added 11/14/2013 by Bob Hulsey
Jeff Luhnow has some Bill Clinton in him. When Clinton was in the White House, the word "parsing" joined the everyday vocabulary because Clinton had a knack for saying what you thought was one thing then doing the opposite and telling you that you didn't understand what he'd previously said.
Case in point was when a Florida congressman begged Clinton to give him advanced notice before the feds took action to take young Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez from his uncle's Miami home.
"We could do that," Clinton told him and the congressman left relieved.
Until two days later, that is, when the feds marched into Little Havana just before dawn like commandos and seized young Gonzalez at the point of a rifle. No notice had been given to the congressman who aired his displeasure to the media.
The White House responded that Clinton said he could do that, not that he would do that.
Luhnow seems to enjoy the same cat-and-mouse parsing regarding what personnel moves the Astros will make.
Trade Jason Castro, the team's All-Star catcher and one of the few bright spots on a woefully inept ballclub? Just 26 years old and under team salary control for a few more years? Trade him???
"We could do that," Luhnow seems to say.
Just don't expect him to. Not unless a team offers an incredible deal, that is, and we're not sure what an incredible deal is to Luhnow. For you or I, it might be if the Dodgers offered Clayton Kershaw or Yasiel Puig for him. To Luhnow, it might be offering him four A-ball pitchers and a reserve outfielder.
Judging big league talent doesn't quite seem to be Luhnow's gift. At least, that appears to be true when you weigh signings like Rick Ankiel, Philip Humber and Carlos Pena. Or Chris Snyder from the year before.
Judging minor league talent is another story. Go ask the Cardinals, who reached the World Series this year with a healthy dose of players that farm director Luhnow selected for them.
Of course, one could argue that Luhnow hasn't been given the keys to Fort Knox since taking the helm of the Astros. Anyone can look bad when they are limited to dumpster diving through baseball's reject pile.
Money continues to be an issue during the rebuild. The legal bloodletting between the Astros and CSN-Houston revealed that the Astros didn't make much money in broadcasting rights last year and may not earn much in 2014 either until the murky issue of carriage rights is finally settled.
Even though Jim Crane said the Astros would spend $50 million, maybe even $60 million, on big league player salaries next year (still the very bottom of MLB payrolls), I don't think the green light is out there for Luhnow until the funding is secure. There may be another year of sifting through the bargain bins before any players are signed that fans can get excited about.
What the Cardinals ($110 million) and the Red Sox ($150 million) prove is that you have to spend a lot of money if you expect to compete for a pennant although spending it doesn't guarantee you a contender (see last year's Yankees and Angels for proof of this). The Astros currently aren't spending enough to be the chauffeurs of the Yankees and Red Sox, much less be in a position to compete with them.
Jason Castro is one of the building blocks to where the Astros want to go. He's not the hitter that Buster Posey is nor the defensive whiz that Yadier Molina is but he does enough of both to be in high demand among the rest of the league. He's also missed time to injuries the last few years and may not have a long shelf life behind the plate because of his knees.
Carlos Corporan is a useful part-timer and Max Stassi may be the future but he has his own history of injuries, including the beaning he took last August that he did not return from.
The Astros are not in a position to trade Castro right now and shouldn't unless a jaw-dropper of an offer comes their way. The young pitching staff needs his steadiness to thrive and dealing him would be a huge PR blow for a fan base that has already suffered through too many of them.
Personally, I'm glad to have a general manager who doesn't reveal his hand when dealing with the media and fellow GM's. But making implied promises and failing to deliver also has its pitfalls. Over time, people stop believing the words.
I spoke last Saturday to a young lady who grew up in Tomball. She is not only an eyeful but quite knowledgeable about sports. While she still roots for the Texans and Rockets, she has switched her baseball allegiance to the Rangers. When asked why, she said, "I have to root for guys who I think are trying to win." Ouch.
However that $35 additional million in payroll is spent (if it exists), there needs to be an effort to woo back fans and not be seen as a club that is cheap for cheap's sake.
The Astros could do that.