Jeff Luhnow: Winning at his own game


The folks here at Chipalatta, both writers and readers, have been around the block a few times, some of us in horse-drawn carriages. We know that no World Series is ever won just because a team has made all the right moves along the way. We know that the Astros going out and trading for pitcher Zack Greinke (along with bringing back catcher Martin Maldonado and grabbing pitchers Joe Biagini and Aaron Sanchez) did not clinch a victory parade when they picked up the best pitcher to change teams at the deadline.

But what Jeff Luhnow and his front office crew did was what they have done for the last few years. They made moves to give the team their best chance to win it all.

The mega-trade that brought Justin Verlander to Houston at the waiver trade deadline ended up being the move that drove the team to its 2017 WS Championship. The moves to pick up relievers Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly near the 2018 deadline solidified a bullpen that was getting as unreliable as closer Ken Giles‘ personality. This led to a strong run that fell a few injuries and victories short of another World Series.  And here in 2019? Well an objective source — mlbtraderumors.com — looked at all the contenders and near contenders and their needs a day before the deadline.

Let’s see.

Rotation upgrade? A huge move for Greinke (10-4, 2.87) ERA, and the Sanchez move could be huge if the 26-year-old can re-find his 2016 15-2, 3.00 ERA self.

Bullpen upgrade? The descriptions of Joe Biagini sound like a repeat of Ryan Pressly from last year. Solid season, high spin rate kind of guy, who may just need a little Brent Strom magic to move up a step – like Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Colln McHugh, Pressly, and others have.

Backup catcher upgrade? A little league backstop might have been an upgrade over Max Stassi, but the Astros picked up a very good (forget last playoffs) defensive catcher, who is a step up over Max offensively (because he has a pulse) in Maldonado in exchange for Tony Kemp, who would have had to be released in a couple days anyways.

Lefty upgrade? OK, they didn’t do this, but the handedness has never entered the formula of this front office. They want hitters who can hit and pitchers who can get hitters out without regard for which hand they brush their teeth.

From everything we’ve seen and by almost any standard you want to judge, Luhnow was playing chess, while his competitors, especially the contending Twins, Yanks and Red Sox were playing checkers.

  • He did not want to trade his top two prospects in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley and the two youngsters are still with the team today.
  • All the headlines “leaking” out showed him chasing Robbie Ray and Marcus Stroman and Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard and Matthew Boyd and Zack Wheeler. You might have to go back a month or more to see a headline involving Greinke – but Greinke it was and probably Greinke was the target for a long time.
  • He wanted a pitcher to bridge across an off-season where he may be losing Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley and Collin McHugh and he found someone who they can keep around for two extra seasons (just like Verlander).
  • Sure it was costly as Luhnow included four prime prospects in the deal for one of the very best pitchers in baseball. But Seth Beer might be the next Yordan Alvarez so he might be blocked forever. Josh Rojas is good but totally blocked at his natural infield positions. Corbin Martin will be out through most of 2020 after his TJ surgery. J.B. Bukauskas has a lot of talent but is clocking in south of the 5.00 ERA.
  • Luhnow somehow turned OF Derek Fisher, who has been inconsistent in his time in the majors and who also is blocked through at least 2020 into Biagini, Sanchez and young outfielder Cal Stevenson, who might not have a huge upside, but has been solid in the lower minors.
  • Luhnow somehow was able to trade both Tyler White and Max Stassi for more than a bag of balls for goodness sake.

In some ways, the race for starting pitching assistance at the deadline seemed like some perverted version of Musical Chairs. You just hope to end up with a chair to sit on when the music stops. And the game has no rules. Suddenly with the Reds picking up Trevor Bauer and the Mets trading for Marcus Stroman two of the chairs were pulled out by two players that seemed to be bystanders. The Mets pull back Syndergaard and there is another chair missing. And when not enough is offered, it is found that chairs like Ray and Wheeler and Boyd may have been mirages all along.

