The Astros have fired Bo Porter, and are standing by general manager Jeff Luhnow and his long-term plan for the franchise. As Joshua Ward noted over the weekend, sticking with Luhnow is the clear choice for Houston. Despite the brutal on-field results in Luhnow's (and Porter's) tenure, the botched Brady Aiken deal, and an Astrodome-sized batch of criticism for Houston's historical tanking job, Jeff Luhnow has the Astros on the right track. In the midst of another bleak, humid Houston summer, here is what GM Jeff Luhnow is doing well.
If it seems like this is a given, well, perhaps we all ought to try being Astros fans. The urge to speed up a rebuilding process is real, especially given that one's job is on the line. Luhnow has kept his finger off the Colt .45 trigger, delaying service-time issues for guys like Jonathan Singleton and George Springer, and avoiding any and all quick-fix free agent signings, to the sure disgruntlement of Porter and Minute Maid Park season ticket holders.
Signing Jose Altuve and Jonathan Singleton at the Dollar Tree
Altuve, 24, has been one of the best second basemen in the American League in 2014. He leads the majors in batting (.336) and is third in steals (49). Among second basemen, only Robinson Cano gets on-base more often. Last summer, before Altuve had quite broken out, Jeff Luhnow signed him for $12.5 through 2017 (with club options for 2018 and 2019).
The hyped Singleton has not done much for the big club this year. Since his simultaneous contract and call-up on June 5, he's hit .178 with 12 home runs. But Jeff Luhnow--and Astros fans--shouldn't care about those numbers. These are the numbers that matter for the power-hitting prospect: five years, ten million, through 2018. That's $2 million a year. (The team has club options for 2019-2021, with increasing dividends for Singleton, but still: 2019 is a long time from now.)
Trading for upside
Luhnow has littered the Astros system with former high draft picks and high-celing'd castoffs. After inheriting Jason Castro, Luhnow went out and got first rounder Matt Dominguez from Miami (for Carlos Lee). When the A's tired of one-trick-pony Chris Carter, Luhnow acquired him for cheap, and put his home run-hitting pony show on full display (Carter's 33 bombs are second in the AL). After this year's deadline deal with the Marlins, Colin Moran (sixth overall pick in 2013) and Jake Marisnick (well-regarded Marlins prospect) came on board. In the 2013 draft, the Astros loved Moran's bat, but chose Mark Appel instead. Now they have both.
Not being afraid
When you insist on hitting rock bottom with such force (as the Astros have), you can't really be afraid of what people think. And Jeff Luhnow pretty obviously doesn't care. Evidence of this came at the trade deadline, when the Astros dealt Jarred Cosart, a perfectly good, young, hard-throwing, MLB-ready pitcher. That the Astros traded such a young, effective pitcher seemed puzzling, like they were more interested in having Baseball America's top prospects than winning games. But Luhnow carried on, persistent in his vision, giving up a useful player now for a potential star (Moran) in the future. It's easy to trade veterans when you're rebuilding--but to trade a player with Cosart's apparent potential? That takes smarts--and not being afraid.