This week the Astros locked up GM Jeff Luhnow through the year 2023 and gave him a promotion and title of President of Baseball Operations.
In the mystery world of GM and manager salaries, we don’t know if he is a volunteer candy striper or pulling down Justin Verlander green, but it would be a good guess that he’s making somewhere between $5 and 10 million a year. While much of the world thinks he simply had his team tank for a few years and then won based on obtaining better draft picks, those who have watched closely know there were a lot of steps that led to last year’s championship and this year’s highly competitive team.
Here is one wag’s rankings of the top 30 moves of the Luhnow era and note – there is a better ranking for help in the WS year…..
- Justin Verlander trade – Really one of the most significant trades to occur after the “normal” July 31 trade deadline ever, this trade energized the team, the fan base and helped drive the team to their first WS championship….and did not cause them to lose their very top prospects.
- Carlos Correa draft and signing – Mark Appel, Byron Buxton, Mike Zunino and Kevin Gausman were all thrown around as being more worthy than Correa for the overall 1-1 pick in 2012. But the Astros grabbed the player who has been the most accomplished to date from that class and signed him under slot (see #5 below).
- Charlie Morton signing – After 9 years in the NL, Morton had a 46-71 career record and a 4.54 ERA. Oh, and he had pitched only 17.1 IP in 2016 due to a non-arm injury. The Phillies bought out his contract for $1 million and the pointy heads in the Astros front office looked at the increased velocity he had shown and super spin rate in those 17.1 innings and said give this guy $14 million for the next two seasons. The result – a 22-8 record and a 3.38 ERA, plus he was the winning pitcher in two 7th game playoff matchups.
- Bo Porter firing – A.J. Hinch signing – Luhnow sat through one season of incumbent manager Brad Mills before firing him and hiring “his” guy, Bo Porter. By the end of the 2nd season under Porter, Luhnow had to admit that this was not working. Porter was likely not going to be the guy to nurture the rebuild or to be 100% behind the statistics-driven front office. So he fired Porter and before the start of the 2015 season hired Hinch, who had won only 42% of his games with the D’Backs. But that was then and the more mature, Hinch took the better players he was given and has won 57% of his regular season games and the whole enchilada.
- Signing Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz with the excess of Correa cash – Both McCullers and Ruiz were first-round talents that seemed college-bound headed into the draft. Luhnow and friends grabbed McCullers with a compensatory pick and Ruiz as a 4th rounder and then signed them with the extra cash saved in the Correa signing. The 24 y.o. LMJ has been a bit up and down and injury prone, but he has an overall MLB record of 27-19 with a 3.63 ERA and is a critical part of the Astros present and future. Ruiz was used to bring in Evan Gattis.
- Rule 5 “trade” for Marwin Gonzalez – The Red Sox took Marwin from the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft and immediately traded him to the Astros. He has been the most flexible Astro since 2012 playing all over the IF and in left field and culminating in his 2017 career year leading the team in RBIs on the way to the championship.
- Collin McHugh waiver pick-up – To get any kind of asset and not give up another player or a draft pick is a bargain. To pick up a pitcher who has a 50-28 record and a 3.57 ERA for nothing is unbelievable. And now Collin has slid into the bullpen without a complaint and has been a great weapon this season with a 2-0 record and a 1.13 ERA.
- Combine / Integrate traditional and sabermetric methods – The Astros have moved from a lost team to the cutting edge of applying technology to the traditional methods available to evaluate and develop players.
- Trade for Brian McCann – He’s showing his age a bit and his batting average is often lagging, but straight out without the trade for McCann the Astros would not be world champs. The consummate tough guy catcher and team leader.
- Back Away from Brady Aiken – It was embarrassing at the time and made the fandom question whether the front office knew what they were doing and whether they were going to be a team that would have trouble signing players going forward. But bottom line would you trade Aiken for #11?
- Drafting Alex Bregman – It feels like a slam dunk now, but the Astros drafted a top college middle infielder as the second player in the 2015 draft when they already had one of the best young 2B and SS combo in the majors in Correa and Jose Altuve. And if you were thinking of moving him to 3B….the team had just committed $47.5 million through 2020 for Cuban 3B Yuli Gurriel. Three years down the line and the Astros look brilliant for drafting Bregman and handing him the third base spot.
- Signing Yuli Gurriel – At the time, this was the biggest cash and years commitment the team put on their books for a guy, who looked good in international venues but had not come close to playing 162 games a year. But….again this was picking up an asset without giving up a player or a draft pick. They grabbed him, moved him to 1B and have watched as he has been a line drive machine for the team.
- Trade for Evan Gattis – Luhnow took a big chance here, trading off a young pitcher, Mike Foltynewicz who was just sniffing around the majors, a 2013 second round pick in Andrew Thurman and a 2012 4th round pick in Rio Ruiz for a powerful backup catcher with knee and back problems in Gattis and a 28 y.o. reliever, James Hoyt. Gattis can be very cold or very hot, but he has done significant damage for the Astros including the 7th game homer that helped send them to the championship.