But when the music stopped today, Jeff Luhnow was sitting in a chair that looked a whole lot more like a throne. One GM beat the others at the deadline and he calls Houston home.

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98 comments on “Jeff Luhnow: Winning at his own game

  1. AWESOME ARTICLE DAN! Who knows how long Luhnow has been “talking” to the Diamondbacks about Greinke. This trade told us Luhnow is ready to do what it takes to give the Astros the best shot at the BIG PRIZE! Just think of the experience Verlander AND Greinke will bring to the young staff that we will have next year, and 2021!! I was over the moon this afternoon….but I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven the night we got Verlander! Goodnight all.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. And I would be remiss to not recognize that owner Jim Crane has backed the front office in a large economic excursion from the old days that has allowed them to make these huge deals.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Every time I heard about Aaron Sanchez’s blister problems I thought about Strom. Fixing that is one of his specialties.
    Every time I tried to fit Beer into a lineup in 2020 or 2021 I couldn’t find a place. And I really did try. Yordan is such a good fit for DH and that is the only place I could see Beer playing.
    It felt weird when Abreu got called up today. I got a funny feeling about Bukauskas when it happened. Thing is, we still have Rogelio, Bielak, Whitley, Ivey, Javier, Bailey, Perez and Abreu. And suddenly Emanuel is acting like a pitcher.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I might be wrong but I think these guys love playing for the Astros and a majority of players would love to come here and play. That speaks volumes about the organization.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. The Astros had a dilemma with Corbin Martin. He was on the 40-man but not the 25 man and is out for all of 2019 and 2020. If they wanted to free his 40-man spot they would have to call him up to the major league roster and then put him on the 60 day IL for the rest of the year. At the end of the year he would be placed back on the roster, tie up a spot, and then next year be placed on the IL. He would accrue service time on the IL, meaning they would lose 1.5 years of his service time until he got healthy and then they would see if he was ok to pitch.
    The D’backs took care of that situation, freeing up a roster spot for Houston.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Spot on – in my opinion this is what allowed Arizona to get three really good players in addition to dumping Greinke’s salary. I’m a bit surprised, but do believe Martin is worth the risk for a team stuck in a rebuild right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The Astros have done what the Texans and Rockets can’t seem to do. This baseball franchise is respected. Fans hate us too. Our football club is a mess. It might need new ownership. But I suspect Tillman Fertitta is not going to stand by and settle for second or forth best much longer. Yikes, emulating the Astros?

    And reading last night what other fans in other cities think about the Astro organization, there is so much mention of Luhnow taking advantage of our window. But I don’t think Luhnow thinks that way at all. He plans to contend every year, post Verlander, post Altuve, post everyone, until he decides to ride off into the sunset.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dave, the other two franchises, in my opinion, need good financial men near the top of the food chain. The Rockets are near the luxury tax penalty level. The Texans have the money but fail to spend wisely. Eh.

      Like

      • sargeh, it comes down to leadership. I don’t think the McNair family knows what to do. With the Rockets, I think Tillman is the kind of guy who
        wants to be doing the same thing Crane has done. He’ll get a new GM soon.

        Like

  7. I will admit I am stunned by the trade with Toronto. Yes, I believe Derek Fisher has power, but I always worried about the Ks and still saw problems whenever he faced anyone with a good curve ball.
    I never liked his arm and I don’t think the Astros did either. He always ended up in LF. His glove was flashy, but I absolutely cannot remember a great outfield save he ever made.
    How did we get a major league starter, a major league reliever and Toronto’s #25 ranked prospect for Fisher?

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    • Maybe Toronto GM Ross Atkins woke up with a horse head in his bed?
      I didn’t think Toronto got enough for Stroman either – I would think their fan base would be saying what the heck right now.

