During a live web chat with Season Ticket Holders, Astros new General Manager Jeff Luhnow fielded questions about his goals for the 2012 season and beyond.Jeff Luhnow: Hello everyone. I appreciate the interest in the Astros and am excited to be here. I know you all have questions and I will try to answer them as best I can, given I've been here about a week! So fire away ...
bham2421: Jeff, first congratulations on being the new GM of the Astros. Can you talk a bit about the players we currently have in our Minor League system that you have high expectations for down the line?
Jeff Luhnow: Thank you. I will say that in the week I've been here I've spent time with many of our coaches and evaluators and there is a great deal of excitement about the prospects in the system. I will evaluate them myself during Spring Training and beyond, but for now suffice it to say we do have some talent on the way.
steve_ande: Hello, Jeff. Do you plan on re-establishing an Astros presence in Venezuela?
Jeff Luhnow: The Astros have a full scouting staff in Venezuela and we plan to be active in finding and signing players from all parts of Latin America. Very few teams operate academies there anymore due to security concerns and cost.
aandycfb: I know that the Cardinals directly own at least one of their own Minor League teams. Do you see any possible benefit to that kind of ownership situation for the Astros?
Jeff Luhnow: Typically that is a business decision and not a baseball decision. The Astros do own and operate the affiliate in the Appalachian League (Greeneville) as well as the GCL affiliate.
aandycfb: With the Astros and the Rangers soon being division rivals, what do you see as being important to winning the hearts and minds of Texan baseball fans? Why should someone choose to be an Astros fan instead of a Rangers fan?
Jeff Luhnow: Simple. We need to win ball games and then baseball fans across Texas will become Astros fans! We have a great base of fans over the 50 years of existence and we promise to work hard to win games and keep everyone excited.
jermster: How do you view Brett Wallace's role in the Astros' organization future?
Jeff Luhnow: Brett and I have history since the Cardinals drafted him. He has had an up-and-down career, but he is a talented baseball player with a bright future. He will get every opportunity to have an impact on this team in 2012.
aandycfb: Do you have any Houston ties?
Jeff Luhnow: I have several Texas ties, and some Houston ties. My grandmother lived in Houston for the last five years of her life. I spent many summer days in Houston growing up attending Astros games. I've done business in Houston as part of my prior careers. This is a great city and I'm excited to be a part of the community.
aandycfb: I heard that, in applying for the GM job, you put together a 25-page plan for rebuilding the Houston Astros. Can you share any of the high-level bullet points from that plan?
Jeff Luhnow: I would share that with you but then I'd have to ... well actually, I hope that you will see it playing out over the coming years!
timmy_: What did you ask Santa for Christmas?
Jeff Luhnow: A shortstop and a starting pitcher. The Red Sox delivered!
wgr56: Thanks for the chat, Mr. Luhnow. Much has been said about Mr. Crane's decision to cut the budget. Are there areas where the budget might actually increase, such as scouting and player development?
Jeff Luhnow: Mr. Crane and the entire ownership group are committed to building a winner in Houston. We will have resources to invest in the player pipeline and that is good news for the fans.
drj0606: Is your plan of action to replicate the success you had in St. Louis or to create a brand new path, a new story with the Astros?
Jeff Luhnow: Good question. Every situation is different so the path here will not look the same as the path in St. Louis. We do hope that the results will be similar over time ... creating a team that can compete consistently and develop a strong pipeline.
drj0606: Do you plan to live in Houston?
Jeff Luhnow: Definitely. If you have any suggestions for neighborhoods, let me know!
terrias_2: There is a great deal of pressure from fans for the team to get better quickly (many have abandoned game attendance). Is there a plan to balance these demands from fans as well as sticking to the plan of building from the bottom up?
Jeff Luhnow: This is going to be a balancing act that is very important. Nobody wants to lose games and we all want to show progress as soon as possible. Having said that, we are going to stick to the plan to build the elements that will lead to sustained success. Often there are tradeoffs between winning now and the future, and we will err towards the future.
drj0606: What it is your opinion of the Astros having to face Albert Pujols for another 10 years? (Not a trick question.)
Jeff Luhnow: Walk him.
drj0606: Besides the obvious answer of winning, what are some other avenues you and Mr. Crane will pursue to increase Minute Maid Park attendance?
Jeff Luhnow: Fans come to the ballpark to have a great baseball experience. Putting a winning product on the field is a key element of that, but not the only one. I hope fans come and enjoy the family atmosphere and to watch the players as the team improves. Plus, you can lock in your season tickets now before the team gets so good you can't get them anymore!
drj0606: What do you think are Brad Mills' greatest strengths?
Jeff Luhnow: Brad knows what it takes to win. He's open minded and he understands the situation we are in ... he's eager to get better and at the same time willing to give the younger kids a chance to play. He's a great fit for the Astros.