- Jed Lowrie/Fernando Rodriguez trade for Brad Peacock, Max Stassi and Chris Carter – This trade demonstrates the importance of allowing trades to simmer before total judgment. Back after the 2015 season, this looked like a meh trade. On the plus side, Lowrie had not stayed with the A’s very long and even re-signed with the Astros before being traded again. But it looked like the Astros had really only gotten Carter out of the trade, who was a two-trick pony of infrequent home runs mixed in with overly frequent strikeouts. Flash ahead to 2018 and Peacock has become a great pitcher for the Astros and Stassi has become a very solid catcher sharing time with McCann.
- Trade for Ken Giles – Just like one can’t deny that Giles pitched poorly in the playoffs last season, one also has to admit he was very good during the regular season where he converted 34 of 38 save opportunities. He has had some meltdowns along the way and currently is sharing the closer’s role with #26 below. The Astros gave up a lot of bodies for Giles, but with Appel retiring, Brett Oberholtzer doing little before leaving, Harold Arauz and Tom Eshelman never getting above the minors – this is basically Giles for Vince Velasquez. VV has had his moments, but overall he has reflected his below average 15-20 record and 4.55 ERA for the Phils.
- Will Harris waiver pick-up – This move could be tied entirely to tanking as the Astros had the first shot at Harris when he was released by Arizona and pounced on him. Even with some struggles here in 2018, he has been a great bullpen pick up with a 2.53 ERA over 211 appearances over the last 4 years with the Astros.
- Signing of Josh Reddick – Colby Rasmus unexpectedly accepted his qualifying offer for the 2016 season (the first player to do that) and so instead of looking for an OF in 2016, the Astros were looking for one in 2017. Reddick was signed to a four-year contract and turned in a career year in 2017. He has started 2018 slower with the bat, but his fielding has been sterling including 6 OF assists in53 games.
- Jarred Cosart / Enrique Hernandez / Austin Wates traded for Jake Marisnick / Francis Martes / Colin Moran / and the pick that became Daz Cameron – While Jake has not been good this year, he was a major contributor in the 2017 regular season until he was injured. Martes gave the Astros a few good spot starts along with poor relief work last year. Moran was a major piece in obtaining Gerrit Cole and Cameron was one of the pieces that brought Verlander to the Astros.
- Defensive Shifts – Once in awhile these backfire on the Astros, but anyone who watches a lot of games knows that the Astros use of this strategy has been a positive and has led to more shifting throughout the game.
- Front office additions Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal – Luhnow brought both of these guys from the Cardinals as special assistants to him. Elias a Yalie has been an important cog in the successful string of drafts. Mejdal has two engineering degrees (he must be a great guy says I) and was inspired by Moneyball to pursue this career and he helps out in all aspects of the game.
- International Emphasis – Look at the Astros top 30 prospects – player after player has arrived here out of a big emphasis of signing youngsters out of Latin America. This also reflects the additional investment Jim Crane put into the Astros’ prospects when he took over ownership of the team. This is a huge supplement to the annual drafts.
- Moving Joe Musgrove from the rotation to the bullpen rather than to the minors – Musgrove was stinking it up as a starter in 2017. Instead of sending him to the minors, they moved him to the bullpen where he became a late-inning weapon including winning the incredible Game 5 of the World Series. Musgrove was a big chip in the Cole trade.
- Jose Altuve extension – There were a lot of concerns about the Mighty Might leaving for the highest bidder after the 2019 season. Instead, the team reached out and locked him up through his prime thru 2024, while sending his teammates a positive message.
- Protecting the cream of the minors – There was a lot of pressure for the team to go get additional starting pitching help during the 2017 season. But they never let #29 and or #30 be part of the deal for Verlander or Chris Archer or Jose Qunitana.
- Trade for Gerrit Cole – The Astros had just won the World Series after picking up Verlander. They had a strong rotation even if they used McHugh or Peacock in the Mike Fiers spot. But they showed a killer instinct in going for Cole and he has been worth every asset they sent.
- Hector Rondon signing – The Astros saw their bullpen meltdown in the heat of the 2017 playoffs. They decided to go sign a veteran in Rondon who had been a closer and had been through the playoff crunch with the Cubs. He has been a valuable bullpen piece in 2018.
- Carlos Beltran – He had one of his worst seasons as a player in trying to fill the Astros DH black hole in 2017. But as intimated by many of the other hitters, he was a great mentor and unofficial coach and the team was still the top hitting team in the majors even with his lighter stats.
- Tony Sipp – Sipp came to the Astros as a waiver pickup like McHugh and Harris. He gave them two strong seasons and after faltering the last two seasons he has again become a relevant pitcher in the bullpen in 2018.
- The Kyle Tucker Pick – He was the last of the first round picks resulting from the Astros’ bad play – chosen as the 5th pick overall in the 2015 draft. Despite being 2 to 5 years younger than his competition at every level above rookie ball, he has been a shining star at a position of need at the major league level and his numbers at AAA this season make him a prime call-up later in the season.
- The Forrest Whitley Pick – He was the 8th pitcher chosen in the 2016 draft (17th overall) but is considered the top pitching prospect despite his non-PED drug suspension. He is more likely to get a call in 2019, but if he keeps up his minor league dominance he might be of assistance late in 2018.
A few questions:
- Does this list convince you that Luhnow’s success is more than a product of tanking?
- Do you agree with the 30 chosen?
- Would you move the 30 around – up or down?