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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #14: Luhnow hired by Houston

Think about it. When was the last time a St. Louis Cardinals coach or front office member was directly named to a major league manager or general manager position in another organization?

For as much as St. Louis has enjoyed consistent success under the current ownership group, it has not been a springboard from which future big league leaders made their final external leap.

That changed on December 8 when Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow was named as the new general manager of the Houston Astros.

Funny, but I haven’t read the “Harry Potter” digs about Luhnow in print for some time now. The 45-year-old is getting the last laugh at those who derided him over his last eight years leading player development for the St. Louis Cardinals and building the necessary base of experiences to take over his own organization.

As a result of Houston’s move, the Cardinals need to make a crucial appointment (or series of them) to replace him. Luhnow was the head of their amateur scouting and international functions as well as the First-Year Player Draft. He stepped out of his day-to-day supervisory role of the farm system last September, turning that over to his lieutenant, John Vuch.

Luhnow first joined the Cardinals in late 2003 and began his efforts in the establishment of player evaluation methods at both the amateur and professional levels. From the start, he clashed with traditionalists in the organization. This undercurrent of discord eventually led to the ouster of general manager Walt Jocketty following the 2007 season.

Born and raised in Mexico City and fluent in Spanish, Luhnow was an ideal choice to revitalize the club’s stagnant Latin American program, which he picked up in 2004. Scouting and development successes include Eduardo Sanchez, Carlos Martinez and Oscar Taveras with more in the pipeline.

Beginning in 2005, Luhnow directed the Cardinals drafts, during which time his classes were often recognized as among the better in the game. The players also later delivered at the big league level. For example, eight major leaguers drafted and developed during his tenure were active for the Cardinals in the 2011 post-season. They included key contributors Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn.

Luhnow added player development responsibilities in 2006. He had a key role in the system’s successes in the minor leagues. Results include the best system-wide record across the minors in 2010 and five minor league team championships, all the way from rookie ball to Triple-A.

A few have suggested the Luhnow loss might be felt more acutely by the Cardinals than that of Albert Pujols. I would not go that far, but Luhnow clearly proved his detractors wrong while leaving some big shoes to fill.

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56 Responses to “The Cardinal Nation Blog 2011 top story #14: Luhnow hired by Houston”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Drafts during the Luhnow years also yielded trading chips Chris Perez and Luke Gregerson, belittled as Faberge eggs by Bernie but who have turned out well for the Indians and Padres.
    The greatest initial yield from the renewed Latin program was the reliever Salas, lured from a Mexican pro team.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Good points, though Salas wasn’t a product of the Latin program in the developmental sense. He was a professional scouting find and was already more advanced than the traditional international amateur signees. He wasn’t lured. His contract was purchased. But bottom line, Salas was a very nice addition on Luhnow’s watch – at least I think he had pro scouting then.

  2. Nutlaw says:

    I’m definitely worried about what Luhnow’s departure means for the organization long term. I was not at all happy to hear about this, but I guess that success is going to inevitably open up opportunities.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    For balance, there have been disappointments too. Luhnow needlessly predicted Roberto Delacruz could begin at Johnson City, though it took him two years to get there. Ryde Rodriguez did not send baseballs on long rydes. Wagner Mateo was offered $3.3MM, but failed an eyesight test. One or two pitchers failed identify confirmations, par for the course.
    In the States, Luhnow foresaw Kozma as the new Nomar Garciaparra. The Cards mostly followed the Commissioner’s bonus guidelines and were not as generous with bonuses as some other teams. Brett Anderson and Masterson of the Indians were among amateur pitchers passed over for the likes of Brad Furnish.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Yes, by definition, every exec responsible for player procurement has more misses than hits. Especially earlier on, Luhnow did play into the hands of his critics at times by making overly-aggressive player comps.

      Edit: I look at Wagner Mateo differently than you. Until any player is under contract, teams can not conduct physical exams. The Cards paid what it took to get him but were smart enough to have an out that they used when it became clear Mateo was damaged goods. While a disappointment, I don’t see how that can be considered a failing.

  4. crdswmn says:

    Okay the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes is starting to annoy me. I should have expected it with a Lozano client. I was all for acquiring the guy, but now I am to the point where I just want him to pick a damn team already.

    I would rather we pass on OF help altogether if we don’t get Beltran rather than get Coco Crisp. Put Chambers or one of the other minor leaguers in the OF until Craig comes back.

    Make Roy Oswalt a nice offer and put Westbrook in the bullpen or go with a 6 man rotation. Waino is not going to be able to pitch 200 innings anyway.

