Posted on: March 4, 2012 2:30 pm
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- For a guy who came to baseball relatiavely late in life and who runs a team that is by all accounts overmatched, new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow seems quite relaxed. He appears to have the right outlook and demeanor for a team that may again lose 100 games. "Of course, he is (calm),'' one skeptic from a rival team said. "There is absolutely no pressure.''
Luhnow, an intellectual ensconsed in the stat crowd (he just got back from the MIT Sports Sloan Analytics Conference), is always going to have his critics. He and Rays GM Andrew Friedman are the only ones to take the non-traditional route to the GM's chair, meaning they didn't start out as baseball executives. But Friedman quickly proved himself one of the best execs in baseball by now after starting out in the investment business.
Pressure or not to win this year, folks are looking to Luhnow to prove himself. Not everyone is going to be rooting for him, either. Some folks like tradition, and he's taken an unususal route to get where he is. He has a dual engineering and business degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Northwestern University, and he got into baseball in his mid-30s with the Cardinals, in 2003.
Now 45, he spent nearly a decade as an executive with the Cardinals, contributing to two World Series teams as a high-level front-office person. Though, with the ongoing old-school vs. new-school denate raging (he is firmly in the latter crowd), there were definitely some critics in St. Louis. He tried to hire ESPN's Keith Law for a top scouting job in Houston, which wouldn't necessarily have endeared him to some older scouts. (Law turned the job down.)
Say this for Luhnow, the Cardinals generally thrived in his time in a top scouting and player development job there. And say this, too, he seems to have an excellent handle on where the Astros are today. Luhnow said he seeks progress, which is precisely the right answer for a team that lost 106 games last year and threatens to repeat that output. He also said their seemingly dire situation will be aided by a lucrative TV contract that begins next year and that they also hope to become a free-agent player if they can recapture their audience in what he pointed out was a big market.
Luhnow provided a positive-as-he-could be rundown of the Astros playing personnel, but it isn't fair to recount any of that here because his job is to be as upbeat as possible, no matter what the roster looks like. While Luhnow mentioned several nice things about many of their players, he isn't about to pretend the team is ready to contend, which shows he's far from delusional. He does seem to have high hopes for new Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, whom he acquired in a trade for ex-Astros closer Mark Melancon, as well as a few others.
The reality, though, is that even his relatively honest portrayal of his team's situation doesn't say how bad the Astros are thought to be. Their rotation led by Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ is somewhat presentable, but their everyday lineup threatens to be the worst in baseball. Everyone has their own evaluation of course, but one scout said he believed that besides veteran Carlos Lee, who Houston would love to trade, only two players have a chance to be major-league average, catcher Jason Castro and third baseman Chris Johnson, and Castro missed last year with a knee injury and Johnson hit .251 with seven home runs. "Two years ago, he hit,'' the scout said. "Last year he forgot how.''
Posted on: February 23, 2012 3:31 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 3:44 pm
The Angels and Marlins spent plenty, the Astros stood pat, and the Mets did worse than that. Here they, one through 30, from most improved team to least improved.
1. Angels. Anytime you add Albert Pujols when you don't really need a first baseman, that's quite a luxury buy. Maybe 10 years are too many, but he'll obviously make a major impact in the first years of that deal. C.J. Wilson gives them as good a first four as just about anyone. Plus, he comes directly from the main competitor.
2. Marlins. Jose Reyes is a monster get, when healthy, Mark Buehrle fits as the perfect veteran lefthander to pitch behind Josh Johnson and Heath Bell is a very good closer. Ozzie Guillen spices things up. Much more interesting team as they move to their new park.
3. Diamondbacks. Loved that they didn't rest on their laurels. Trevor Cahill bolsters their rotation and Jason Kubel their lineup. Also tried hard for Hiroki Kuroda, offering him $13 million, $3 million more than he got from the Yankees. Terrific effort by a team in an area hit hard by the economic downturn.
4. Nationals. I don't love Gio Gonzalez's 1.48 lifetime road WHIP, but he's a talented, young lefthanded starter who's exactly what they needed. Of course, they still could use a center fielder.
5. Yankees. Hiroki Kuroda is the solid starter they needed, and Michael Pineda has a chance to be better than that, especially if he masters his changeup. Jesus Montero will be a mega star but they needed the pitching, so it was a worthwhile gamble. A.J. Burnett is addition by subtraction.