  8. I find Zanuda’s take interesting in retrospect, that players want to come here. What winning (and an expanding wallet) does to players’ desires. Think back to where we were wondering after the Aiken “problem” and the tandem pitching in the minors and the Astros holding Springer back for an extra year, etc. and how it felt like players would not want to come here because the organization was too focused on numbers. That sure has changed because the main number (wins) has changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, i remember those days, Dan. Part of it was the radical change, which is always tough to get past, but also I think the organization took those criticisms to heart and consciously became a more player-friendly organization.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Round Rock had nine position players in their dugout last night and their website still shows nine position players on their roster.
    Even so, with Kent Emanuel starting on the hill, they beat Fresno 6-0.

    Like

  10. Yuli is under his current deal until the end of 2020 and then has two arbitration years with the Astros.
    Aledmys is under his current deal until the end of this season and then he has three arbitration years for the Astros, 2020-2022.
    Today is Aledmys Diaz’s birthday, he is 29.

    Like

    • Right you are. the Astros have 3B, 2B and DH tied up for years. They have a good SS for two more years and have several SS moving up in the minors. They have three OFers for 2020 and then they have Tucker to take one of those places. But Luhnow drafted 5 OF prospects this season and traded for two more yesterday.
      Aledmys provides them an experienced utility guy for years. Yuli is getting up there but they have Jones and Toro in the minors.
      Springer is still the guy I’d like to see extended. They have Marisnick and straw for 4th and 5th outfielders.
      Pitching is a different story, but we see where they get their pitchers from, right?

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Relative to comments about Cole’s reaction. I would assume most any pitcher wants pressure reduced by having stalwarts in rotation. However, in this case there is the additional fact that Cole and Greinke are friends. I hope all the jubilation is justified. Happy that Danalattas are so happy.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. The coup JL pulled off yesterday reverberated throughout the MLB world with a resounding BOOM! The Grinke trade was more about $$ & cents (not devaluing prospects traded), which opposing tms had every opportunity to invest in but Houston boldly chose to go where even the mighty Yanks, Dodgers, ect refused. I applaud this effort. That deflated fans are throwing down the gauntlet, giving the Stros the WS is nonsense, they still have to earn it. I imagined that satisfied leer on JL’s face when somebody in the org tweeted “how are you feeling?”, something to that effect to the fans, to remind us in Luhnow we trust.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Stros filled a rotation need 2019 & beyond to clarify $$ & cents comment. Ari got bevy of prospects & from under ZG’s contract

      Like

  13. MLBTR has been an apology tour for Boston, St Louis, NYY and LAD since the trade deadline passed. It’s weird.
    The Yanks, Cubs, Dodgers and Bosox are up against the salary barrier and the Astros had a $17 million margin to play with, which they used about $13 million of.
    The other teams spent themselves to a point they weren’t willing to go any farther. The sellers just asked too much in trade to make the buyers willing to sacrifice the future and to go beyond the spending threshold, also.

    Like

  14. Sometimes I wistfully look back at some of our old posts and I am surprised at how confrontational we were in the comments section.
    I mean I remember going toe to toe with bopert in the old days because while I understood how disappointed he was in the move to the AL and the decision to kill the budget and all – I never would let go of his point that the Astros would “never” succeed with Crane as the owner. That he “never” would spend more money, etc. Heck never is a long time and I just could not see it.
    Then I was looking at this one
    https://chipalatta.com/2016/10/17/what-astro-fans-want-its-pretty-simple/
    My gosh I did not remember being so feisty with Tim who I understand posts elsewhere. I think the problem was that Tim just could never agree to disagree. I know that he can say – see I told you if you were patient the team would go win that 2017 championship. But my point in writing that one was real simple. The team had regressed in 2016 and I just wanted everyone up and down the organization to take responsibility and do better. And Luhnow did make important moves in the off-season (McCann, Reddick, Beltran, Aoki, Morton) and JV in season. And everyone did do better with the veteran leadership brought in and it was a much better team with hardly any holes.
    Anyways – if I get a little short with anyone these days (and I think I am better about this now) just let me know and I will try to do better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan, (and others when they choose to write), are appreciated. Your tone never bothers me because I am always right. So even it you disagree, I feel sorry for you being so wrong.

