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"the long-term well-being of the club" -- Q+A with jeff luhnow

so now they're buyers again?

seems to me this is the type of decision-making that got the cardinals into trouble in the first place. before the 2006 playoffs began, the cardinals were prepared to make some major off-season changes, but they changed their minds after a hot and somewhat lucky october. the front office deluded itself that 16 postseason games were a more accurate gauge of the team's ability than four months of poor play; the plans to retool were shelved, and the cardinals decided instead to reassemble the october team. another four months of poor play have ensued. . . . . and now the team is shelving plans to retool because of three games??? i guess the thinking is that if they can just shrug off one or two 5-0 deficits every week from now through the end of the year, the division is there for the taking.


Update [2007-7-31 12:21:58 by lboros]: the cardinals picked up joel piniero for a ptbnl. this guy's career era away from capacious safeco field is above 5.00. even in his good years (2002-03) his era was largely a ballpark illusion --- more than 1.50 lower at home than on the road in both seasons. i don't know why the cardinals even bother with players like this . . . . [end update]

my post today is a post-draft Q+A with jeff luhnow. not your typical deadline-day fodder, i'll grant, but the Qs have been pending for a few days and i just rec'd the As yesterday --- want to get them out there while they're still fresh. jeff wrote the answers from jupiter fla after watching pete kozma get his first professional hit. a couple of the questions are past expiration --- e.g., i wrote them before the news of tyler henley's signing had broken, and before derrick goold's profile on pj walters --- but most of them still apply. my thanks to jeff, as always, for taking the time to answer questions.

The draft pick who's getting the most attention right now is somebody no one ever heard of before, Arnoldi Cruz --- the 26th-round pick. Where'd you find this guy?
Credit goes to Charlie Gonzalez (our scout in South Florida). He was in the neighborhood of our complex at Palm Beach Community College. I first saw Cruz at a workout in our complex in Jupiter in April. We were working him out as a catcher, alongside Danny Rams, Yasmani Grandal, and Daniel Mantra (three of the top prep catchers in this year's draft). He later came to our pre-draft workout in late May and we worked him out as a third baseman and as a catcher. We had our scouting staff and player development staff on hand both times. His bat was impressive, as was his defensive skill and his attitude. I'd be remiss if I didn't give an assist to Anup Sinha, our college specialist who lives in Jupiter and pounded the table for us to draft Cruz as one of his "gut feel" players. When a prospect gets a "gut feel" tag from two of the scouts, there is usually something special there. I think Arnoldi now has become a "gut feel" player for many of our fans who follow the minor leagues. [LB: the quad city times had a feature about cruz recently, in case you missed it.]

In addition to Cruz, a few other 2007 draftees who've moved up quickly are Steve Hill, the 13th-rounder out of Stephen F. Austin; Antonio DeJesus, the 16th-round pick out of Kentucky; and Nick Derba, the 30th-rounder from Manhattan College. They're all at Quad Cities and are off to good starts there. Can you add a little backstory on them --- which scouts spotted them, and what did the organization see in those players?
Steve Hill played two years in junior college prior to settling in at Steven F Austin. Both Joe Almaraz and Mike Elias saw him and wanted to draft him, and Sig Mejdal was in full support due to Hill's performance. He plays first, outfield and can catch. His best tool is his bat and his power. He is off to a great start and I hope keeps it up. So far, we are encouraged by what we have seen behind the plate and will give him ample opportunity to get better at that position.

Antonio DeJesus was the center fielder at Kentucky ... Brian Hopkins advocated for him prior to and during the draft, and Joe Rigoli concurred that he was worth drafting and that he is a Cardinal type of player. He has speed, plays the outfield well, and takes his walks. . . . so he has a good chance to be a leadoff hitter. When we became thin at Quad Cities, we decided to promote him despite his low average since he had been taking his walks and was solid defensively. Since the promotion his bat has come alive and the feedback from Mitch (Keith Mitchell) has been very encouraging.