6. Rockies. Michael Cuddyer is a huge get, even if he did cost $31.5 million over three years. Jeremy Guthrie steps in as the Opening Day starter and Tyler Chatwood has a chance, though rotation questions still remain. Casey Blake might not have a lot left at third base, but super prospect Nolan Arenado looks to be close.
7. Rangers. Yu Darvish is going to be better than Wilson. They flirted with Prince Fielder, but came up a few years short. Had they pulled that one off, too, they would have easily topped this list. A lefthander in the pen wouldn't have hurt, either.
8. Rays. Carlos Pena will bring a lot more punch than Casey Kotchman, and if healthy, Luke Scott brings more still. Somehow, they find a way.
9. Blue Jays. Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero and Darren Oliver represent a nice bullpen upgrade over Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. Never made the huge deal folks were expecting, though.
10. Reds. They gave up a lot for Matt Latos, a talented pitcher who'll have to adjust going from pitching-firendly PETCO Park to Great American Ballpark. The pen is better with Ryan Madson in as the closer and strong lefty Sean Marshall over from Chicago. Looks like a contender.
11. Tigers. Owner Mike Ilitch gets props for the $214-million, nine-year band-aid he bought in Fielder after Victor Martinez's brutal knee injury.
12. Phillies. They imported Jonathan Papelbon, who has a longer track record, to replace Ryan Madson. Jim Thome fills the resident nice guy role left vacated by Brad Lidge's departure (and Juan Pierre won't hurt in that dept. either, assuming he makes the team). They have more versatility with Ty Wigginton adding to their bench strength.
13. Pirates. The new killer B's are here -- Rod Barajas, Erik Bedard, Clint Barmes and A.J. Burnett. The Bucs certainly should be better.
14. Mariners. Hong-Chih Kuo, Shawn Camp and Hisashi Iwakuma have a chance to help. But their offseason will turn on whether Montero becomes a bigger star than Pineda. The guess here is, he does.
15. Padres. They maximized the Latos trade. Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal could become stars, and Brad Boxberger may be the closer of the future. Huston Street ably replaces Bell. And Carlos Quentin may thrive back in his hometown.
16. Cubs. David DeJesus is a solid outfielder, and Paul Maholm will help. But their winter will turn on whether slugging first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the player they think he is. The real loss for them was the new rule limiting bonus pools for drafted players.
17. Royals. Jonathan Sanchez is just the type of high-ceiling pitcher who fits, Bruce Chen was needed back and Jonathan Broxton is worth a flyer.
18. Dodgers. They managed to cut to below $90 million as cash-strapped Frank McCourt sells the team, but they pieced it together pretty well. Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are solid starters but most of the other imports are extras. They also made an exciting secret grab at Fielder but were outbid by the Tigers. Their best move, though, was signing Matt Kemp for eight years at $160 million,
19. Indians. Given the restrictions of the budget, not terrible. Casey Kotchman looks to be on the upswing, and Derek Lowe is a veteran presence needed especially now that Fausto Carmona is better known as Limbo Carmona.
20. Giants. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are late bloomers, and they might do as well as the combo of Caros Beltran, Andres Torres and Cody Ross. The comeback of Buster Posey is probably the biggest key. Also like the smaller pickups of Clay Hensley and Ryan Theriot.
21. Cardinals. It's hard to lose Pujols (not to mention Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan) and not feel it. But somehow, the Cardinals seem to find a way. Beltran replaces some of Pujols' lost offense, if not his presence. Adam Wainwright's return is the biggest addition, though.
22. Orioles. Nobody did more different things, but it's tough to evaluate or guess what Wei-Yin Chen or Tsuyoshi Wada will become. Wilson Betemit was an odd signing in that no one saw a two-year deal coming.
23. White Sox. Love the Robin Ventura move (though I suspect they should have made him take a more-experienced staff). The team will be a lot younger, too, with all the kids acquired for Santos and Quentin. Buehrle is tough to replace, though.
24. Braves. Their big deal was for utlityman Jack Wilson, which says a lot. Never found the right deal for Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado.
