December 2011

Astros interview Keith Law

The Astros have interviewed Keith Law, a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com, for a number of different positions in their front office, a source has confirmed for MLB.com.

Law met last week with team president and CEO George Postolos and general manager Jeff Luhnow, but Law has not been offered a job in the organization. Law has worked for ESPN since 2006, but was previously a special assistant with the Toronto Blue Jays. Prior to that, he wrote for Baseball Prospectus.

Luhnow declined to comment on Thursday.

Law, a graduate of Harvard, writes on a variety of baseball topics and relies heavily on statistical analysis. Luhnow, while working for the Cardinals, helped change the organization’s thinking when it came to scouting and developed player evaluation methods that increased the role of data-based analysis.

 

Luhnow’s first trade is a good one

Less than a week after being introduced as general manager of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow put his first major imprints on the club when he acquired Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland in exchange for closer Mark Melancon.

“For me, it’s the classic win-win trade,” Luhnow said. “Boston had the need for a bullpen arm. We’re going to suffer a loss in our bullpen by not having Melancon there for us, but what we’re able to get back is a guy who can play a premium position and who has had success with the bat and who has done a lot of good things. To add on top of that a young pitcher capable of being a starting pitcher in the big leagues, we felt this is an opportunity to take advantage of.”

I’m never one to judge trades until you get a better idea of how the players will perform in their new uniforms, but at first glance this appears to be a good deal for both sides. But, in this space, let’s focus on the Astros.

The Astros needed a shortstop after losing Clint Barmes and they got one in the hard-nosed Lowrie, who could probably use a fresh start. He’s a switch-hitter who’s under club control for three more years, so he fits into what the Astros are doing. You can bet Astros manager Brad Mills gave his endorsement of Lowrie, considering he was his bench coach in Boston for two years.

Sure, the Astros had internal candidates to play shortstop from a group including Angel Sanchez, Diory Hernandez, Rule 5 pick-up Marwin Gonzalez and non-roster invitee Brian Bixler, but Lowrie is a better option to be the everyday man at shortstop.

Lowrie, 27, has played a part-time role with the Red Sox since 2008, appearing a career-high 88 games last season and hitting .252/.303/.382. He had his best year in 2010 when he hit .287/.381/.526 with nine homers and 24 RBIs, but he was limited to 171 at-bats. He’s a career .214 hitter with a .293 on-base percentage as a left-hander and a .326 hitter with a .385 on-base percentage as a right-hander.

Weiland, a 25-year-old right-hander who went to Notre Dame, made a steady rise through Boston’s system after being drafted in the third round in 2008. He got his feet wet in the Majors last season, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t come to Astros camp and compete for a spot in the rotation. He throws in the low 90′s with his fastball, but can hit 95 mph and has good sink, according to scouting reports. He was a closer at Notre Dame, but appears to have a future in the rotation.

The Astros will miss Melancon, who went 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and 20 saves in his first full season in the Majors last year. He moved into the closer’s role when Brandon Lyon went down for the season with an injury and he appears to have a bright future, but the Astros have a growing crop of young bullpen arms, including Rule 5 pick-up Rhiner Cruz and David Carpenter, who made his debut last year. Lyon will return healthy next year and could close in the final year of his contract.

Plus, the Astros are unlikely to contend next year, so having a lights-out closer isn’t tantamount. Expect the club to get a good look next year at several arms they believe could close in the future.

The bottom line is the Astros traded one young player and received two more in return. The rebuilding continues.

Let’s take a stab at what the Astros’ Opening Day lineup could look like:

CF Jordan Schafer (L)

2B Jose Altuve (R)

LF J.D. Martinez (R)

1B Carlos Lee (R)

RF Brian Bogusevic (L)

3B Jimmy Paredes (S)

SS Jed Lowrie (S)

C Jason Castro (L)

Report: Astros acquire Lowrie, pitcher from Red Sox for Melancon

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow made his first significant player move Wednesday, acquiring infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland from the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Mark Melancon, according Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.

The Astros couldn’t be reached to confirm the deal.

The Astros acquired Melancon from the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in 2010 as part of the Lance Berkman deal.

Lowrie, a 27-year-old switch-hitter, would satisfy the Astros’ need for a shortstop following the departure of Clint Barmes in free agency. He’s a career .252 hitter with 19 homers and 117 RBIs in 256 games with the Red Sox since 2008, and he batted .252 with six homers and 36 RBIs last season.

