Astros taking their thinking far outside the box
There were a couple of emails, a half-dozen texts and voice mails after voice mails. "Luhnowtics," raged one voice. Another said, "Luhnow's really gone and done it -- he hired a guy from Baseball Prospectus, a writer." And on and on.
The Houston Astros are bad, historically bad, like the Cleveland Spiders or '62 Mets. Believe it or not, they were 22-23 on May 25, which means they are 20-72 since then. They are 10-52 since June 27, during which time they've been outscored by 163 runs. As ESPN's Dan Schulman pointed out, the Reds have won more games in Houston since the All-Star break than the Astros.
They dismissed manager Brad Mills, they've let go of a bunch of scouts. General manager Jeff Luhnow has unloaded Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, Wandy Rodriguez ...
And hired a writer.
Truth be told, Harry Dalton was one of the great general managers of the last 50 years, and, he, too, was a writer.
"I didn't take this job to be popular," says Luhnow, who was hired by owner Jim Crane and club president George Postolos last fall. "I didn't take it to put a team Band-aid on it. I took the job to try to win. Kevin Goldstein is an important part of what we're doing. Scouting is evolving, and we believe he's part of the evolution."
This must be stated: Kevin Goldstein, hired to be the Astros' coordinator of pro scouting, is a friend of mine. He works tirelessly, especially in tracking young players through the Minor Leagues. His evaluations have been very good through the years, and he understands that everyone can be wrong on Juan Cruz and Ruben Rivera and a lot of people were wrong about Chase Utley and Mark Trumbo. It happens.
"What he has done as a reporter fits what this job entails," says Luhnow. "He has worked really hard gathering information and finding means of tracking players, yet he's actually very popular and respected in the scouting community because he respects them and he has good relationships with them." I know that to be true.
Because he came from the business and analytical world with an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, Luhnow has long been considered a little different. But while he will build on the scouting staff and try to accomplish what he did in St. Louis, he will try to use different prisms. Which is what Billy Beane has done. Beane believes there are eyeball and analytical views of players, especially professional players, and he tries to support the eye view with the analytical and the analytical with the eyes.
"They are doing things here that may be unprecedented," says Goldstein, "and I'm really excited to be a part of them. To be honest, I don't think I have a clear definition of what the coordinator of pro scouting really entails, but it's exciting."
Luhnow knows the Astros are not very good. "We're building for two years from now and beyond," he says. "Our job is not to win 76 games, but to build aggregate talent for the future."
Luhnow's 2012 Draft, highlighted by overall No. 1 pick Carlos Correa and including the skilled signing of Lance McCullers Jr., seems to have been a good start. But the fact is that there are only seven players on the roster who were on it on Sept. 1 of last year, and it will be a while before the arrival of Delino DeShields, who stole 101 bases with 12 homers and 44 extra-base hits) in Class A. The haul former GM Ed Wade brought in for Hunter Pence -- powerful first baseman Jonathan Singleton, pitcher Jarred Cosart and 20-year-old, five-tool outfielder Domingo Santana -- has a definite place in their future.
What Crane, Postolos and Luhnow inherited was a team that was in the World Series seven years ago but was drained of talent because former owner Drayton McLane did not invest in the Draft.
Hiring Kevin Goldstein is part of the restoration plan. He respects others' opinions, he listens, he's working at 2:30 a.m. and soon he'll be be perched in the instructional and Arizona Fall leagues.
"Thinking outside the box should be respected, not ridiculed," says Beane, "because sometimes when you don't crawl out of that box, you're stuck in a mobile with the Memphis Blues, again.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.