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December 9, 2011

Prospectus Perspective

A Fresh Start for the Astros

by Bradley Ankrom

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The Houston Astros announced late Wednesday night that former Cardinals scouting director Jeff Luhnow had been hired to replace Ed Wade as the club’s general manager, Houston’s fourth since 2004.

In St. Louis, Luhnow’s fingerprints could be found all over the Cardinals roster that earned the franchise its second World Series title in six years last October. Sixteen players drafted by Luhnow played for the Cardinals in 2011, including Allen Craig, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, and since-traded outfielder Colby Rasmus.

In Houston, he inherits an organization largely bereft of top-end talent, due mostly to years of poor drafting and a diminished presence in Venezuela. The Astros haven’t developed a true superstar from the draft since taking Rice outfielder Lance Berkman with their first-round pick in 1997. Since then, the most valuable player the organization has drafted and developed is Hunter Pence, who was sent to Philadelphia in a deadline trade last summer.

In the 1990s, Houston was at the forefront of mining Venezuela for talent, excavating future stars and above-average players like Johan Santana, Bobby Abreu, Richard Hidalgo, Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and Melvin Mora in the early part of the decade. Increased competition and the allocation of fewer resources contributed to the Astros losing their advantage around the turn of the century, and the only major-league product of Houston’s efforts since 2001 is second baseman Jose Altuve.

In four full seasons with Wade at the helm, the Astros went a combined 292-355 (.451 winning percentage) and never finished higher than third in the National League Central. The lone third-place finish came in Wade’s first year, 2008, when Houston outplayed its Pythagorean record by nine games and finished with 86 wins. Subsequent seasons saw Houston slip to 74, 76, and a franchise-worst 56 wins last year.

Wade developed a somewhat-undeserved reputation for being on the losing end of the majority of his trades while in Houston. It’s certainly true that he blew his fair share of deals, as all GMs do, but the actual difference between the value he traded away and the value he received is surprisingly slim.

Of the 19 trades Wade made, the results run the gamut from unquestionably successful (Brad Lidge for Michael Bourn and change) to decidedly awful (Luke Scott and four others for Miguel Tejada), with plenty in between:

Date

Team

Players Out (WARP)

Players In (WARP)

WARP Diff

11/7/07

PHI

Brad Lidge (3.3)

Michael Bourn (8.4)
Geoff Geary (0.4)
Mike Costanzo

+5.5

12/12/07

BAL

Matt Albers (0.5)
Dennis Sarfate (0.7)
Troy Patton (0.5)
Luke Scott (7.6)
Mike Costanzo

Miguel Tejada (4.8)

-4.5

12/14/07

ARI

Chris Burke (-0.5)
Juan Gutierrez (2.0)
Chad Qualls (1.6)

Jose Valverde (2.3)

-0.8

7/22/08

SDN

Chad Reineke (-0.2)

Randy Wolf (0.8)

+1.0

7/30/08

NYA

Matt Cusick

LaTroy Hawkins (1.6)

+1.6

3/31/09

CIN

Drew Sutton (0.6)

Jeff Keppinger (2.7)

+2.1

8/18/09

TEX

Ivan Rodriguez (0.9)

Matt Nevarez
Jose Vallejo

-0.9

12/10/09

FLO

Jorge Jimenez
Luis Bryan
Robert Bone

Matt Lindstrom (0.3)

+0.3

7/1/10

BOS

Kevin Cash (-0.3)

Angel Sanchez (-0.6)

-0.3

7/29/10

PHI

Roy Oswalt (4.2)

J.A. Happ (1.6)
Anthony Gose
Jonathan Villar

-2.8

7/29/10

TOR

Anthony Gose

Brett Wallace (0.3)

+0.3

7/31/10

NYA

Lance Berkman (4.4)

Mark Melancon (0.6)
Jimmy Paredes (0.3)

-3.5

8/19/10

SLN

Pedro Feliz (-0.4)

David Carpenter (0.1)

+0.5

11/18/10

COL

Felipe Paulino (1.3)

Clint Barmes (1.9)

+0.6

12/23/10

COL

Matt Lindstrom (0.4)

Wes Musick
Jonnathan Aristil

-0.4

3/27/11

TBA

Cash

Joe Inglett (-0.1)

-0.1

7/20/11

SFN

Jeff Keppinger (-0.9)

Henry Sosa (0.3)
Jason Stoffel

+1.2

7/31/11

PHI

Hunter Pence (2.2)

Jonathan Singleton
Jarred Cosart
Domingo Santana
Josh Zeid

-2.2

7/31/11

ATL

Michael Bourn (0.3)
Cash

Jordan Schafer (0.2)
Juan Abreu (0.0)
Paul Clemens
Brett Oberholtzer

-0.1

-2.5

In the table above, outgoing players are credited with all WARP earned with other major-league teams after being traded by Houston. Players received in return are credited with all WARP earned while on the Astros’ major-league roster. A more in-depth analysis would place weights on service time, contract status, and contract amounts owed, but even without those weights, it’s easy to see that Wade came out ahead more often than not, receiving a net positive return in just under half of his trades.

