Luhnow prepared for challenges ahead
New Astros GM has 'work cut out' for him, but has plan for club
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jeff Luhnow had been in baseball for only eight years when the Astros tabbed him to be their 12th general manager last December, but it was his strong player personnel track record with the Cardinals and his previous business successes that impressed ownership.
It also didn't hurt that he had a very influential backer in his corner in Peter Ueberroth. The former Baseball Commissioner is a friend of Astros owner Jim Crane, and he got to know Luhnow through the man who is now Luhnow's father-in-law (Luhnow was married in January).
So when the Astros were looking to fill their GM vacancy, Ueberroth called Crane.
"He called me and said 'When you get the team, give me a call, and I'll give you the smartest guy in baseball,'" said Crane, who took control of the club in November. "Within 18 hours, he was in our office and gave us a 25-page report on how to fix the Astros. We knew some of it, but not all of it."
Luhnow, 45, has been on the job a little more than two months and has barely scratched the surface of his 25-page path to success. He's reshaped the front office, putting an emphasis on data analysis, and understands the importance of continuing to build the club through the Draft and player development.
Inheriting a club that's coming off 106 losses and is still working its way back from some poor Drafts (2005-07), Luhnow's job is a daunting one. But in many ways, it's one that he's prepared for throughout his adult life.
"There's a number of areas you make sure you stay on top of, but that's part of being the general manager," he said. "I've been trained in that regard in other industries, and baseball as well. It's second nature to me. Not that we don't have our work cut out for us."
Like Crane, Luhnow has a successful background in business. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and getting an MBA from Northwestern, he became an engineer before transitioning to management consulting, and then becoming a technology entrepreneur.
"Logically, the next step was to become a baseball guy," he said.
Luhnow was born and raised in Mexico City, where his parents had relocated from New York. He grew up loving baseball and even made it to Houston to attend some games in the Astrodome. Luhnow played fantasy baseball in college and became passionate about numbers and statistics. He eventually parlayed his love for data analysis into a job with the Cardinals in 2003. At age 37, he was just getting started in baseball.
He spent eight years in St. Louis and held the title of director of player procurement when the Astros hired him. He began overseeing the Cardinals' Drafts in 2005 and helped St. Louis acquire several players who played key roles in winning the World Series last year. In all, he won eight rings during his tenure with the Cardinals -- two World Series titles, a National League championship and five Minor League championships.
Whether it's the business world or baseball, Luhnow says the path to success is the same.
"You have to have good people working in different areas you're overseeing and you're giving them what they need to be successful," he said. "Nobody's successful in this role without a really good group of people in the organization. That's the key."
|"Can you win and develop at the same time? The answer is yes. Can we do it right now with the Houston Astros? Probably not. But can we do it down the road? Absolutely."|
|-- Jeff Luhnow|
Many of the players considered the future of the organization -- Jordan Lyles, Jonathan Singleton, Delino DeShields Jr. and George Springer -- are in Major League camp this year and could be the nucleus of the club in the not-so-distant future. Luhnow understands the importance of keeping the talent pipeline churning.
"We want to build on what's here -- we don't want to take apart -- and add complementary pieces and create advantages so the Astros can sustain success over the long haul," Luhnow said upon his hiring. "Can you win and develop at the same time? The answer is yes. Can we do it right now with the Houston Astros? Probably not. But can we do it down the road? Absolutely."
An important step in that future will happen this June, when the Astros have the first pick in the First-Year Player Draft, and the team will soon transition to the rough-and-tumble American League West. Luhnow's job is not an easy one, but he still can't help but smile.
"I'm happy with where we are in camp right now," he said. "There's a lot of energy and that's the main thing that's getting me excited. Not just myself and [in the offices] upstairs, but [manager Brad Mills] and his staff and the guys on the Minor League side, and the players have picked it up from them. It's important for us to keep that energy and enthusiasm going all spring if we can."