  5. CariocaCardinal says:

    I liked Luhnow as much as anyone but 5 years from now no one will remember him in STL. I remember the big deal about bringing in Ed Creech from the Expos in 1998. Of course he left one year later. The 98 draft was OK only because we went way over slot (not sure slot actually existed then) for JD Drew. Jackie Wilson was the only other major league regular out of that draft. Creech left the next year to go to the Dodgers but he never was really considered a guru after going to the Dodgers.

  6. crdswmn says:

    I have returned from dinner with a friend to discover that the Cardinals have signed Beltran. Good. Two years instead of three which I am happy to hear.

    Now let’s get Oswalt. I’m greedy.

    • T8Ball says:

      Loved to have Roy, one of my 3 favorite players in the game today…It’s a Mississippi thing :)

      But that’s rather expensive, no? That puts a 12 win or 14 win pitcher in the Bullpen at a cost of 8.5-12.1 million, then you have Roy’s salary (hate to even guess what that would be ~ 7-11?). Or trade them for nothing, and still be on hook for probably half their 2012 salaries, not to mention Westbrooks 2013 option, and of course the buyout to coax one of them to waive the NTC.

      Just too much trouble and dollars involved in signing Roy.

  7. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    Beltran to the Cards for 25………….. There goes Craig before the break…………. What was the Skip contract for…………………. ???????????

    • T8Ball says:

      They didn’t sign Skip b/c of baseball. That would have been ludicrous ;)

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        The no-trade speaks of the nature of the negotiation. Lozano had something DeWitt wanted. An investment. DeWitt is a very clever man. Lozano is a cutthroat SOB. The last boogey man for Bill is a Pujols fast start. Lozano just sold it to him at the expensie of his 1#…………. Love the action. Thats a 30 million dollar deal with its insurance.

  8. T8Ball says:

    Now it’s a wait and hold your collective breath with Beltran for 2 years. “Please have your knees hold up, please oh, please, oh please”. Sort of like it was with Berkman last season, except he didn’t have an NTC, or he may have but volunteered to waive it midseason to help out the team, if I recall correctly.

  9. Nutlaw says:

    I’m pretty happy with this signing. The fact that it was only for two years makes it very solid. While healthy, he can definitely pick up most the slack left by Pujols.

    I would, however, like to stop reading silliness from some sources stating that he’ll end up platooning in CF with Jon Jay once Craig comes back from injury. A $13M switch hitter with negligible L/R splits will not end up in a platoon, much less the weaker portion of one!

    I see no reason for Craig to leave the team, however, given that he can platoon with Jay (though more easily if Beltran can slide over to CF). He can spell Beltran and Berkman regularly and can fill in at 3B or 2B in an emergency. Absolutely no reason to move him.

    Does anyone have any guesses as to what next year’s lineup will look like now?

    • T8Ball says:

      Considering Craig is probably going to miss the first third of the season…..I’d say it’ll look like this to start the season:

      Furcal SS/Jay CF
      Beltran RF
      Holliday LF
      Berkman 1B
      Freese 3B
      Yadi C
      Jay CF/Furcal SS
      Descalso/Greene/Skip 2B
      Pitcher

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        That group of three…………… Beltran Holiday Berkman is likely accurate. Against lefties its probably 3/4/5 against Righties 2/3/4………..against major pitching……..they likely use speed and a bunter up front…………. in that case it will depend on who’s hot and who’s not

      • Bw52 says:

        TBB-since when is Craig going to miss a third of the season? Last i read Craig was talking about being ready opening day.

        • T8Ball says:

          BW, with the Craig being out for 4-5 months, and off his knee for a significant amount of time, I believe when the Cards leave Florida, Craig will still be in there. Sometime in late April, at the earliest, he’ll go to Memphis/Springfield to begin his rehab stint. I believe he won’t see the MLB till sometime in May, maybe June.

          Signing Beltran affords the Cards the ability to hold Craig back and ensure he’s 100%.

        • crdswmn says:

          Craig was never going to be ready for opening day. Going to miss all of April at least.

          • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

            The propaganda surrounding Craig’s rehab………is very much a controlled topic……… he was close to being an MVP candidate on the WS………….with a broken kneecap………… with a brace……..he will be able to do everything but run fast……………..if they hold him out……it won’t be for his health…….its more likely he will be a package with Lohse in July…..if he is held out until June …… which would be a very deliberate act………….. who would do a thing like that…………..???????? Folks in these parts better start getting used to “talent” being cashed in for “desirables”…………

            DeWitt has to think on his feet now……… Cardinal Nation now believes that its never over……until its over…….. after this years romp……….that can be expensive……. he isn’t going to let to many players ripen on his bush at the same time……….. That no trade to Beltran is an indicator…….. Craig may never be worth more than he is right now…… Billy D. isn’t stupid……….. its not about baseball…..

