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In his own words: Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, on the off-season

During the Astros' 2015 Fan Fest last Saturday, GM Jeff Luhnow spent some quality time with local bloggers, including TCB's CRPerry13 and others. Here are some of his thoughts on the club's off-season personnel moves.

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Last Saturday during the Astros Fan Fest, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, along with Astros' President Reid Ryan and new manager A.J. Hinch were gracious enough to spend an hour and a half answering questions from the local blogging community.

I had delusions of turning some of these quotes into a sweeping biopic encapsulating the inner depths of these trailblazers, but honestly, I got tired after just typing out the quotes.

Kidding aside, the quotes stand on their own.  Luhnow, whose conversation I cover in this post, opened by sharing his thoughts on the Astros off-season, with a peek inside some of the moves that were made - a larger glimpse than we usually get from the soundbites obtained elsewhere.

So here, in only slightly-edited form (for readability in cases of run-on sentences, for example), are some tidbits from Saturday, January 24th, 2015, at the Astros Fan Fest blogger shindig.

Bold phrases in the quotes are my emphasis, usually something that stood out to me as interesting insight into the thought process of the Astros' front office.

On his working relationship with Hinch:

Luhnow began by acknowledging and thanking his staff for their hard work, downplaying his own role a little bit by pointing out that though he got to be the face that answered all the questions, they were the ones doing most of the heavy lifting.

He included new manager Hinch in that by pointing out Hinch's diverse background, which includes player development and assistant General Manager duties.

"Because he’s genuinely interested and has a lot of connections in the game, I don’t do anything without checking with A.J. "

"I can’t just hand him players and say, ‘It’s your problem’well, that’s kind of what I did, but he needs to at least acknowledge that that’s happening. "

On his November trade sending RHP Nick Tropeano and C Carlos Perez to the Angels for C Hank Conger:

"You can’t judge an offseason or understand an offseason until it’s over.  We knew the Conger move was one of the moves that was going to happen, and if they all came together it would all make sense at the end of the day.

"But at the very beginning to go out and acquire a catcher when you have three catchers on the roster that we really like, I’m sure a lot of people were scratching their heads."

"I had had conversations with [Angels GM] Jerry Dipoto in the past, and they weren't really willing to give [Conger] up.  I think what changed was, when Nick [Tropeano] pitched against them in September, they really saw that this was a guy they could fit into the back of their rotation, and we suddenly had something they wanted as badly as we wanted Hank."

On his November waiver claim of RP Will Harris (with un-quoted nod to the depth brought by the waiver claim of SP/RP Samuel Deduno in August):

"Moves are always validated for me when after I make the moves, other GM’s call me and ask for those players.  We’ve had four or five GM’s call and ask about Hank Conger, and also had some call about Will Harris. That’s a clear signal to me that we got somebody who has value."

On the Winter Meetings Free Agent acquisitions of relievers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek:

"When we realized we weren’t going to get [Andrew] Miller and that could get Gregerson and Neshek in one fell swoop, we realized that was probably what was best for our team because each guy brings something different and each have had a great deal of success."

"The night we signed those two guys, we asked each of their agents to come up to the suite.  I asked one to come up at 10:00 and one at 10:45. They happened to both come up on the elevator together. They stopped at the 7 th floor and asked 'where are you going?' 'Where are you going?'

"It could have led to an awkward situation.  But it actually was kind of interesting because the players knew each other and the agents knew each other, so it wasn't [a competition over their respective deals]*. We separated them into different parts of the room, signed the contracts, and opened up a bottle of champagne to celebrate."

*paraphrased for clarity

On the December Free Agent signing of SS Jed Lowrie to a three-year contract:

"We had expressed interest in Jed immediately after the season ended.  His agent happened to be A.J’s best man at his wedding, and Jed and I have been friends since his time here in Houston."

"Why three years when we have prospects coming?  It takes three years to get a player like Jed, who’s a free agent for the first time.  And in three years, if he’s the super-utility guy on a playoff team, that’s pretty good.  Look at the super-utilities on recent playoff teams, they’re usually pretty good guys, proven major league players."

Luhnow then went on to discuss the ins-and-outs of making such a deal, particularly with a guy like Lowrie, who is keenly aware and interested in his own value relative to the league.

The implication to me was that there was mutual interest in a return to Houston all along due to existing connections and the fact that Lowrie already has a home here, but that both sides played the negotiations professionally.

On the January trade sending RHP Michael Foltynewicz, 3B Rio Ruiz, and SP Andrew Thurman to the Braves in return for C/1B/LF/DH Evan Gattis and RHP James Hoyt:

"There were two clubs and [Atlanta] had offers from both clubs, and they happened to like ours a little bit better.  It came at a cost for sure.  Folty is a guy we think has a promising future.

"We don’t trade these guys because we don’t think they’re good.  We trade these guys because they’re good, and they’re able to get us something that’s a better fit for what we need right now.

"In terms of us being able to get that kind of power in this ballpark right now, we felt like that was important."