Nick Derba is Kobe Perez's guy. He came to our workout in New Jersey and impressed all of us with his catching skill, his ability with the bat, and his attitude. He has been one of the many pleasant surprises in this draft and as a catcher, he has become a prospect.

Another rapid riser this season has been Jose Garcia, the second baseman out of Venezuela. If I'm not mistaken he started the year at extended spring training and has since moved through Johnson City and Batavia; he's now at Quad Cities as a 19-year-old. What's the story on this kid, and what does his trajectory look like moving forward? Is he likely to be at Palm Beach next season?
Jose was signed last year prior the VSL season. He played in the VSL for the summer and then blossomed during the Liga Paralela in the fall. He was named the MVP of our team there as he did everything --- played middle infield very well, hit and ran well. We suspected he would be able to handle Johnson City instead of the GCL coming into Spring Training. He can play both SS and 2B and has both the tools and the makeup to be a big league player. If he finished the year at Quad Cities in the same manner he has played all year, and has a strong winter season, he will get a chance to play in Palm Beach next year. Javier Meza and Wilmer Becerra deserve credit for bringing Jose into our organization.

Jose Martinez seems to have improved his hitting since being promoted to Springfield --- judging by his stat line, he's showing more power and better plate discipline than he did in single A. Seems counterintuitive --- what's your explanation for it? Is it because he moved from a pitcher's park in PB to a hitter's park in Springfield? Has he made a significant adjustment at the plate? Is it a matter of maturity? Or is it just one of those things --- the kid was underachieving early, and now he's on a hot streak?
I suspected when we moved Jose up that he would return to his form from last year. He flashed it here (in Palm Beach, where I am currently) but wasn't consistent. This is a tough league for hitters as the weather is hot, the crowds are small, and the ballparks are huge. On top of that, the pitching tends to be very good. The Texas League is more of a hitter's league. The biggest contribution Martinez has made this year is he demonstrated his ability to play shortstop at a high level. Because he is not as fast as many shortstops, many people believed that he would not be able to play that position at a high level. Jose has exceptional hands, a good arm, and impressive instincts, so he makes up for his lack of speed. He has always been a productive offensive player, and despite his struggles at Palm Beach this year, I expect him to be a run producer in the future.

I have never read a scouting report on PJ Walters --- what type of pitcher is he? What does he throw, and how is he achieving such outstanding results this year? What part of his game needs the most improvement?
PJ Walters was one of the top three pitchers in college baseball going into the draft last year, behind [Tim] Lincecum and [Brad] Lincoln, according to our performance metric. He didn't have the "stuff" that those two had, which is why he was available after the tenth round. He has the full array of pitches, but more importantly he mixes them up well and he has command of all of them. His best tool is his "pitchability," and that is why he is the first starter from the 2006 draft class to make it to AA. [in case you missed it, derrick goold profiled pj walters last week.]

Ditto Tyler Herron --- what are his best pitches? What does he need to work on to get ready for the next level?
Not much. Herron has the entire package and just needs to get innings and get ready for the next level, which will more than likely be coming out of Spring Training next year. We knew he had this in him, which is why he was a first rounder (compensation pick) for us in 2005. Tyler's fastball is at least average and he has a curveball and changeup that both project to be at least average. The loss in velocity coming out of the draft was probably the best thing that could have happened to him, as he learned how to pitch without blowing people away with the fastball, and now he has matured. The sky is the limit for Tyler. On top of his golden arm, he has exceptional makeup and is a fierce competitor.

Walters, Eddie Degerman, and Brad Furnish have all shifted from the 8-man rotation at Quad Cities to the 5-man at Palm Beach. How has that transition gone for them? Any problems w/ endurance, preparation, or other issues?
I believe the piggyback system helped all of them get innings and get into their groove. None of them has had any arm problems this year, and they have all done well. By the time we switched them over to the 5-man rotation, they were ready. I can't guarantee it, but there is a chance we will start Quad Cities with an 8-man rotation next year and transition back to a 5-man after the draft again. That seemed to work well.