      And one day Brett Wallace will hit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You know ac – I looked it up and Wallace is only 32 years old! A comeback sure could be in the works – right? Of course I can’t find any evidence he’s played anywhere in 3 seasons.
        And yesterday was the 9th anniversary of Brett’s major league debut!
        Where are you at Moonpie?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Safe to say that I never liked mailing it in while rebuilding. Still don’t like the approach today, even if it is effective. I also did not like Crane one bit. Far too vocal when he first got to town, made some significant PR blunders, I had no reason to trust him. But I’m a forgiving soul. He’s faded into the background for the most part and let his employees do what they do best. Good for him.

      Like

  15. “seemed like some perverted version of musical chairs”, lol i love this blog. great post dan and i for one dont mind alittle back and forth on opinions. i regret getting alittle cranky in here at times as well, but i think we are all old enough to shake it off. danalatta is a more accurate name for the last several months. luhnow shows again why he is the best gm in baseball. and kudos to dan for recognizing you have to have the go ahead and be given the money from the owner before any of this can happen. and btw another of boperts claims was the rangers would DOMINATE the astros for DECADES. how’d that work out???

    Liked by 3 people

    • You know rj – I understood bopert very well. He was a pure Astro fan, who just could not get beyond the move to the AL and the bad years we self imposed to get back to a good organization. He loved the Astros, but he had such blind hatred for Jim Crane he could not admit that Crane might not be just there to milk the last nickel out of the fans – that he might have a long vision for the team.
      You see this in people’s attitude towards politics (both ways). The opposition could bring Mother Teresa back from the dead and they would be blamed for taking too long or for letting her die in the first place. Blind hatred is unbecoming and worst – it is dumb.

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      • Despite my former (bind purist) takes, I have come forth with apologies galore. Crane DID open his wallet, repeatedly, and “Losenow” certainly has garnered my respect. I still do miss the NL Central, but man this baseball team is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s gonna be fun to behold the run to the championship this fall!

        PS — just so I am clear, this current Stros team is the best team I have EVER seen… and I grew up a hardcore Big Red Machine fan circa 1976 and 1977. What incredible depth.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I was wrong. Crane definitely proved me wrong and Luhnow is a freaking genius.

      Here’s a bit of irony for ya: I was a 2-time all campus musical chairs champ (Miami of Ohio 1988/89) and my prowess as the “fastest ass on campus” is still the thing of legend to this day.

      I am glad that my prognostications were incorrect. What a loaded baseball team! In my opinion, this is the best baseball squad EVER assembled (1927 Yankees notwithstanding?)

      Now, as the case with musical chairs, one can have all the skill and fast reflexes in the world, but, in the end (alas, the final chair), you need luck.

      Let’s hope that this squad can avoid injuries and bad luck and reach their championship potential… it’s gonna be fun to behold.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey – bopert – good to hear from you.
        Under true confessions – I thought that Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow could make this team competitive. I never thought that they would create this transcendent of a team.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. And…..that’s the reason 29 other clubs would LOVE to have our GM!!
    Dan if we are going back a few years I know daveb, will remember our old friend Lowell! I kinda feel bad about telling him to “go back to bed”….but he was the most annoying person I never met! I watched ESPN last night to see what they thought of our trading for Zack Greinke….they were blindsided and stunned that Luhnow was able to get this trade done, without anyone knowing about it!
    Actually he had been in talks with the Diamondbacks 48 hrs before the deadline. They wanted a 4 player swap….thank goodness we didn’t have to part with the two top prospects that were untouchable. Everything this team needed we got! Trust my the red sox, and yankees…are not amused!
    Zack Greinke is a different dude. When he was with the Royals he nearly quit baseball. He has suffered for YEARS with anxiety problems. He can be quite rude so I caution everyone in the clubhouse, don’t take it personally that’s just the way he is. He’s not media friendly either.
    There are so many good things to love about this team, I hope Greinke sees what a wonderful talented team he is apart of now. Welcome Zack Greinke!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Let’s see. The “Age of Anxiety” was formalized in 1947. But somehow I doubt that was the first recognition of it. Who does not feel it in some measure considering the nature of the world we live in? Only by the grace of God do we bypass or limit its impact. Welcome aboard, Mr. Greinke, and join all your friends here in Houston with anxiety issues!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Danny Salazar has not pitched since 2017. They have him built up to 70 pitches so our guys have a chance to win another series. You gotta like our chances with Cole taking the ball!

