While everyone has visions of Theo Epstein as the Mets’ new President of Baseball Operations (PoBO) – dancing in their head, there’s another candidate out there who was instrumental in two different organizations winning the World Series yet no one will touch him with a 10-foot pole. That guy is Jeff Luhnow, who’s better known for being suspended for a year for his alleged role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal rather than for helping to lead the Cardinals and Astros to championships.
Perhaps the Mets – with their brief ties to Carlos Beltran – are the last organization that could gamble on Luhnow. But instead of viewing this as an appeal to hire Luhnow, let’s proceed with the idea of examining his candidacy as a thought experiment. If you were going to draw up qualifications for the PoBO, what would you want and how many boxes would Luhnow check? Here are some thoughts:
Quality MLB Experience – no more rogue Brodie Van Wagenen hires
Someone significantly younger than Sandy Alderson, a person who could be around for 20 years or more
An individual open to receiving information from traditional and non-traditional sources
Someone who others want to work for – no sense hiring a genius with zero people skills
According to Wikipedia, Luhnow was one of the first waves of non-traditional baseball hires after the Moneyball A’s. He joined the Cardinals in 2003, after working as an engineer, management consultant and technology entrepreneur. He was looked at suspiciously at first but no one could argue with the results. He helped build the Cardinals’ baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and beefed up their presence in Venezuela. In 2004, he was promoted to VP of Player Procurement and in 2006, he was named VP of Scouting & Player Development. His first three drafts resulted in 24 players to reach the majors, the highest total in the majors, including ones who played a big role in the team’s 2011 World Series victory.
Following the 2011 season, Luhnow was hired by the Astros and was joined by many of his former colleagues, who made the move to Houston with him. By 2015, the Astros were considered among the best front offices in the game, with ESPN saying this:
No team has fewer wins than the Astros over the past 10 seasons, but the team’s commitment to analytics is second to none. After the 2011 season, GM Jeff Luhnow brought former NASA analyst Sig Mejdal with him from the Cardinals, and they have put together a unique collection of data scientists, with colorful titles to boot: director of decision sciences, medical risk manager and analyst, and mathematical modeler.
Not only did the Astros commit a full-time position to medical analysis but also they brought in PITCHf/x expert Mike Fast (a former engineer) to focus on that data source.
All signs point to the Astros being the mystery team that purchased a Cray supercomputer last spring, allowing for fast computation of large amounts of data, and they are learning how to translate their analytical prowess into realized gains on the field. Their use of defensive shifts evolved through back-and-forth between the field and front office staff, culminating in the Astros deploying the shift more often than any other team in baseball last season. Without a doubt, the Astros are all-in.
And you probably know the story from there. Everything was rosy until the sign-stealing scandal broke, which ended up with manager A.J. Hinch and Luhnow both being suspended for a year. But now, Luhnow is saying he was made a scapegoat and that his punishment was the direct result of a negotiation between MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Astros owner Jim Crane. Luhnow is suing to recoup $22 million in lost wages.
Luhnow proclaims his innocence and it’s impossible for an outsider to know what really happened. But it’s not hard to believe his version of events. Crane not only didn’t receive any blame under Manfred’s investigation, he was actively distanced from the cheating scandal and was allowed to “keep” the 2017 title. And on top of that he gets out from a $22 million expense. It sure worked out nice for Crane, didn’t it?
It makes me think of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” the song where he examines the plight of former boxer Rubin Carter, who spent nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.
“How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed
To live in a land
Where justice is a game
Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink Martinis
And watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha
In a 10-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell”
There’s a huge difference between murder and stealing baseball signs. But it’s certainly possible that Luhnow is being framed much like Carter was. And if there wasn’t the cheating scandal surrounding him, he’d be one of the most desirable candidates around for PoBo, for the Mets or any other team.
It’s just a thought.