"I have a personal relationship with [Rio Ruiz’] family.  I feel like they’re part of my extended family.  So that was not an easy move to make.

"But because we have [Colin] Moran, because we have the players we drafted last year, because we have Matt Dominguez, we feel like we’re protected at third base, and we’re in a luxurious position to be able to make a move like that."

"The sleeper in the whole thing was the pitcher we got in return from Atlanta.  I was hoping that my cover wasn’t blown, because he was one of those add-ons at the last minute in the deal.

"Somebody had been blogging from the Dominican Winter League that they had seen Hoyt and he was pitching in the mid-90’s and he had a big arm, and I was like, ‘nonononono, don’t talk about this guy!  This is our add-on to this deal! Don’t blow my cover here!'"

Ed. Note:  In my Jan 16 article titled "An Insider's Look at the Gattis Trade," I apparently was prophetic.  Here is an excerpt:

791 miles away, Jeff's own conference was in full swing.  ...

His Director of Quantum Mechanics asked, "Who's the DTI that we are asking for?"

"Ah, I had almost forgotten," Jeff admitted.  They always asked for a DTI in trades - a 'Designtated Throw-In'. They were typically guys that the Astros saw good value in but were under-the-radar for various reasons...  Typically, the staff identified somebody they felt was overlooked or under-used or very young that fit the Astros' paradigm.  "Please run the search."

"Will do," said his Director of Scouting Everything from the upper left window of the nine-by-nine grid on his wallscreen.  The man turned away and fiddled with the controls of his computer, which controlled the massive array of satellites that had high resolution visible spectrum, infrared, radar, sonar, gamma ray, and proprietary Astrovision cameras pointed at every baseball park in existence down to the sandlot park behind Piggly Wiggly in the bad neighborhood of Walla Walla Washington.  Two Svedbergs later, the Scouting Director turned back to the camera.

"James Hoyt," he announced.

That's pretty much exactly how it happened, it turns out.

On the trade that sent CF Dexter Fowler to the Cubs for 3B Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily, coupled with the subsequent free agent signing of CF Colby Rasmus:

"We had no interest in moving Fowler, because Fowler is a good player.  But as the conversations continued and teams got more and more interested, and maybe their on-field options seemed less and less compelling, it all started to crystallize that we could trade Fowler and improve ourselves in other areas, and use those resources to go out and sign another outfielder."

"I had had conversations with Colby and Colby’s agent throughout the offseason.  I kept telling them, ‘Look, we don’t have a spot for him.  We don’t have the money and we don’t have a spot for him.  Unless that changes, there’s really nothing I can do.

"Yeah, I’d love to have Colby, I’d love to give him a chance to have a big year here in Minute Maid Park, but there’s nothing I can do.'  And as the Fowler stuff began to move along a little more and we started to get some concessions from the other clubs on what they might give us back, it started to come together.

"Those deals were done, in my mind, simultaneously.  We were essentially going to turn Fowler and some cash into Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Dan Straily."

"We had asked for Straily a couple years ago in the Jed Lowrie deal, but he was untouchable.  It was clear to me at that point that Straily was the guy they absolutely weren’t going to trade – he had a wonderful  year after that, so it made sense.

"He had a little bit of a down year last year, but you don’t get guys like that if they have another good year.  We felt that looking at his stuff, his repertoire, how he goes about it, and how we teach things here, this guy’s got an opportunity to go back to that.  He won ten games for Oakland that one year, he could win ten-plus for us here."

On international free-agent-to-be SS Yoan Moncada:

"He’s a very good player; we’ve scouted him.  The way the international rules are set up you have to pay $2 for every $1 and then you lose your opportunity to sign premium international players for two years after that.

"That’s a heavy cost for an organization like ours right now.  We’re rebuilding our international program – [Director of International] Oz [Ocampo] and the guys are doing a tremendous job….we’re still sorting through it.

"[Moncada]'s going to get a big payday from somebody, and they’re going to have to pay the price of not being able to sign those types of players.  We’ve seen it – Arizona’s taken that plunge, other teams taking that plunge.  We haven’t yet, but it’s something we certainly talk about."

General statements:

On future moves:

"Whether or not there’ll be another major league deal on the free agent side, I don’t know.  Maybe another NRI or two and then there’s still some trade possibilities."

On whether or not they targeted home runs because of the scarcity of high-volume home run hitters during the past few years:

"The reality is, this is a down offensive game right now relative what it was 10 years ago, so having those offensive weapons  in our organizationwe do have a lot of offensive firepower, and I do think we can utilize that not only at the major league level, but also as trade chips."

On the potential power of the 2015 Astros (stated with a big smile and intentional over-the-top enthusiasm):

"I know you guys have done the math.  I’ve done it.  You can get fifteen [HR] out of Valbuena, fifteen out of Dominguez if they share that role, ten out of Lowrie, ten out of Altuve, (talking faster) thirty out of Singleton, forty out of Gattis, forty out of Carter, forty out of Springer, twenty-five out of Rasmus, maybe thirtyit’s going to be a fun year!"