Criticism of Wade’s trading record in Houston should focus not on how often he won or lost a deal, but rather his inability to pry away other organizations’ top talent in exchange for his veterans. In only one case can it be argued that Wade succeeded in that aspect—last summer’s trade of Pence to Philadelphia for Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart. By that time, however, Wade’s future in Houston had already been decided by incoming owner Jim Crane.

While Cosart and Singleton were two of the Astros’ top three prospects in Kevin Goldstein’s latest rankings, both come with questions about their future roles. There is no consensus among scouts as to whether Cosart can develop the approach and consistent mechanics necessary to remain a starter. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to end up a late-inning power reliever. Singleton, while always among the youngest everyday players in his leagues, has yet to translate all of his batting-practice power into game situations. He’ll start 2012 as a 20-year-old in Double-A, so there’s still plenty of time for the power to arrive. It will have to come eventually, however, if he is to avoid a career as the next Lyle Overbay (or worse, Brett Wallace).

Houston’s projected everyday lineup for next year includes just one player, 36-year-old Carlos Lee, over the age of 28:

C: Jason Castro (25)
1B: Carlos Lee (36)
2B: Jose Altuve (22)
SS: Angel Sanchez (28)
3B: Jimmy Paredes (23)
LF: J.D. Martinez (24)
CF: Jordan Schafer (25)
RF: Brian Bogusevic (28)

The rotation is a little bit older but still features some developing young talent in Bud Norris and Jordan Lyles:

SP1: Wandy Rodriguez (33)
SP2: Brett Myers (31)
SP3: Bud Norris (27)
SP4: J.A. Happ (29)
SP5: Jordan Lyles (21)

It’s likely that one or both of Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers will be moved before the season begins, though Luhnow will have to convince ownership to eat significant chunks of each player’s salary if he hopes to receive anything of value in return.

Houston owns the top pick in next June’s first-year player draft, and early signs from Crane and Luhnow point toward the organization adopting a more aggressive approach than the previous regime demonstrated. Unfortunately, the 2012 draft class appears to be much shallower than the bumper crops of recent years, and new draft rules that go into effect next year will make it nearly impossible for any team to spend its way to a quickly-replenished farm system.

In Thursday’s press conference formally announcing his appointment, Luhnow spoke of the organization’s commitment to rebuilding from within and refining its talent evaluation and procurement processes. The word “rebuilding” was not a part of former owner Drayton McLane’s lexicon, and his refusal to tear things down and start from scratch directly contributed to the mess that Luhnow is now charged with cleaning up. Fortunately, it appears that Crane understands the dire condition of his new asset and will allow Luhnow ample time to strategically rebuild a formerly successful franchise.

27 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

marshaja

I know there is a caveat saying the table is off the cuff, but one that stood out to me was Berkman. You can't count his value to the Cards this year against HOU because he would've been a FA anyway.

Dec 09, 2011 05:24 AM
rating: 0
 
tlpacker

That could go both ways though. He was pretty vocal in saying that he wanted to remain in Houston, and wanted to go there this year before signing with the Cards.

Dec 09, 2011 05:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

That was the one that gave me pause, too. I included his post-NYA production for consistency's sake, but it's worth mentioning that if I hadn't, that trade would be +1.0 WARP in favor of Houston/Wade.

Dec 09, 2011 05:30 AM
rating: 0
 
tlpacker

So, what do you know about Jeff Luhnow? Any plans to do a little write-up on him?

Dec 09, 2011 05:25 AM
rating: 1
 
Bradley Ankrom

I wanted to write a little bit more about him in the article, but since this is his first GM assignment there isn't a whole lot of predictive value in his prior work.

Dec 09, 2011 05:33 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

There are tons of quotes out there from people cringing about competing against him, including the Cardinals GM, who claims to be grateful now that the Astros are going to the AL. There's a great QA interview with him available here that gives people a sense of what he's about.