Some of the "tools" guys in the system are really struggling --- Edwards, Pham, and Jones, to name three. Out of that trio, which do you think has the best chance to put it all together?
I've seen all of them just recently. To be honest, I think all three have a chance to put it together. Edwards can cream the ball, as I saw him do in Johnson City last week. He also has played very well in right field, even with the difficult outfield in Johnson City, and his arm is well respected. Tommy smoked a home run for me in Batavia and he has nights where you watch him and you know he is going to play in the big leagues. Jones is one of the most, if not the most, gifted athletes we have in our system. His power and speed combination are hard to match. Yes, they have all three struggled some this year, but consistency is difficult to achieve with the younger players, and I believe it's just a matter of time. Will they all three make it? Who knows? Could they all three make it? Absolutely.

Likewise, a few of the high draft picks from this year's draft are having a rough adjustment to professional ball --- I'm thinking here of Descalso, Eager, and Marmol. It's early, but are you concerned? What specific skills are the coaches working with those players on?
No, I'm not concerned. All three of those guys can play baseball and should be fine. Our staff is working hard to ease their transition from college to pro ball. We all have to remember that after a full college season, it's tough to go out to pro ball and start playing a different game, with the best players in the world, and have immediate success. I saw Eager pitch a fantastic game when I was at Batavia, but he has not been consistent. [LB: he has a nice little run going now --- 2 er in his last 11.2 innings.] Descalso and Marmol both have the tools to play in the big leagues, and they will eventually hit better than how they started. It's very hard to judge players their first short season. I prefer to wait until after their first full season, and then you have a better feel. Look at Allen Craig last year. I suspected he was a much better hitter than what he showed, and sure enough he proved that this year. [LB: per his game log at minor league splits, craig hit just .259 / .311 / .358 in his first month of pro ball last year, with 1 home run. this season he's at .319 / .369 / .541 in the florida state league and is 2d in the loop in homers (17) despite missing 3 weeks on the dl. he returned to the lineup last night, went 1 for 4 with a double and an rbi.]

A few important draft picks remain unsigned --- Kyle Russell, Paul Henley, Mike Stutes, Adam Reifer, and Brett Zawacki. By all indications, Russell is returning to Texas . What should Cardinal fans anticipate with regard to the other four?
Adam Reifer is signed and has been for a while, he just hasn't pitched because he is here in Jupiter on rehab. Tyler Henley is signed too and should be in the Batavia games very soon. We are in discussions with the other three players and everything will become clear prior to the signing deadline of August 15th. [LB: news of the Henley signing first reported and confirmed a few days ago at Future Redbirds.]

Re the signing of picks: in the wake of this year's draft, there has been a fair amount of grumbling that the Cardinals are unwilling to spend what it takes for premium talent. A lot of fans were very frustrated that the team didn't go after Rick Porcello, for example; ditto the likely failure to sign Russell. The Cardinal organization has been signaling, in word and deed, that it's going to funnel fewer resources into the big-league free-agent market and more into player development --- a lot of fans recognize that as a wise philosophy, and they're excited about it. But for some, excitement turns to frustration when guys like Porcello and Russell are there for the taking, and the organization doesn't make the dollars available. Fans begin to think the real commitment isn't to player development, but rather to cost-cutting. What response would you make to those fans? Can you describe a type of player (or a scenario) that would motivate the Cardinals to pay a premium?
That is nonsense, but I can understand how some fans might come up with that idea. Any player that we think is worth more than we have to pay to get them is a player we go after, regardless of cost. Sometimes we go after players that may be worth slightly less than what they cost, but there are other very good reasons to get them (e.g., the alternative is far less attractive and you need to sign someone!). The organization does not have a desire or a strategy to cut costs . . . . but we do have a desire to invest wisely. Fans are always going to complain when we don't sign big-money players, but they end up complaining more if we get stuck with a big contract that isn't working out. We rarely get credit for the guys we didn't sign that ended up not being worth the cost . . . and I'm sure you know the long list of these players. No organization is perfect in this regard, but we certainly put as much effort as anybody into figuring it out and making the best choices for the long-term well-being of the club.