Weiland, 25, is a right-hander who made his Major League debut last season and was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in seven games (five starts). A third-round pick of the 2008 Draft, he went 23-31 with a 3.51 ERA in 90 career games in the Minor Leagues, including 85 starts.

Melancon, 26, could fill the Red Sox’s need for a closer. He pitched in a career-high 71 games for the Astros last season and was 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and saved 20 games. He took over as closer in the first half of the season after Brandon Lyon went down with an arm injury.

Castro suffers injury setback

Astros catcher Jason Castro, who missed all of last season after undergoing major knee surgery, will miss the first part of Spring Training after undergoing surgery Friday to remove the sesamoid bone in his left foot.

The injury, which Castro suffered in the Arizona Fall League last month, is similar to the injury suffered a year ago by former Astros second baseman Jeff Keppinger, who had surgery to remove the sesamoid bone Jan. 14 and returned to action in late May.

Castro isn’t allowed to put any weight on the foot for a couple of weeks and won’t be ready for action when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 20, but he is hopeful to be healthy for Opening Day. He hit .205 with two homers and eight RBIs in 195 at-bats in his Major League debut in 2010.

“The timing couldn’t have worked out any more perfectly, as far as having something happen,” Castro said. “You never want anything like this to happen. It gives me time to get healthy and basically have the entire Spring Training to get back in shape.”

Still, the injury casts some uncertainty over Houston’s catching situation entering spring camp. Castro, the club’s first-round pick in 2008 out of Stanford, is slated to be the starter next year in what would be his first full season in the Major Leagues.

Humberto Quintero got most of the starts at catcher last season and on Monday was re-signed to a one-year, $1-million deal, plus bonuses, to avoid arbitration.

Quintero, 32, hit .240 with two homers and 25 RBIs in 79 games last season and has started 147 games the past two years. The Astros have added catching depth by claiming catcher Craig Tatum off waivers from the Orioles in October and they recently re-signed Carlos Corporan to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Castro, 24, missed all of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a large tear in the meniscus and a reconstruction of the ACL. He suffered the injury early in Spring Training when he stepped awkwardly on first base while running out a ground ball in Lakeland, Fla.

Castro doesn’t know exactly when his current injury occurred, except that the foot began bothering him in the Arizona Fall League title game.

“That’s when I noticed it,” he said. “They’ve told me two-to-three months is about normal for a full recovery. I’m kind of looking right in there and looked at the calendar. It looks like I won’t miss much of anything. Three months puts me in the first week of Spring Training games, and hopefully if all goes well I won’t miss anything as far as playing time and all that.”

Castro, hit .289 in 12 games for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League with a .404 on-base-percentage.

The return of Mills makes sense

Despite all the changes the Astros have been going through in the last month, manager Brad Mills never really appeared to be in danger of losing his job. And deservedly so.

Mills, who will return for the final year of his contract in 2012, has two years under his belt as manager (132-192 record) and has seen the Major League club stripped and payroll dropped while the team stockpiles prospects in a rebuilding phase. Mills did a terrific job of keeping the Astros competitive in the second half of the 2010 season after losing Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, and last season’s 106-loss campaign certainly couldn’t be put on him.

The Astros used 20 rookies last season, including starting second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Jimmy Paredes and outfielder J.D. Martinez, and had one of the youngest rosters in baseball, including an inexperienced bullpen. Mills’ mission has been to mold the young players and get them ready as quickly as possible while trying to win games, which is an extremely difficult challenge.

“Brad’s our manager,” new general manager Jeff Luhnow said Thursday when asked about his job status. “I had a good conversation with him, and I’m looking forward to working with him as our manager.”

Astros owner Jim Crane sang Mills’ praises.

“Brad’s a good developer of talent and that’s what we need,” he said. “I like Brad and I had a good time to visit with him and hear his input. We spent some time together [at the Winter Meetings] in Dallas, and Jeff feels the same way about him.”

Astros hire Luhnow as general manager

The Astros turned to their division rival and the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals for next general manager, announcing late Wednesday they had hired Cardinals vice president of player procurement Jeff Luhnow.

