Originally posted on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 8/16/12

Jeff Luhnow

The Houston Astros have a new sheriff in town who wears a coat and tie and goes by the name  Jeff Luhnow.  If anybody previously questioned how much latitude Luhnow had to run the team his way, his letter to season ticket holders should answer all those questions.  Take a gander for yourselves (courtesy of the Astros my imagination):

Dear Houston Astros Season Ticket Holder,

I speak not only for myself, but for the players and all of my colleagues at the Astros, when I thank you for staying away from games in droves. Through this letter that few of you will read, we would like to share with you some of the sound bites that you will undoubtedly hear about our “plan”.  Believe it or not, the team has made progress during 2012.  It is our hope that you will be excited about, and you’ll mistakenly renew your season tickets with us.  As a cherished Season Ticket Holder, your loyalty to this organization could well be rewarded sometime a half decade from now.

We share your frustration with the results on the field so far this year. After a successful, albeit meaningless Spring Training, we played good baseball for the first two months of the year. On May 25, we beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles and we were one game under .500 and just four games out of first place. That turned out to be our high-water mark for the season, but it demonstrated that our players were capable of competing for a short period of time.  I’d like to say that we’ve underperformed expectations, but nobody really believes that besides us.  We simply lack the depth, talent, and personnel resources of a good AAA team.

We want the Houston Astros to be a winning franchise that can compete for division titles year in and year out in an alternate universe made of pudding.  We ultimately intend to bring multiple championships to the city of Houston and the hundreds of fans we have across the globe.  Our promise to you as a fan is that we’ll keep reminding you of this commitment  even as the team fails to reach the 72 win plateau year after year.

In order to compete consistently, the Astros must develop and maintain a world class scouting food service operation and farm system. Through the scouting, table service, and player development function, we will be able to produce and keep winning players. Teams that excel in these areas tend to win championships in baseball when they can afford to keep good players.

The Astros invested heavily in the future throughout 2012 and will continue to do so in 2013 and beyond. There were three primary investment areas:

1. The Draft. The Astros were in the top 10 percent of teams in resources allocated to signing players in 2012. We drafted and signed three of the top high school amateur players available in Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Rio Ruiz. In addition to these young budding stars, the Astros also signed a number of college players who have the potential to reach the Major Leagues in a few short years, headlined by Nolan Fontana and Brady Rodgers. The infusion of high quality amateur talent into the farm system is one of the primary reasons for the winning records at the short season clubs.

2. International. The Houston Astros were among the most active clubs at the beginning of the international signing season on July 2 and have continued to sign players from Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and other parts of the world. While these players are all 10 or 11 years old and therefore several years away from having an impact at the Major League level, this pipeline of talent is critical to sustaining success of the scouting and development system.

3. Trades. Several trades were made to add as many young “prospects” as possible, because we intend to point to our talent pipeline every single time someone mentions our failures on the actual baseball field.  These investments will bear fruit later this decade or even beyond this decade.  .

While much of the work we are doing is proprietary and confidential, we can share with you that we are building capabilities across several areas of baseball operations that will enable us to make the best possible decisions in player evaluation, acquisition, development and retention. We believe that our nachos offerings are among the best in baseball, and the BBQ at Minute Maid is likely second to none.  Also, our recycling efforts have proven to be a great secondary revenue stream as fans tend to drink more and more in the parking lots before games.

The final piece we want to share with you is about our winning mindset. I’d now like to use the words “institutionalize” and “organic” here so that you may take these words completely out of context.  I’d also like to point out that this team was once just 4 games away from winning a World Series.  Granted, that may have been before some of your were intelligent enough to realize that it was pure lucky, but it is something.  We appreciate your support, and we hope to see you at Minute Maid Little League Park and Putt-Putt Course next year as we take on real major league baseball teams with players you might want to watch.  The future is bright.

Jeff Luhnow
General Manager
Houston Astros

Of course, Jeff left a few things unsaid, but anybody with access to the interwebz can fill in the blanks.  The opening day payroll for the Astros in 2011 was $76,969,000.  Luhnow took over the job as General Manager in December of that same year.  The Astros started 2012 with an opening day payroll of $60,799,000.  After making more than a few deals, the Astros have a current payroll of about $38M for the 2012 season with another $5.5M due in 2013 for previously incurred payroll obligations.  The bulk of that $5.5 comes in the form of $5M owed from the Wandy Rodriguez deal.

Without exact arbitration and pre-arbitration figures for 20+ players, a best guess for the 2013 opening day payroll totals about $40M, give or take a few signings at the veteran’s minimum.  Luhnow has successfully reshaped the roster, reduced payroll substantially, and left the team with zero payroll commitments for the 2014 season.  If he can do all this in less than a year, just imagine what he can potentially accomplish over the next 3-4 years with the aid of the draft and likely more payroll flexibility than any other GM in baseball.

By the time Luhnow completes the makeover, the Astros should be a really young athletic team with plenty of speed.  In other words, the team projects to be built exactly the way you would expect a team that plays half of its games in Minute Maid Park to be structured.  It might require a few years for other teams to grow accustomed to dealing with the Astros, but the Astros certainly appear to be on the right track to deal with other teams.

Here’s to the AL West champion Astros…..in 2016…..in the alternate pudding universe.

DISCLAIMER:  I’m a huge fan of Jeff Luhnow and his approach to building a team.  In all seriousness, it takes a lot of guts to write an actual letter to the fans that basically tells them the team they root, root, root for will be terrible for several years.  It’s the truth, but most teams would never admit that.  Kudos, Jeff.

Also, you may want to read the actual letter by clicking here.  Or not.

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