    Like

  18. This comes under the heading of “I am not a doctor, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night”…..
    But based on my observations of Zack Greinke and experiences with raising my youngest son – I would say it is highly probable that he has what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome (high functioning autism) and is apparently not diagnosed.
    Why I say this? Well here are things I have heard about him and his personality….
    He has depression – check
    He has social anxiety – check
    He has general anxiety – check
    He is brilliant – check
    He is awkward socially – check
    He can be very direct to the point of being rude – check

    Again – not all people with AS have this exact set of symptoms but these symptoms are all ones that many people (like my son) have to deal with everyday and in some cases the people around him have to deal with too.
    So – just keep this in mind when you are watching him function with our team and media.

    Like

      • I just want to explain my comment to make sure Dan didn’t take it wrong way. I meant that I check on all those points too, EXCEPT brilliance, so that would be the one thing stopping me being certified. I honestly think a lot of our
        “diseases” and “dysfunctions” are completely explainable and justifiable given what we see around us, and even more, what we do not see.

        Like

  19. I don’t know about everyone else who follows this blog but I’m having a hell of a lot of fun. It also helps that we’re winning after all of the years where frustration reigned supreme. A couple of times we were close and then there was the 2005 disappointment but as a rule I think we’re all extremely pleased. Even those who have moved on to other blogs’-spheres. Sure we all have our opinions but when all is said and done I believe we still love our Astros. We just want to be able to go to the “Dance” and get the prize, not get invited or have to sit on the sidelines and watch others hoping for what might have been. For those of us that thought that Crane was going to be so tight that he squeaked when he walked or that Luhnow was going to be happy just to put a team on the field isn’t it nice to be wrong. I do hope the ticket prices don’t get so prohibitive in cost that the average fan can’t afford to come to the game or bring the next generation of Astro fans to the game. Yes, I’m happy for all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Looking forward to winning our first game with the new guys wearing orange and blue. Hopefully last night’s blow-out loss was just an aberration, not the wrath of the baseball gods coming down on us hard for Luhnow stealing everyone else’s thunder!

    Getting win #1 in the post-trade deadline era tonight would surely be a good way to welcome the new guys to the twelve steps of Astroholism.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Peacock is slated to start his rehab at Round Rock this weekend. Meanwhile, the story is that Aaron Sanchez gets the start vs. Seattle Saturday. Brent Strom, you’ve sure got your work cut out for you the next two days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, in his last 5 starts Sanchez lowered his ERA from 6.31 to 6.07 – so if he keeps up the momentum he should be back down to a 3.00 ERA in about 64 more starts this year….

      Like

      • I know that was tongue-in-cheek, Dan. But when you deep dive the Sanchez stats this year, it gets even worse than ERA. His BB/9 is a whopping 4.7. His SO/9 is 7.9 – which isn’t horrible, exactly, but for a guy who reportedly throws 100 mph? He doesn’t seem to be able to miss many bats with his FB! Also, his WHIP is an ugly 1.686 [partially due to his high BB/9, partially because his hit/9 is over 10, partially because he’s hit a whopping 10 batters in 112 innings]. He has also thrown 7 WPs – and the league is hitting .290 against him!

        Like we have both said, I am afraid Brent Strom has his hands full with this one. Rabbit, come forth out of that hat!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have no expectations of Sanchez. That we got him for a guy we had no use for makes it all upside. This is a 100 mph guy that is healthy and has performed in the past. Maybe Strom can fix him, even to a degree.