            • Nutlaw says:

              I have no idea what you’re talking about, but trading away quality cost controlled players doesn’t make much sense if you’re trying to make money. Also, a player coming off of surgery probably isn’t at his peak trade value, especially if his recovery time were to be so dragged out as to look like complications were involved.

    • blingboy says:

      I’d hate to see Beltran’s knees running around CF very much, if at all. Last year’s meathod of keeping Berkman on the field all year worked out. So I’d have Beltran there in RF every day. Craig will have to stay hot with the bat, and if he does he will get playing time. He is the backup for both Lance and Carlos, so will not be going anywhere.

      I believe Beltran was in the top ten in a bunch of offensive catagories, and the AAV for a short contract will naturally be higher, so I can’t understand the complaints by some about the dollars.

  10. Bw52 says:

    Okay Beltrans a Cards.Why 13 million a year? Mo paid too much IMO.Jeez if Berkman and Beltran break down that is 26 million in dead money.Add in Carpentercoming off leading in IP and Waino coming back from TJ surgery………………….Cards have several major players with question marks in the health area………..don`t forget about Hollidays hand issue`s.

    • Brian Walton says:

      The health concerns are real with Beltran and Berkman, but Craig will be there.

      Look around at what free agent outfielders were getting this winter. Compared to Cuddyer or Willingham, for example, this deal looks pretty reasonable in both years and dollars, IMO.

      • Bw52 says:

        Brian-Cuddyer got 3 years 31.6 million .10.5 million a year
        Willingham 3 years 21 million 7 million a year
        Cards way overpaid.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I’d rather have Beltran at $13 million per (and for only two years) than either of those guys.

          • Bw52 says:

            Brian-I`s rather the Cards would have gone the trade route with Boggs and McClellan and obtained a young near ready prospect.

            • Nutlaw says:

              I would also like to trade in pennies for dollars, but the Cardinals wouldn’t get a young outfielder anywhere near the quality of a Carlos Beltran in exchange for guys like Boggs and McClellan.

              • bigchieftootiemontana says:

                I agree, the Cards already have several young MLB ready outfielders in Jay, Craig and Chambers.

                If Beltran can play 130 games or so it’s worth the money and it’s not my money!

          • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

            Lozano was looking a 3/33 from somebody. DeWitt paid an extra 2 a year, and offered the no-trade…………… Lozano is pretty astute. He worked that up from 24/2 likely. DeWitt wouldn’t have wanted to go over the 12large investment to Berkman if he could help it…………. this will be a heavily insured move………and a Caribbean pacifier for Molina ……….. Twins lost 100 games… Cuddy saw a lot of pitches with Morneau and Mauer out………. he is over paid……….

            bottom line ……….. Beltran wanted some of this action……….. he is a very skilled player……and a predator in his own fashion………….. DeWitt just elevated his pitching invest by by 30% …….. made Westbrooke and Lohse happy………….

  11. Kansasbirdman says:

    Anyone know what the scuttle is on what the Jays or Indians might have offered that Belty didn’t accept?

  12. bigchieftootiemontana says:

    Nice article on Luhnow , Brian.

    As you said in the , the farm really has produced some good players that contributed a lot to this year’s championship . Jeff Luhnow had some great drafts during his time.

    I want to say maybe Lee Thomas was plucked out of the St.Louis front office to be GM in Philly or Baltimore. Did Riggleman move into a manager job after being farm director? Maybe he coached somewhere else in between.

    • bigchieftootiemontana says:

      Okay I looked it up.

      After Lee Thomas’ playing days were over he joined the Cardinals in the 70′s as a minor league manager and then was briefly a coach in ’72 and then moved into the front office,
      eventually to become Director of Player Development. He was one of Whitey Herzog’s main men in the 80′s and in ’88 Philly hired him to be their GM. Also I’m pretty sure he went to Beaumont High School in St. Louis.

      Jim Riggleman went into the San Diego organization after leaving the Cardinals as a minor league manager and eventually got his first mlb manager job with the Padres.

      • Brian Walton says:

        Thanks. I did not look it up, but I knew it was ages ago. Thomas would have been my educated guess as well. Earlier, I had researched and written about TLR’s mediocre record of developing young managers.

        Riggleman didn’t count since he was already in San Diego’s employ when they named him their big-league manager. (Not sure if folks saw he took the Double-A manager’s job in the Reds system for next year.)