Astros owner Jim Crane will introduce Luhnow on Thursday at a 1 p.m. CT press conference at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“We are very pleased to have Jeff as the new general manager of the Houston Astros,” Astros president and CEO George Postolos said. “Jeff is the perfect fit for the Astros because of his track record in scouting and player development during his eight-plus seasons with the Cardinals.

“The Astros strive to develop one of the best systems in baseball and create a consistent winner at the Major League level. Jeff has the knowledge, skills and experience to lead the baseball operations efforts at all levels and help the Astros achieve this vision. Jeff has a demonstrated the ability to inspire and motivate staff in the front office and out in the field. He was born and raised in Mexico and his bicultural background will be an asset in recruiting players from Latin America and developing the Hispanic market for Los Astros.”

Luhnow, 45, will take over a club in a major rebuilding phase. The Astros, coming off a club-record 106-loss season, are committed to rebuilding through player development under the ownership of Crane, who control of the club last month.

Luhnow has been a vice president with the Cardinals since 2003 and has overseen the Cardinals amateur draft since 2005. Many of the players that contributed to the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series title were drafted under Luhnow’s watch, including Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn.

He added player development to his responsibilities in 2006 and was instrumental in the organization’s Minor League successes since that time, including the best system record in baseball in 2010 and five Minor League championships from the rookie leagues to Triple-A.

Luhnow has overseen the Cardinals’ scouting and development efforts in Latin America since 2004 that has produced Major League players and several top prospects. During his time with the Cardinals, the organization managed to build and maintain a strong farm system while at the same time winning at all levels, including three World Series appearances and two world championships.

Astros interview Dodgers’ Logan White

The Astros have interviewed Dodgers assistant general manager Logan White for their vacant general manager position, a Major League Baseball source told MLB.com.

White just completed his 10th season with the Dodgers and fifth as assistant GM in charge of scouting. White oversees the organization’s amateur and international scouting efforts and is the fourth know candidate to interview for the job that became vacant when Ed Wade was let go.

White interviewed with the Astros in 2007 prior to Wade’s hiring.

Astros president and CEO George Postolos had no comment.

Others known to have interviewed are Rockies senior vice president of scouting and player development/assistant general manager Bill Geivett, Cardinals vice president of player procurement Jeff Luhnow and Royals assistant GM in charge of scouting and player development J.J. Picollo.

The Astros are focused on GM candidates who have a strong track record in scouting and player development as they try to rebuild the club following a 106-loss season.

Geivett in Houston to interview with Astros

Bill Geivett, the senior vice president of scouting and player development/assistant general manager of the Colorado Rockies, arrived in Houston on Friday morning to interview with the Astros for their vacant general manager position.

The Astros are trying to fill their GM spot that became open when Ed Wade was dismissed last week after four-plus years.

“I’m very excited to be here and it’s a great organization and a great city and everybody knows a great state,” Geivett said. “I’m very excited and we’ll see how it goes today.”

Geivett is the first known candidate to come to Houston to interview, though the team has reached out to Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and Texas Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine, who has since said he will stay with the Rangers.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Geivett said.

Geivett, 47, oversees both scouting and player development for the Rockies, while also assisting GM Dan O’Dowd with all baseball decisions and evaluations. He joined the Rockies in 2000 and just completed his 11th season with the club and 24th in professional baseball.

The club’s director of player personnel since 2000, Geivett added the role of farm director in 2003. He came to Colorado from the Dodgers where he had worked since September of 1998, most recently as assistant GM (2000).

Geivett is the former special assistant to the GM for the Devil Rays and headed Montreal’s farm system for three years. He broke into the majors with the Yankees as a scout and organizational instructor in 1991. He coached collegiately at Loyola Marymount (1989) and Long Beach State (1990).

Rockies’ Geivett in running for Astros’ job

Bill Geivett, the senior vice president of scouting and player development/assistant general manager of the Colorado Rockies, has been given permission to interview with the Astros, a Major League Baseball source confirmed for MLB.com on Thursday.

Houston is trying to fill its GM spot that became open when Ed Wade was dismissed last week after four-plus years.

Geivett, 47, oversees both scouting and player development for the Rockies, while also assisting GM Dan O’Dowd with all baseball decisions and evaluations. He joined the Rockies in 2000 and just completed his 11th season with the club and 24th in professional baseball.

 

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