Questions & Answers with Jeff Luhnow

The place where GRB members interview baseball authorities.
Fat Strat
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Post by Fat Strat »

Jeff -

For years the Cardinals farm system has been ranked among the worst in the majors. Much of the blame for those rankings comes from trading away talented prospects for proven major league talent. For many years that seemed to be the general philosophy of the Cardinals toward the farm system, and it's rewarded us with sustained success at the big league level.

First, do you think that's a fair assessment of the Cardinals philosophy toward the farm system in the past decade? How have you worked to adapt this philosophy since becoming the Vice President of Player Procurement and rebuild the farm system?

A secondary question...

Are there any "untouchable" prospects in the organization right now that you would generally not be willing to trade?

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Post by JL21 »


The independent leagues- particularly the Northern League, Atlantic League, and the newly founded American Association- look like a cheap, easy way to fill out the bottom or middle rungs of a system, thereby preventing a team from rushing its true prospects along. Moreover, many of the players in these leagues have at least a few years of experience at all levels of professional baseball amassed before they arrived in the independent leagues, thereby providing a framework of expectation for their performance moving forward based on their prior performance.

What type of focus or effort is placed on the independent leagues? Have you experienced any hurdles in dealing with teams, or in quality of players?

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Post by mikechamp »

If you were creating a fantasy league that would also help you statistically analyze players, which stats would you include for the hitters and pitchers?

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Post by deputyfife »

RC, you have to share. :)

Thanks for your time.
I read an article recently that college hitters are the most likely draftees to contribute in the majors. Does something like that affect your draft strategy?

How many players from the draft have we signed now?

How many draft-and-follows are you expecting this year?

Can you update us on how the baseball operations in D.R. and Venezuela are coming along? Any guys to get excited about?

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Post by fanforever »


How do you feel the off-season moves made by the Cardinal Braintrust has gone so far for the team? Have any players exceeded or failed internal expectations?

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Post by Fat Strat »

Jeff -

Thanks again. What's your opinion on RC's obvious man-crush on you? Ya interested?

Glad to get your insight.



-- BTW, great questions, RC.

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Post by WentCrazy »


Players in other organizations' minor league systems:

How closely do you track their performance vis a vis players in the Cardinals organization? Can you use their performance data to compare with your projections of them and inform your future projection models?

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Post by WentCrazy »

Relative to the major league club's salary level, what do most teams spend on their player procurement budget? What is the optimal level of investment on the player procurement side? What is the point of diminishing returns, in other words at what point does it make sense to shift resources from the ML team (free agents, resignings, etc) to the player procurement side and vice versa?

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Post by WentCrazy »

How old is Albert Pujols? Seriously though, how big an issue is the age question with regard to your efforts at the Latin academies?

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Post by Michael »

Michael wrote:Wow, we already have answers!

Please keep in mind it may be awhile before he is able to answer more questions.
Gateway Redbird readers, I'm going to take a stab at answering the first batch of questions. They seem to fall into three buckets; draft/minor leagues; international; and big leagues. I will focus primarily on the first two areas and a lot less on the third. That doesn't mean I don't have opinions or am not thinking about the big league club, it just means there are many people in our organization who deal with those topics on a daily basis and I will leave those questions up to them. That applies especially to questions about individual big league players. I will be avoiding most or all of those.

What was your "game plan" going in to this draft, and did ownership indicate anything to you regarding how much money was available to sign draftees?

We had a budget going into the draft, based on the number of picks in each round. The budget did not drive any of our player decisions this year. Our game plan was to take the best available player early in the draft and reassess our positional depth charts as the draft went on and to prioritize specific positions if necessary. By "best available" player, we were looking for those players that have the highest probability of having a significant impact at the big league level. That doesn't always correspond to "highest ceiling" as you know; the highest ceiling with a very low probability is less optimal than a slightly lower ceiling with a much higher probability. Of course, none of this is an exact science since we are talking about the future and baseball is a game where luck, opportunity, injury and other factors make a big difference.

How would you grade your first draft with the Cardinals, including your favorite pick?

I was involved in our draft in 2004 primarily as an advisor. In 2005, I had an opportunity to run the draft and make the decisions. It's a very different role, as you can imagine. At the time, I thought our scouting department did an outstanding job of gathering information on the players and that we made excellent selections. Baseball America agreed with this assessment and rated the Cardinals as having the 4th best draft in 2005. A year later, I continue to believe that the 2005 draft class has a chance to impact the organization more than other drafts in the recent past. I don't have any clear favorites among the players, really.

