Luhnow addresses offseason moves, spring
Astros GM speaks with reporters in Q&A session
HOUSTON -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow took some time Wednesday to meet with reporters at Minute Maid Park and addressed an array of Spring Training topics, including his thoughts of handling younger players like Jordan Lyles.
Luhnow's thoughts on Lyles and other matters are addressed below in a partial transcript of his question-and-answer session with the media.
On Sunday, Luhnow will head to the Astros' Latin American academy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, for a couple of days before going to Kissimmee, Fla., for his first Spring Training as a general manager. Luhnow, you remember, was born in Mexico City and is fluent in Spanish.
"First of all, I want to familiarize myself with our scouts there and make sure that I know what's going on with our complex," he said. "We're also going to be looking at existing players that are going to be coming and working out on both days that I'm there.
"I really want to get to know what we have, and also this is the time of year where there's heavy scouting for the next crop, and the July 2 [international signing date] is not that far away. This is the first class that's in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It's important they know how important the Latin program is for us here in Houston and going there and spending a few days with them will signal that."
Here is the Q&A session:
Q: With the state of the organization rebuilding, are you confident you'll finish Spring Training with Wandy Rodriguez on the roster?
Luhnow: Wandy's got value to us, no question about it. Right now, I look at our roster and he's an important piece of it, so there's no reason to think of this team without him. He's not only been an Astro, but he knows the guys here and knows the staff, and he's going to win some ballgames for us. That's why he's definitely an important part of our plan.
Q: Can you talk about the specific moves you've made in getting players like Jack Cust and Livan Hernandez, and how does that mesh with what you want to do going forward?
Luhnow: Adding players that have performance history, where they've done things in the past that appear they can help us here now, that was part of the equation. You look at guys like Jack Cust and Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke and Jed Lowrie, for that matter. These are guys that have done it at the big league level and proven they can play at this level. We wanted to make sure we added depth across all areas, starting pitcher and infield/outfield, etc., so that was part of it.
I think the other part of it was making sure we have enough choices so that, come late March, we're making some decisions about who's going to make this team and who's going to be on that 25-man roster to start the year that gives us the best chance to get off to a good start, and doesn't block the prospects or the players that are ready to come and ready to start contributing in a meaningful way.
It's really a balance. We wanted to have some options, we wanted to have some choices and we wanted to allow our guys to continue to develop.
Q: Is your payroll about where you need it to be, where you want it to be?
Luhnow: Right now, payroll is not our primary objective. Our primary objective is we've got 61 players coming to camp, and our objective is to field the best team we could possibly field for this year and get off to a good start.
The direction I've been given from [owner] Jim [Crane] and [president and CEO] George [Postolos] is if there's an opportunity one way or the other to add or subtract payroll but ultimately helps our strategy out and making this team more competitive within a three-to-five-year time frame, it's something we'll discuss.
I don't really feel like [payroll] has been a consideration at this point.
Q: What are your thoughts on Jordan Lyles? He pitched [most of] the year in the big leagues at 20 years old. Where do you think he is in his development, and what do you think would be best for him this year?
Luhnow: My comment about Lyles would be the same comment I'd have about a lot of these other young players, in that just because they made it up here last year doesn't mean they're guaranteed a spot this year. We have a different composition, we've got some various options, and that's one of the reasons why we wanted to go out and get some depth.
If Jordan Lyles comes to Spring Training, just like any of the other young players, and has a great spring and proves that he deserves a spot in the rotation or the starting lineup, they'll win those spots. We're not going to hold those players back. Young players who have the possibility of being here for the next three-to-five years or longer, we're going to make sure we manage their careers properly so that we're not overexposing them early in their career.
At the same time, when they're ready to contribute and ready to win games here, we're going to allow them to do that. It goes back to the philosophy of giving ourselves options this year and not having to push guys too fast that maybe need some more seasoning and allowing those guys that are ready to go ahead and claim that role.
Q: How will Rule 5 pick Marwin Gonzalez factor into the shortstop mix this year considering you have Jed Lowrie as starter?
Luhnow: Marwin is going to be an interesting guy to take a look at. When you get a guy in the Rule 5, you don't automatically hand him the position. Marwin's got the tools to be an everyday shortstop down the road. It's nice that maybe he has the flexibility to maybe allow him to be a utility guy this year. If you have to carry him on the roster, you don't want to overexpose him.
I think we're going to have a healthy competition for shortstop, and Angel [Sanchez] is going to be in there as well, and we'll see who emerges from the group.
Q: What intrigues you about Marwin from your reports?
Luhnow: He's a tools guy. He's got a plus arm and can run, he's got the type of body you can look at and a swing you can look at and say, 'This guy should develop some power down the road.' He's consistently performed in the Winter League, and we've gotten real good reports about him from coaches that have been on his team and coaches on opposing teams.
It's exciting to get a guy from another club where he was blocked in an organization and he's not necessarily blocked here. It could be one of those situations where it worked out well for us.
Q: Now that you've had a chance to take a long look at the organization from top to bottom, what have you seen?
Luhnow: There's a lot of good people in this organization, a lot of good staff members, coaches, scouts, and there's also a lot of good players. I'm pretty optimistic about the future. This is not a static game, and you've got to keep building, you've got to keep adding. We've added some people to the front office, we've added some coaches and we're going to be adding more down the road.
I'm excited. The same thing on the players' side. We've got a good group of young players, but you can't take a year off in this game in terms of the development and the cycle. You've got to continue to add, which is why I'm excited about the opportunity in the Draft this year, and I'm excited about some other players internationally we're going to have a chance to sign.
We've just got to keep replenishing the pipeline as best we can to prevent what happened last year from happening again, that we're losing as many games as we did. We want to get back to winning consistently and doing it as quickly as possible.
Q: Is it safe to say you still have some irons in the fire from a trade perspective, or do you not want to upset things going into Spring Training and see how it plays out?
Luhnow: First of all, we're probably the busiest front office in baseball because we get first licks at anybody who got designated [a product of having the worst record in baseball last year]. Every day, we're having conversations, 'Let's look at our roster. Is this guy potentially better than the 40th man on our roster?' Those are everyday conversations we're having.
We lost [catcher Craig] Tatum because of that, but we felt we needed to make that move. From that standpoint we're very active in terms of looking at transactions that are happening out there. Right now, most of the free agents have signed. Roy Oswalt is probably the last guy out there.
We've got our fingers in everything, and I think you're irresponsible if you don't. Are we actively looking to move somebody or sign somebody at this point? No, because we feel we have 61 guys coming to camp, and from that group of 61 we've got a good 25-man roster to start the season.