me the problem is that we are starving to death as fans of the major league team. We know the logic behind what they are doing, we know that all the other “kids” (team owners) do it too – but they are not following the other team owners in so many other areas – by totally stripping the mlb club down to bones, by stripping the payroll, etc. So we just want something that will pique our interest – let us gnaw on something other than a couple months of Springer either tearing up the AAA or going through the motions in a funk in AAA.
    I know it is too much to ask and I do not have my $10 million ready to ante up for the cause….


  7. I’ve been stewing on this for a while reading everything here and everywhere else. At first I was a bit pissed, some of it because I’m so tired of loosing and watching a bunch of B players, and some because it’s just more bad PR for our Stros. Then as i digested it more I think it was a business move that probably happens more than we think and for some reason, this one became public knowledge big time. It was probably a low balled offer a bit but still 23 mill is 23 mill. If I was Springer I would have rolled the dice, said no also, and said hey I have 2014 to show I’m worth more and he will get more. He will be up this year and eventually get his $$$. I just hope he doesn’t pout to long and next time maybe the Astros need to put in a keep your mouth shut agent clause.


  8. I’ve said all I can on the issue. If I had to choose between Costco, who understands taking care of me is also in their best business interests, and Wal-mart, who put their interests first, every employee is going to pick Costco.

    I am swayed some by the fact that this practice runs rampant. Good examples Brian. I’m a little less swayed giving that I think Springer’s age is a factor – he should be more “ready” than the others.

    We’ll just have to wait and see how the decision works out.

    Interesting article in ESPN the magazine this week. Something to think about with Springer. The premise of the article was something along of how spending doesn’t equal winning anymore – and says its because 70% of players today have their best years in the first 6 seasons due to the declining use of performance enhancing substances, when in the past it was down as low as 30% having their “career” years in the first 6.

    Suppose Springer is a MVP candidate 5 years from now due a second year arbitration look. Still under team control at say 12 mil. They start talking to a 29 year coming off a career year, and he is looking 7-8 years at 25 per. Do you do it? In today’s environment there are many more Vernon Wells type regrettable contracts than the other way around.


    • Steven, I somewhat agree with your argument that Springer “should be ready”. Indeed, many players coming out of college can/should start at AA. In fact, there are a handful of college programs that could probably compete regularly at that level of the minors. I happen to live in one of those areas where there are more people at a college baseball game than even most AAA stadiums around the country.

      Unfortunately, Springer is not from the SEC, Pac10 or one of those dominant college baseball areas. He didn’t play at the same competition level as many others drafted similarly. So agree, he should be ready, but not that’s not the fault of the Astros. As a result, age is somewhat of a factor and consideration. Once again, if he picks up in OKC where he left off last year, the conversation and headlines will be completely different come May and June.


      • Oh, and one other thing. There are more rules in the CBA and in general that either favor or protect the player rather than teams. The payrolls are replete with examples of players who are either earning money they don’t deserve, either because of performance or injury, than there are of teams who don’t pay players what they deserve. If a player is really worth his salt, he gets his money eventually. Look at Bagwell. The Astros got the “good end” of the bargain in his first few years (even his MVP season), but paid the tab later.

        Baseball needs to fix the system and join other sports that can cut or release under-performing players without having to pay them.


  9. I just saw the Pirates extended 25 yr old Marte 6 Years for 31 million. So the Astros with Springer at 7 years 23 million, no major league experience, not really that far off. We will see what the future holds.If he has a solid 2014 maybe 5 years 30-35 mill.


  10. So looks like Robbie Grossman is the #2 hitter, with Castro and Altuve alternating at #3. Sometimes Altuve will be….batting cleanup.

    Umm…yeah. Maybe Singleton got his stash from Porter…


    • Yeah, and if I recollect, Altuve managed a .264 OBP and a .500 something OPS hitting out of the third slot in 2013. I’m convinced that Bo Porter is a crappy manager, in over his head.


    • So based on what Bo said about the relievers – I guess it is no use for Altuve to point out to him that he was a God-awful 3rd place hitter. Because then Porter would say to him, “Get your damn bat and get up there and hit – that is what you are paid to do.”


  11. Bad comparisons unless you consider a month of spring ball (see Marwin Gonzalez) more significant than the body of work in a minor league career,

    As already noted above, the first three guys mentioned all got their starts at the age of 22. But their minor league stats simply confirm to me with an exclamation point that Springer should be with the big club.

    Myers AAA stats do not compare with Springer’s.

    Puig was brought up at 22, never having played AAA ball, with AA stats no better than Springer’s.

    Arenado was brought up with 18 games of AAA ball under his belt and his AA numbers did not compare with Springer’s.

    And Gattis, well he played 5 games of AAA ball and his AA stats in no way compared to Springer’s.

    Teheran got his first look in the majors at age 20 and stuck at 22, after a 7 and 9 record at AAA with a 5.08 ERA.

    I could go on. Regardless of what decisions the Astros made and for what reasons, it’s apparent that they’ve got an unhappy employee, arguably, an employee who is their single most valuable asset. So in the human relations department, they failed. At the major league level, this organization seems to screw everything up. And now they’ve managed to alienate a number 1 pick. It’s just plan stupid, and probably a bit arrogant too.


  12. On the choice of Altuve to bat third – not happy with it either. He has no power, and no ability to draw a decent OBP, two vital functions to prevent 3 up 3 down 1st innings.

    That said – not as concerned about stats in that spot last year. You presuppose that moving him in the batting order changed his approach at the plate. I would argue that that he just slumped oddly enough at the same time he was moved. Bill James believes that batting order has very little to do with success on the individual, and only so much on the team in that you can maybe get another 30-40 plate appearances a year putting your best hitters near the top.

    I think its random enough that he might very well hit .320 with a .370 OBP in the third spot this year and .260 with a .310 OBP in the leadoff spot.


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