Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 7/24/12
HOUSTON Too often the simple math gets lost in the transactions, misplaced in the numerous names coming and going, in the research of prospects commissioned to help the Astros restock their farm system. The most basic numbers can be obscured by walk rate and FIP and WAR, leaving the door ajar for second-guessing that is more paralysis by analysis than anything substantive. Sometimes it's full of folly to view trades with an overwrought perspective, to bemoan how little a young right-hander has accomplished over just two professional seasons. What should be most apparent is this: Over the course of three weeks, Astros first-year general manager Jeff Luhnow has parlayed three veterans with no futures in Houston, a middling reliever lacking consistency, and a largely disappointing left-hander approaching 30 years old into 10 prospects. Ponder those facts before delving deeply into resignation. At minimal risk Luhnow enhanced the possibility for reward by assigning another crop of prospects to Lexington and Lancaster, Corpus Christi and Oklahoma City. That it cost the rebuilding Astros virtually nothing save a few million bucks is a good place to start the discussion. "We have a strategy and we're going to commit to it," Luhnow said on Monday prior to the Astros opening a seven-game home stand against National League Central rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. "Our fans know what we're trying to do if they're smart. We want to have a competitive team at the big-league level but we want to have that year in and year out, and the best way to do that is to invest in the future. "We said from the beginning that we're not going to borrow from tomorrow to get marginally better today. We've stuck to that strategy by and large." The pangs of rebuilding have set in on Astros fans once more. The club entered play on Monday three games behind the Rockies in an ignominious race for the worst record in baseball. They've lost 22 of 26 road games and six consecutive games overall. Their offense is feeble and their pitching is erratic. Last weekend, Luhnow initiated a series of trades that jettisoned veterans for prospects casual fans find unfamiliar. No amount of prospect rankings or dedicated independent studying can convince fans that Luhnow earned fair return for pitchers David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers. Earnest ones scour profiles day and night but the information gleaned remains incomplete. It might take a year or three before judgment can be rendered. In the interim all the losing leaves everyone feeling sour, and that bitterness yields a brand of uneasiness that would leave a lesser executive weary. But from the very start of his tenure Luhnow has remained steadfast that the Astros have a plan for not only escaping their present doldrums, but for building a sustainable winner once they begin challenging the Rangers and Angels atop the American League West. That process might appear wayward when the reports on Matt Heidenreich and Blair Walters, the pitchers acquired from the White Sox in exchange for Myers Saturday, aren't glowing. Still, Luhnow vows to stay the course. The Astros desperately need pitching. That eight of the 10 pitchers currently ranked among their top 20 prospects have been acquired over the last 12 months speaks to how devoid their system was of quality arms. And, that number explains why Luhnow is willing to take flyers on Heidenreich, 21, and Walters, 22, and why three of the four prospects named in the HappLyonCarpenter trade with the Blue Jays were pitchers David Rollins, Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski. "By and large we're looking to maximize the amount of value here," Luhnow said. "Age really doesn't factor in; we're not targeting a particular age. We are trying to build our depth in pitching, which is why so many of the players we've acquired have been pitchers. "There's so much variability in outcomes of pitchers. For every 10 pitchers you might get two or three that make it to the big leagues. So we have to play the numbers there." Those numbers aren't usually culled from the top of another organization's prospect heap. The Blue Jays enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at catcher, which is why they willingly parted with 21-year-old backstop Carlos Perez. Heidenreich wasn't a top-10 prospect with the White Sox, but like Musgrove (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and Wojciechowski (6-4, 235), Heidenreich (6-5, 185) offers size and considerable upside. That Luhnow requested of Astros owner Jim Crane to surrender cash in the Myers deal and the trade that sent first baseman Carlos Lee to the Marlins in exchange for third baseman Matt Dominguez and left-hander Rob Rasmussen is part of the process. The Astros might find themselves in a similar situation as inquiries intensify for veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez who, at 33, has another season at 13 million remaining on his contract plus an option that shifts in his favor if traded. Some of the outrage over the supposedly modest return gained in shipping Myers to Chicago was based in the Astros contributing to his salary moving forward. But at this level there are no one-sided deals, and even if they do manifest, Luhnow seems hesitant to take advantage. "We like to make fair deals," Luhnow said. "We like to make deals where the players that we're giving up are at that point in time are more valuable to the other team than to us. Brett Myers is probably more valuable to the Chicago White Sox who are battling for first place with Detroit than he is to us who are 15 or 20 games out of first place. But in return we get a couple of young players who they are capable of giving up that we really feel we can benefit from." At minimum, the Astros appear poised to make at least one more trade (Rodriguez) before the deadline with an outside possibility Luhnow might locate additional buyers. While expressing a desire to expedite this rebuilding as hastily as possible, Luhnow reiterated the club's stance of not sacrificing the future for moderate gains in the present. The Astros are unflinchingly committed to an adherence of that plan. Whether the finished line comes into view in 2014 or '15 is unknown. "We're going to see the results of all of that work starting next year and hopefully we would have made the right decision because anytime you trade a major-league player who's currently contributing, you're giving up a little bit of today for hopefully a lot of tomorrow, and that goes with the decisions that we've been making," Luhnow said. "What's going to sway public opinion is not whether we get a guy who's ranked fifth in Baseball America, it's whether or not we are in the playoff hunt years from now and we're competitive with every series and we're able to do things that ultimately bring a championship to the city of Houston. That's what's ultimately going to sway public opinion. The rest of it is sizzle. It's nice to have some sizzle, but we're looking for the steak." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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