        I want that home plate umpire machine.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Whitley moves from Fayetteville to CC.
    Jonathan Arauz from Fayetteville to CC.
    Jake Adams from Fayetteville to CC.
    Lorenzo Quintana from Corpus Christi to RR.
    Abraham Toro from Corpus Christi to RR.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Yeah, I don’t like the way this game is going. The guy who has not pitched in two years got calls in exactly the same place a Cy Young candidate did not. That’s how bad the umps are. It’s not intentional. Thankfully, the most athletic line up in the league has shown themselves defensively. I can’t believe that monster kid Reyes was playing right for the Padres. He never gets a chance to make Reddick’s throw because he never gets to that ball.

    Like

  24. I can’t believe the ump stood and watched Reddick all the way to the dugout and threw him out of the game when Reddick was within 5 feet of the dugout. So he threw his batting gloves. Batter throw helmets and gloves all the time. There is no reason for that type of umpiring.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Forgot to tell you Josh James is going out for a rehab game or two, but no time table for his return. I would expect Peacock and James will be back in a couple of weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not even sure what they are going to do between now and roster expansion. They could get Pressly, James and Peacock back. The only obvious spot to cut off the 25 man is Stubbs, who is only up until Chirinos comes back in a few days. I guess it is possible James does not come back until after the 1st of September. Maybe they DFA Rondon and bring Peacock back?

        Like

  26. The more I think of it the more I think everyone the Astros traded is in a better position too. Beer was blocked (and Tucker might replace Reddick) . Stassi gets more playing time. Rojas isn’t blocked anymore. Fisher is in a much better position (although Blue Jay fans are already angry with the deal). On our end besides the obvious, I’m intrigued by that Coleman kid, who could be a sleeper when you look at his walk totals.

    Luhnow once again proved he’s the best GM in baseball. He took the concept of Moneyball and turned it into Winningball.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. So, Maldonado is on the 25 man with Stassi gone.
    They have not officially added Biagini, Sanchez and Greinke – probably have to pass physicals – but then they will send down Abreu, Sneed and Urquidy as they bring those three on.
    Next question is what happens when Peacock returns. Good guess is that they send Straw down and then bring him back up after the roster expands.

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  28. Blummer made the comment last night that some are pitching for their life.

    If you add the 3 new pitchers, and the 3 on IL (Greinke, Sanchez, Biagini, Pressly, James, Peacock) who has to go? Sneed, Abreu, Urquidy, maybe Straw, and ? ? ?

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      • I think they might take their sweet time with Peacock and James. That gives them time to look at Sanchez and Biagini and make sure every one in that bullpen is perfectly healthy. Then I think Sneed gets optioned. The next move is more complicated, but if they think someone is sore or not 100% healthy they might give them some time off.

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  29. So that tells me that when Peacock comes back Sneed heads down, ac. I guess they sent Straw down because they feel like they need the pitching help for a bit to give those guys some help.
    When Pressly comes back…… Rondon? Or like you said is it give JV or Cole some injured “rest” before September roster expansion???

    Like

  30. Remember that awful baseball being used in AAA?
    The Corpus Christi starting rotation in AA now consists of:
    Forrest Whitley
    Bryan Abreu
    Tyler Ivey
    Brandon Bailey(Reappearing today as scheduled starter)
    Christian Javier
    Enoli Paredes
    Yohan Ramirez
    That is where the Astros want them for right now.

    Like

  31. All that moaning and whining about poor Lucroy and then the Angels run over him. How about suspending the Angels for two games.

    Like

    • So wait did they DFA Lucroy so that Stassi could be on the roster?????
      I’m sure they will tell us that if Marisnick had not run him over this would not have happened….

      Like

      • A lot of the Angels fans were predicting this yesterday. Apparently Lucroy wasn’t that popular amongst them, and wanted him gone for a while now.

        I was in the hospital earlier and was reading how one dude actually had a bunch of reasons why Stassi was an improvement and so was Kevan Smith

        Liked by 1 person

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