I will always especially remember our first pick, Colby Rasmus. So far, he has not disappointed and the future is bright for him. There are many players besides Rasmus that have generated excitement this year: Jaime Garcia (who I knew was a sleeper when we took him); Mitchel Boggs (pitched a near perfect game which I was lucky enough to see in person); Brian Anderson (Midwest league All-Star), Randy Roth (ditto); Nick Webber (FSL All-star) and Nick Stavinoha (playing in AA) among others. There are several players who have not lived up to expectations yet, but I must emphasize the word YET. It is still very early in these players' careers. Tyler Greene and Mark McCormick, for example, both have big league tools and have shown us what they can do with those tools. It will take a lot more than one half season of underachieving or a few weeks on the shelf to convince me that they are not top prospects. We all tend to want consistent, outstanding performance and when we don't see it we tend to write players off quickly. That would have been a mistake with Anthony Reyes during Spring Training this year, and it would be a mistake with Greene and McCormick.

Also, the younger players we drafted, Tyler Herron, Daryl Jones, Josh Wilson, Shawn Garceau, Wilfredo Pujols, Steve Gonzalez, and Tyler Leach (among others) need time to develop and we won't know maybe for another year or two what kind of players they are likely to become. I'm glad that the rookie seasons are now underway so we can all watch them more closely in competition.

How soon should we judge this year's draft, considering there were already people judging it the day it happened?

It's natural for everyone to make judgments very quickly. However, it's also natural for those judgments to change on a dime. With very few exceptions, players have ups and downs. We love them when they are up and can't wait to get rid of them when they are down (aka Mulder and Ponson). It's part of the game. Many analysts didn't like this year's draft as much as last year's draft for the Cardinals. Why? I really don't know, but if I had to guess I'd say they think we took the safer? route this year with less exciting players? and possibly less upside?. To be honest, that doesn't bother me much. I know the quality of this year's draft class for us and I think we might have done even better than last year. In no way do I think we compromised the upside to take safer players. I expect this class to come out and perform at a higher level than last year's class, because we have more proven performers in the top 10 rounds. Does that mean they are going to top out at high A or AA? Not in my opinion, and not if history is any guide. Stay tuned, this discussion won't be settled for years to come.

How many major leaguers, on a per-year basis, do you expect the academies in the D.R. and Venezuela to contribute?

That's a tough question to answer. We set our own targets for both the draft and the international program. From an economic standpoint, if we produce two big leaguers a year from the international program it justifies the investment. This is true even if they are not stars or even average major league players, but are contributors (e.g., more than replacement level players). I believe we will produce more than that in the years to come.

If you could add another baseball academy in a third country, where would it be?

Good question. I would have to consider doing something in Asia, most likely China or South Korea. If it were in Latin America I would probably favor Colombia or Mexico. We have a program in Panama now that is working well. Plans are underway for doing something more in Colombia. However, these will not be traditional academies like you find in the DR. They are more like after school training programs run by our scouts.

One of the initiatives that's taken place since you've joined the organization is the beefing-up of international academies. Clearly, they take a while to start netting results for multiple reasons. What's your timetable for seeing the academies really flesh out the organizational depth chart?

Juan Lucena (Palm Beach) is the player leading the pack right now (although he was signed prior to my arrival, he is an academy product and plays with our current academy players in the winter). After him, it's Jose Martinez at Quad Cities and Donovan Solano and Willian Sandoval at State College. The Johnson City roster is littered with academy products and will be every year from now on. I think you will see guys in AA two years from now (maybe next year with Lucy) and from then on, every year. Big leagues? If I had to guess, I'd say 2009 or 2010, and then a steady stream coming in continuously.

One of the things that has been very obvious is the plan of the organization in its draft strategies under your watch. For instance, last summer (the 2005 draft), it seemed obvious that since you had extra picks, you could gamble a bit more with a few picks (Mark McCormick, for instance). You had more wiggle room to be creative. Conversely, in 2004, the farm system was barren enough that you needed an emphasis on college kids to flesh out the system with organizational depth right away. What's the overriding factor in developing a draft strategy? Is it the current state of organizational depth? Best player available? Signability?

All of the above. We want to select players that we can sign, so we do our homework there prior to making the choices. Early in the draft it's not wise to drop in quality to fill a position. However, everyone has in the back of their mind their major league roster and the number and type of prospects in the system, and filling a specific need does tend to break ties, maybe even close small gaps. Later in the draft it becomes much harder to tell how large a quality gap there may be between two players, so focusing on positions to fill rosters becomes more commonplace.

My feeling is very similar to what MGL articulated in his discussion about where any club might look to upgrade, if it's easier and cheaper (thereby producing a higher return) to upgrade at a position where you are already OK, then you do it! You don't want to overpay just to get a specific position. It should always be relatively easy to find a replacement level player to fill a spot.

The extra draft picks do allow a club to take more calculated gambles, if they desire. But taking foolish risks with those picks is a wasted opportunity. The picks are inherently valuable and need to be treated that way. We all want as many legitimate big league prospects as possible. That is the goal, not simply to create organizational depth at each position.

I'll continue later...
Last edited by Michael on June 26 06, 8:43 am, edited 2 times in total.