There's a quote from George Postolos saying that after Lunhow's interview, Lunhow asked if he could send more info. Postolos expected a resume and cover letter but instead received a 25-page plan the next day on how to fix the Astros.

Lunhow's the guy that (rumor has it) caused the cards owner to run off Jocketty for disagreeing with Lunhow's ideas. Lunhow brought the statistical revolution to the Cardinals.

There are various stats showing that he's had more major leaguers and more successful players from the past three drafts than any other team in baseball.

There is a wealth of information available on him, without even having an "inside presence" like Baseball Prospectus does.

I'm not trying to needle Bradley here - this is a good article about Ed Wade, but this site sees Astros content (or any NL Central content aside from Cubs/Cards) about as often as the UN gets to see nuclear processing facilities in Iran.

Personally, I would have thought BP would be all over this hiring, discussing the impact of hiring a business and stats guy for a franchise that has had an antiquated mode of operation for two decades.

I'm disappointed.

Dec 09, 2011 06:14 AM
rating: 8
 
Bradley Ankrom

All fair points. This article started out as a response to Wade's canning a couple of weeks ago, but I added a little bit about Luhnow and the quality of the talent he's inheriting after his hiring was announced. A lengthier profile/assessment of his work may be in order, however. Thanks (sincerely) for the tips.

Dec 09, 2011 06:24 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Gotcha. And again, I enjoyed the article. I've been a Wade apologist for a couple years now, though he was not anything to be excited about. He got a bum deal, was dealt a crappy hand by a misguided owner, and now is taking the fall for something he had little control over.

Oh well, at least he gets a full paycheck through 2013 because of that evergreen clause in his contract!

Dec 09, 2011 06:27 AM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Very nice analysis, and I must say that as a Cardinals fan, I'm horrified at losing the guy -- although you have to feel good for the sake of anyone who makes it to the highest job you can have in baseball without swinging a bat or wearing a glove.

This said, one side comment. The Cardinals felt it necessary to elevate John Vuch to be sort of "co-guy-in-charge" of the farm system alongside Luhnow. I'm not close enough to the inner workings of the team to be able to interpret this, but consensus is that it was recognition that Luhnow may have bit off rather more than he could chew when it came to fixing the farm system (which, to be sure, he did in spades). This may be something to watch: can he organize and delegate, in the face of an organization that's pretty screwed up and may not realize how screwed up it is?

Either way, congratulations to him. This is an opportunity to flex his muscles, the likes of which few of us will ever see. He earned it. And don't worry, Cardinals fans; with Vuch, Sig Mejdal, etc., remaining, the team's farm system will be fine even with this severe a loss.

Dec 09, 2011 06:47 AM
rating: 0
 
mrenick

It's not my money but given the new CBA wouldn't t make sense for the Astros to pay ALL of Lee's and Meyers' contract I order to extract the best possible talent. These are basically sunk costs that have positive effect on a team that needs talent like the Astros. That seems like a legitimate way to negate some of the CBA's likely negative restraint on talent acquisition via IFA and draft. Wandy, on the other hand, certainly has a reasonable contract. They should be able to get both salary relief and talent from moving him.

Dec 09, 2011 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

That's a lot of money, and I'm not sure it's clear how deep Crane's pockets run at this point.

Regarding Wandy specifically, he has at least $25.5 million owed over the next two years ($10MM in '12, $13MM in '13, $13MM option in '14 w/ $2.5MM buyout), and his 2014 becomes guaranteed if he's dealt, so you're really looking at 3/$36 million. Myers has a similar arrangement: $11 million guaranteed next year with a $10 million option for '13 or $3 million buyout.

Dec 09, 2011 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
mrenick

Then the astros should pay a large portion of Wandy's salary too, particularly if they are serious about rebuilding. If the Astros want to get better and reduce the rebuilding timeframe as much as possible then their sole focus should be in creating as great an influx of talent as quickly ad possible. The new CBA limits their ability to do that, at least to some degree. Trading off these sunk costs and hopefully acquiring useful pieces should be the very next move. Ultimately, eating those costs would provide for a greater impact in talent acquistion, in a smaller amount of time. As an Astros fan, I am just trying to think of ways that the organization can hasten their ascension to repectability.

The Cards need a 1B. Send them Lee and Wandy with both of their salaries paid and acquire Taveras and Cox. (just as an example).

