Over the weekend, the Astros announced they had reached an agreement to purchase the contracts of two players from the Mexican League. Outfielder Leo Heras was a name we knew from last week, but Japhet Amador is a new one. Amador is a Giant of a first baseman who crushes the ball when he catches up to it, giving him some of the most impressive statistics in the league, relative to his age.
Houston assigned the 23-year old Heras to Corpus Christi, while Amador will go to Oklahoma City and await Brett Wallace's tears.
What can we make of this? Here's Jeff Luhnow's first quotes in the Chronicle story about the signings:
"Finding and acquiring the best Mexican talent is a priority for us," said Luhnow, a Mexico City native. "We have increased our scouting of the Mexican baseball leagues and believe there are many players that can help the Houston Astros in the future."
When Jeff Luhnow stopped by the Blogger Night being hosted by the Astros a year ago, one of the things he said that has stuck with me is wanting a player to wear the Mexican flag out on the field for Houston. He was talking about pitcher Ruben Alaniz, but that easily could apply to Edgar Gonzalez or the two hitters signed this year.
What Luhnow has done in the past two years, though, is find talent. It's another way to exploit a market inefficiency, by getting the players from a place other teams may eschew for the trendier Dominican prospects. Houston is finding talent and building up a profile on guys playing competitive baseball, which suggests they have a better way of evaluating who to sign than projecting a 16-year old kid.
That in itself is why finding talent down there should be and is a priority for Luhnow. There's a wealth of talent down in the Mexican Leagues at a level of the other minor leagues. It speaks pretty well of that quality that Houston was comfortable sending both these players high into their system.
Okay, so Houston is finding another weak spot and exploiting it in their effort to rebuild. That's nothing new. We know they're smart, capable and working two steps ahead of we bloggers. What else can we deduce from this news?
Read another quote, this time from Reid Ryan:
The Astros haven't ruled out placing a scout in Mexico. Luhnow and president Reid Ryan also have discussed the potential of having a Mexican League team visit Minute Maid Park.
"We believe there is some talent in Mexico," Ryan said. "And with Jeff's relationship there, we feel like we have a natural connection. We are stepping up our presence in Mexico. It works on connecting with our Hispanic fans and we believe there is talent there."
The question is about adding a scout, but Ryan immediately jumps to hosting a Mexican League team in Houston and connecting with Hispanic fans. That suggests these are moves tailor-made for the business side of the Astros.
In his writeup on Amador, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus surmised that Amador wouldn't be easy to pry away from his team. That the Boston Red Sox had tried and were rebuffed by the cost. Yet, Houston was able to get both of these players for some amount of money that we'll assume was not insignificant.
That suggests a pretty big commitment to getting these players into the system and developing that connection to the fan base. It also suggests that the baseball operations department isn't totally separate from the business side. In fact, we're probably naive to assume they're separate entities to begin with.
I don't believe that Luhnow, Oz Ocampo or any of Houston's personnel people would go along with signing players who didn't have a shot at making the team. Heck, the Astros had every reason to keep Edgar Gonzalez around for the reasons and he still got put on waivers.
No, these moves were made because both Heras and Amador are good baseball players who can help this team soon. It just so happens they also might help build a revenue stream into Mexico and with Hispanic fans.
If that revenue stream helps the Astros sign a marquee free agent or retain a key player picked up in a trade in three years, then Jeff Luhnow did his job on multiple fronts.
Now, about that scouting trip to Cabo San Lucas?