Luhnow will certainly have a better Minor League system to work with than former GM Ed Wade, who inherited a barren farm system in 2007 and was dismissed last month. The Astros have improved their system in the last two years by trading Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt in 2010 and Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn this year in exchange for prospects.
And the Astros aren't done dealing. They are trying hard to trade starting pitchers Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez and first baseman Carlos Lee in an effort to trim payroll further and stockpile more prospects while they rebuild. They're willing to take back money on Lee and Myers to get a deal done.
Houston assistant general manager David Gottfried, who served as interim GM and had authority to make a deal, said trade talks intensified Wednesday, but wouldn't give specifics.
"There are a few things that have gotten more serious, and what I do know is, when you're close, you don't know how close sometimes," Gottfried said. "So whether it's a matter of things coming to fruition before we leave here or it's a matter of something that happens after or not at all, you just don't know. We feel we've had real good exchanges with quite a few clubs."
With veteran pitcher Mark Buehrle signing with the Marlins on Wednesday and fellow left-hander C.J. Wilson inching closer to coming off the free-agent market, the demand for Rodriguez will pick up. He went 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA on a team that lost 106 games last season.
"I would think as guys start to come off the board from a free-agent standpoint and other trades happen, clubs are regrouping and you might start hearing from clubs you hadn't heard from before, or maybe clubs that you were in contact with might start to get more aggressive," Gottfried said.
Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, which ends the Winter Meetings, is important for the Astros, who are expected to be active. They have the No. 1 overall pick and have two open spots on their 40-man roster, and it's not unrealistic for the Astros to acquire a player or two who could play a big role next season.
During the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, eligible players left unprotected from their clubs' 40-man rosters may be selected for $50,000. A player selected must remain on his drafting team's active Major League roster during the following season or be offered back to the original club for $25,000.
The team held meetings in its suite at the Hilton Anatole throughout Wednesday to discuss the Rule 5 Draft.
"There's quite a few guys we've looked at that we think are some pretty viable candidates," Gottfried said. "Looking at the Draft, there's 15 or 20 guys taken each year, and we had a guy stick last year [pitcher Aneury Rodriguez], and there may be half a dozen total that did. It's a matter of finding the right guy and seeing how it plays out on your roster."
If the Astros are in the market for a starting pitcher, right-handers Brad Meyers (Nationals) and Terry Doyle (White Sox) might make the most sense. The hitters that could be attractive at No. 1 are outfielder Jordan Danks of the White Sox, a left-handed bat who spent two seasons at Triple-A, and utility man Ryan Flaherty, another left-handed bat who hit a combined .280 with 19 homers and 88 RBIs at Double-A and Triple-A in 2011.
Among the players in Houston's organization not on the 40-man roster who will be eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft are pitchers Danny Meszaros, Xavier Cedeno, Sergio Perez and Kyle Greenwalt, outfielders Brandon Barnes, Jon Gaston, Collin DeLome and T.J. Steele and infielder Kody Hinze.
"When we set the roster, we felt pretty comfortable about where it was at," Gottfried said. "Everybody evaluates players differently. There's times we've worried about some guys and they weren't taken, and times we didn't worry about a guy and there he was [drafted]. We feel pretty good about it."