Dec 09, 2011 17:22 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

They really don't need a 1B. They have this guy. Lance Berkman. He's pretty ok at that position.

Dec 10, 2011 06:08 AM
rating: 2
 
mrenick

I wasn't proposing trade scenarios as much as saying, hey, why don't they see if they can move these guys, salary included, for prospects. If you can't get a team's elite prospect then aim for a couple of other high end prospects. Hence the parenthetical expression included in the post

Dec 11, 2011 16:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

It's not like Lee is gonna bring back much of anything in the first place, and Wandy is one of the few actually valuable players on the team. It's worth it to have pitchers who go out and don't get bombed every game, especially moving into an offense heavier league in a couple years. So, they can eat his whole salary, trade him for basically one top prospect and a couple decent guys, who will MAYBE turn out to be valuable and then lose all that money for other purposes, of they could hold on to him, have an actual pitcher and keep the money for things that are actually valuable, like signing some FA in a couple years.

As said above, we're not sure what ownership is willing to spend in any given year, so assuming they should shell out cash indiscriminately is presumptuous at best.

Dec 11, 2011 14:00 PM
rating: -1
 
Christopher Miller
(88)

Bradley, does it matter how deep his pockets run? The point of "sunk cost" is that Crane is going to have to spend the money if he doesn't trade them, so if he gets back great players in exchange for paying them to play elsewhere (and replaces them with young guys making the minimum), his relative wealth simply isn't part of the equation.

Dec 09, 2011 10:39 AM
rating: 3
 
RallyKiller

There's no doubt that Jeff Luhnow is clued into to the new wave of baseball analysis. It occurs to me that perhaps BP is hesitant to profile Luhnow because he has previously linked up with a BP competitor. Back about 2008, Luhnow hired Ron Shandler/Baseball HQ to be advisers to him in his role as St. Louis VP of Baseball Development. Shandler later had some misgivings and backed off after a year or so, as I recall.

Dec 10, 2011 18:47 PM
rating: -1
 
Bradley Ankrom

Not the case at all. I think Luhnow is a great hire and expect him to do well in Houston. A more lengthy profile may appear later this winter after things slow down a bit.

Dec 10, 2011 19:45 PM
rating: 0
 
RallyKiller
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"A more lengthy profile may appear later this winter...."

Wow! What a definitive and impressive commitment to timely analysis! To paraphrase the Old Perfessor, "Can't anybody run this here show?"

Dec 11, 2011 07:45 AM
rating: -10
 
Bradley Ankrom

Here you go:

Luhnow drafted a bunch of guys in St. Louis who have made it to the big leagues. None have become stars yet, but Colby Rasmus and Shelby Miller have the potential to do so. He likes stats. Ed Wade did not. He isn't likely to blow his top draft picks to sign marginal major-league free agents. Or maybe he is. Pressure is weird like that. Makes some people do things they wouldn't normally do. He's a pretty good Twitter follow. As far as I know, Ed Wade is not aware of the Twitter. Therefore, edge to Luhnow. Looks like a good hire. Twitter proficiency has a direct correlation to the ability to develop catchers, or at least that's what I've heard. Ear to the ground, ya know?

Dec 11, 2011 08:46 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Sarcasm? Nice.

Dec 11, 2011 12:53 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

+1

Dec 11, 2011 13:48 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

What exactly is your issue? That someone else was hired for some job and there hasn't been a thorough analysis of an GM who has yet to make any moves? Why don't we let something happen, like, say, a trade, or a draft, and then talk about the things being done by someone.

Wow! A quote about something! What a definitive and impressive commitment to evaluating the work of a professional writer!

Dec 11, 2011 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
RallyKiller

Hilarious!

Dec 11, 2011 10:42 AM
rating: -1
 
Pluthero

Just a quick nitpick; Pudge was actually traded to the Rangers for Nevarez and Vallejo which would make the total WARP from those trades -2.4 and not -0.8.

Dec 13, 2011 04:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

Good catch, I updated the table with the correct info.

Dec 14, 2011 09:16 AM
rating: 0
 
tweicheld

I read over and over again in BP articles how "flags fly forever". That said, I don't see how Ed Wade came out on top dealing Lidge for singles-hitting Michael Bourn. Lidge brought home the bacon to the Phillies in 2008, I don't see how anyone could say the Phillies would've won it all that year without Lidge. And yes, I know he dropped off the planet stat-wise the last three years and missed a ton of games due to injuries.

Dec 14, 2011 09:46 AM
rating: 0
 
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