ElRanchoMan: I know the Draft is not until June, but who is on the radar for the No. 1 pick?
Jeff Luhnow: The scouts here have seen all the possible players. So have I. There are some good choices. You will find out on Draft day.
virtualdarrell: What kind of moves have to be made in 2012 to get ready for the move to the AL in 2013?
Jeff Luhnow: There are a few questions about the move to the AL. Right now, that is not a roster consideration. Clearly the biggest difference is the need for a DH. We will address that in plenty of time to start the 2013 season. Having a DH in some ways allows you some additional flexibility in finding offensive weapons.
rtm3000: Any chance we see David Carpenter doning the tools of ignorance again as the emergency third catcher this year? That would be pretty cool; I think baseball could use some more two-way players.
Jeff Luhnow: David was a good catcher. I know because the Cardinals had him. Once the conversion is made, though, we need to commit to it. He's an important part of the bullpen plan for 2012 and that doesn't mean warming guys up.
terrias_2: Have you discovered the delight that is El Tiempo Margaritas yet?
Jeff Luhnow: I have not, but Alyson [Footer] has also mentioned it so I guess I have to try it!
rxs5505: What is your opinion on the players obtained in the trades before you were hired?
Jeff Luhnow: Several legitimate prospects came over to Houston as part of those trades, and that bodes well for the future. It's always tough giving up value but we did receive good players.
wgr56: I've often read that St. Louis has MLB's greatest baseball fans. What is good about St. Louis fans, and how do we get that in Houston?
Jeff Luhnow: We need to establish a winning tradition. St. Louis has won 11 World Series. That creates great fans. We need to work on our first one and then go from there. Houston is a great sports city and it will happen here too.
aandycfb: The Astros have "Scouting" and "Player Development" as different positions, but you played both roles for the Cardinals. What are some of the benefits of merging the Scouting/Player Development positions?
Jeff Luhnow: The scouts are always optimistic and the coaches often see a different aspect of the player because they are with them day in and day out. It is important in my opinion to have one voice across both areas. We will have that here too.
wgr56: Mr. Luhnow: Many Astros fans feel not enough has been done to honor players from the past. Cesar Cedeno and J.R. Richard, specifically. Might the front office revisit this issue and retire the numbers of deserving players such as the two I mentioned.
Jeff Luhnow: We have several former Astro greats involved in the organization, and they are a resource I value very much. I am not involved in numbers being retired, but I do plan to use the former greats to help up on the baseball side.
ElRanchoMan: Welcome to Houston. Are the Astros planning on keeping Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers or are they on the market? Also will Carlos Lee be exclusively playing first base this upcoming season?
Jeff Luhnow: Wandy, Brett and Carlos are all three very good players and they have helped the Astros in the past and will in the future. We will look for any opportunity to improve our team in the medium and long term, so if there were a trade that made sense, we would consider it.
jermster: What prospects in the Astros organization are you most impressed to see?
Jeff Luhnow: I've seen almost all the high-profile players from the Draft. I have not seen Villar and I'm excited to see him this spring.
stronation: How much emphasis on pitching mechanics goes into your style of player evaluation? More specifically with regards to forecasting and injury risk.
Jeff Luhnow: There is a relationship between the delivery and potential for injury. It is part of a thorough evaluation.
aandycfb: Do you think an international Draft would benefit the sport? Teams? Latin American hopefuls?
Jeff Luhnow: That's hard to tell. Some think the Draft diminished the number of players from Puerto Rico. There are so many good players entering the game from Latin America and that will continue, even without a Draft.
aliceanna: How much say do you have with the way Brad Mills uses his players, for example lefty-righty matchups, platooning, relief roles, etc.?
Jeff Luhnow: I don't see that as a GM's role ... micro-managing the decisions made by the manager. There is information that is available that can assist in those decisions, and I will make sure our staff has everything they need.
aliceanna: Do you favor drafting a position player or a pitcher with the first draft pick, or best available?
Jeff Luhnow: When you pick 1-1, you have to consider the player that has the highest chance of being an impact player. That can come in the form of a pitcher or position player.
elephande8: Is there any chance the Astros make a big free-agent singing in the near future?
Jeff Luhnow: That's unlikely given where we are at this point. We have young players that need to play. We will consider all options, but I wouldn't get your hopes up for a big name big dollar free agent.
aandycfb: Do you have any favorite baseball blogs?
Jeff Luhnow: Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, The Book, among others. There are so many smart people writing about baseball ... it's great for the game.
kyuss94: I was a fan of the trade with the Red Sox. Do you see Kyle Weiland as a starter or a reliever, and will he have a chance to make the team out of spring training?
Jeff Luhnow: Thanks. He has been a starter and he will continue to be a starter. He will compete for a spot on the opening day roster.
Jeff Luhnow: Thanks to everyone for asking the questions. We will do this again sometime next month. Keep following the Astros!