  13. JumboShrimp says:

    I sure doubted Mo would land Beltran. Its unusual when a player chooses a two year deal instead of a three year. Beltran’s camp telegraphed that he preferred Toronto, though maybe this was just a fib to get Mo to sweeten his offer.
    It seems Beltran wants to continue to play in the field, not just DH. If so, the astroturf in Toronto might be a disincentive.
    The Cards say Beltran will play some CF. To get a guy to sign, promise him anything right now. Matheny decides where he will play, later.
    The Jays might have been cheap. If the Jays bid 3 years at as low as $10MM/yr, the Cards offered almost as much aggregate money, making their bid appealing.
    When he traded for Holliday, Mo was bold. Outbidding the field for Beltran is a decisive, all-out move too. Likewise re-signing Berkman and Furcal. Beltran is the best available free agent hitter to counter loss of Pujols. Wow.

  14. JumboShrimp says:

    Beltran, Holliday, Berkman, Freese, Craig, Jay, Molina, Furcal, etc. The Cards do not lack for hitters during 2012. The bullpen looks in good shape too. It would be interesting to see if Mo can achieve any changes among the starting pitching.
    The reigning Executive of the Year has already achieved a lot to get ready for 2012: Berkman, Furcal, Beltran, Romero, and Matheny. Wow.

  15. crdswmn says:

    I just heard that our MLB.com beat writer, Matthew Leach, is moving on to bigger and better things in NYC.
    Congrats to him. I will miss his perspective on the Cardinals. So many changes this year.

  16. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    yesterday we heard that Scott Boras is “gunning for” an average annual salary of $25.5MM for free agent Prince Fielder, which would be just above the $25.4MM annual payout Albert Pujols received from the Angels. Fielder also wants a ten-year deal, though a number of clubs are interested in a six-year pact.

    The contest is set then………. it won’t be in dollars……..just years……first one to 7 maybe……who will go 8…………………???? 153/6 …… 178.5 for 7……………..never see 8………..you might see a 3/80….one team with the 6/153 is ……Cubbies…….look familiar to the Gonzales contract? Texas has to be there for that price………..

  17. blingboy says:

    Bernie doesn’t usually worry about being politically correct, so I was dissappointed to see his column start off with ‘No replacing Pujols, but. . .”.

    Gratuitous pandering, check.

    Beltran at one tenth the payroll committment is quite the replacement. Assuming both are healthy, their production should be in the same ballpark for the next two years, some advantage to Pujols perhaps, if he reduces the slope of his trend line. Then, Mo will have to replace Albert as he is two years from now, whatever that is. I feel sure he can do that for less than $25M per, just as he has for the first two years.

  18. T8Ball says:

    Keith Law is off the wagon, I mean he has fallen OFF. Rates the Cards farm as 4th in the league, and places 6 in the top 100, 7 in the top 110. So I ask, Keith Law……”Where’s the hate, man? Where’s the hate?” :) It’s like Sally Field at the Oscar’s or some award show 30-40 years ago: “He likes us, he really likes us”

    It must be the whole Mayan 2012 apocalypse rapture thing…I dunno.

    Tip the cap to Luhnow and his team, they scouted, they drafted, they signed, they produced. Cornered the Draft and the Caribbean. A system once in the bottom of the barrel has seen its cream rise to the top.

    Law 2012 rankings

    Miller 5
    Martinez 22
    Taveras 53
    Cox 66
    Jenkins 74
    Swagerty 92

    Rosenthal made his “10 that just missed the top 100″

    Lowest I’ve seen is a 12th ranking for our system in perusing several baseball prospective lists

    Note ~ there is perception out there that Mr. Law doesn’t like the Cardinals, Cardinals fans, TLR, etc, etc. Whether it’s misconceived or not, his rankings and praise are quite a change in tone from a few of his previous thoughts, words, posts, etc.

    • T8Ball says:

      Further note on my “note”…I think Law is a brilliant man, he is though set in his ways and thinking. He’s a bitter pill for some to swallow, but I thoroughly enjoy reading posts and listening to him. I only ribbed him, b/c I know how much ire he’s produced in Cardinals Fan base recently. I assume he’s rubbed most every fanbase out there at one time or another.

      I still think he’s brilliant.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Everyone wants to be above average but just two years ago, Law ranked the Cards #29 of 30. He wasn’t alone, but perhaps because he is outspoken and interacts directly, he draws heat (from many clubs’ fans).

      Around that time, I recall that Luhnow and Law had a snarky exchange via Twitter about the rankings. One long-time poster on the main site attached so much importance to that, he actually suggested it was part of what was behind Luhnow “getting his wings clipped” by giving up day-to-day management of the farm system months later. I don’t believe that for a second, but if so, Luhnow recovered quite nicely, as has Law in the eyes of Cardinals fans. However, when the Cardinals drop again, and at some point they will, Law will go back to being a bum. ;-)

      For subscribers on the main site, I prepare an annual analysis of what the various raters have to say about the Cardinals system and top prospects – this year and over time. As soon as a couple of others announce, I will run that again.

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