25. Twins. Josh Willingham has a lot of pressure on him to make up for the loss of Cuddyer and Kubel. Joe Nathan preferred to go to a contender. Not sure how much Jason Marquis has left.
26. Red Sox. I like the way they recovered from the loss of Papelbon by adding Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Cody Ross and Nick Punto are nice complementary pieces. But I think they'll miss Jason Varitek more than think. And they still don't have a No. 4 or 5 starter or starting shortstop after trading Marco Scutaro in exchange for "flexibility.'' Bobby Valentine was a great call for manager, and he does his best work when there are issues, so maybe he pulls it all together.
27. A's. They did a nice job collecting prospects (Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole could be stars) but will be hard-pressed to avoid 90 defeats this year after trading Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. Big Talent Yoenis Cespedes and Mannyball spice things up. Interesting offseason.
28. Brewers. Tough to make up for the loss of Fielder. Aramis Ramirez is a nice middle-of-the-order bat, Alex Gonzalez is an upgrade at shortstop and Nori Aoki may work. Also lost some bullpen depth with Takashi Saito and Hawkins gone.
29. Astros. They took a flyer on the oft-injured Fernando Martinez but after failing to unload Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee or Brett Myers, they basically return the same team. Which is not necessarily good news when you lost 106 games.
30. Mets. They lost the heart of the team (though an of-injured one), and Andres Torres wouldn't be my first choice to replace the dynamic Reyes. Actually, Pagan would have been better. But that's nitpicky. Let's face it, no one that cuts an unprecedented $50 million can do well.
Posted on: January 28, 2012 1:01 am
Edited on: January 28, 2012 1:31 am
Longtime pitching star Roy Oswalt, who seems to have very strong geographic leanings, turned down a very large one-year offer of about $10 million from the Detroit Tigers, sources told CBSSports.com, and Oswalt is instead eyeing several other teams, most of them much closer to his southern roots, including the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Oswalt's main criteria seems to be proximity to his home in Mississippi. Other teams said to be in the running include the Red Sox and Nationals, but indications are that he prefers the Rangers and Cardinals. Above all else, the locale seems to be the key to him as his decision nears. Otherwise, how to explain the out-and-out rejection of the powerhouse Tigers?
The issue seems to be that the two teams he seems to most prefer -- the Rangers and Cardinals -- aren't perfect fits. Neither currently has an opening for a starting pitcher, though it's possible either team might try to make one for him. One report, from @Jim_Duquette, suggested the Cardinals are the frontrunner.
One thing is certain, and that is that he won't be a Tiger. Detroit's offer, which was made well before they came out of nowhere to sign Prince Fielder to a $214-million, nine-year deal, is no longer on the table.
Though Oswalt's agent Bob Garber denied it, one other person familiar with the Tigers' discussions with regarding said Oswalt declined to accept Detroit's offer of about $10-million after it met Garber's asking price. That person said Garber requested $10 million, but after Tigers owner Mike Ilitch signed off on the $10 million, Garber later informed Detroit that Oswalt was not prepared to take the offer. Garber denied by text that he had asked for $10 million, saying, "I never gave the Tigers a number.''
Garber added that Oswalt has "his top three (teams) he's still focused on.''
He didn't name the three teams. But it's hard to bet on the Red Sox, who like Detroit is in the north, and what's more, are believed to have offered nothing close to the $10 million Tigers bid (the belief is that Boston's offer is closer to $5 million).
Texas and St. Louis seem more likely at this point. The Rangers, who already have six viable starters, would insist he take their price, which would presumably be less than even Boston's price. Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux are both Oswalt fans (Ryan like Oswalt was an Astros star and knows him well) so they may do it if he'd take a fraction of the $10 million he turned down.
The Cardinals don't have an overwhelming need for another starter, either. But St. Louis has talked to both him and another free agent, Edwin Jackson.
The Astros, his former team, were mentioned as a possibility in one report. And they certainly would fit his geographic preferences. But that report was denied by someone close to Oswalt.
Oswalt has such strong ties to his home area that he left the Phillies last year for eight days after his hometown was wracked by a hurricane even though his own home didn't suffer significant damage. Oswalt, who also battled back trouble last year, at one point last year ruminated about retirement last year.
Had he done so, he would have missed one of the most interesting free-agent plays in recent memory.