Does one player's performance ever affect the negotiations with another player? Just to take one example: would the Cardinals be more aggressive about signing centerfielder Paul Henley if fellow 2007 draftees (and CFers) Antonio Dejesus and Beau Riportella weren't off to such good starts in the low minors?
NA, as Henley is signed. You can never have enough good premium position players.

How did you like the new draft format introduced this year? Were the intensified coverage and the new time intervals between picks 100 percent good, 100 percent bad, or a mixed bag? Seems like the 2d day of the draft was absolutely brutal ---- nearly 50 rounds of selections, highly time-compressed. Having done it this way once, will you make any adjustments heading into next season?
It wasn't that different, and we were prepared. I loved the 2nd day, because I knew we were getting some great players late in the draft (which we did!). We will be prepared and ready next year, just like we were this year. Our scouts have already been very busy this summer getting ready for next year's draft, as have I. Next year's crop of players is looking very good at this point.

To get back to individual players: Where do things stand with Cody Haerther? When do you expect him back in the Springfield lineup, and when he does return who will he displace in the outfield? He has been at double A since mid-2005 --- two and a half years by the end of this season. Despite his limited playing time this year, will he have a chance to move to triple A next year (much as Brendan Ryan did this year after an abbreviated 2006)? Or does he still have work to do to master the double A level?
Cody is healthy now and will be playing at Springfield for the rest of the year, more than likely. He will get every chance to play in Memphis next year, but has to show us in Spring Training that he is ready. I'm optimistic he will finish the year well and get in good shape for next year. [LB: haerther spent the past week rehabbing with the GCL cardinals and has rejoined the springfield team; he's expect to start tonight vs arkansas.]

The outfield continues to be crowded at the top of the farm system. At least one or two of the incumbents (Stavinoha Mather and Ankiel) --- if not all three --- will probably be back at triple A next year. Among the double A corps, presumably Rasmus is envisioned as beginning next season at Memphis, and possibly Haerther; Mark Shorey is building a case for promotion; Sean Danielson's shelf life is nearing expiration; John Rodriguez will be holding over. . . . . at some point there's gonna have to be a trade, isn't there?
We do have many interesting outfielders, and I'd rather have too many than not enough. If that continues to be an issue during spring training next year, I'm sure we would consider making a move but I'm not worried about it at this point.

Blake Hawksworth is really struggling at Memphis; is he healthy?
Blake is healthy. He has been inconsistent, but it is his first year at AAA and he is still very young and not very experienced. He has nights when he shows us why he is there and why he will go further. AAA is a tough league for first time players, and Hawksworth was at Palm Beach to start the year in 2006. He just needs more time and for all of us to be patient.

Final question: I had a chance to talk to Adam Ottavino earlier this year, and he expressed some frustration with the "pitch-to-contact" philosophy --- he feels he's being pushed to adopt it too abruptly, rather than being allowed to develop it at a more gradual pace. He made similar remarks to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch. Anthony Reyes has been grappling with this issue since at least the beginning of last season, as has been well publicized. Earlier this month, Dyar Miller said in a radio interview that the Cardinals are "a 2-seam, groundball organization." As long as that is the organization's emphasis, does it make sense to draft guys who favor the 4-seam, as Reyes and Ottavino do? If there is a change at the top of the organization --- ie, if Dave Duncan leaves after this year --- will the 2-seamer continue to be a preferred pitch throughout the farm system?
Adam is having a great year and has become more effective as the year has progressed. Pitching is a lot more complicated than the 2-seam, 4-seam debate and even the groundball vs. flyball debate. Yes we like groundball pitchers, but we aren't alone in that preference. Yes we like fastballs that move naturally, but we are not alone in that desire either. Neither of those philosophies needs to change or will change.

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again, my thanks to jeff. if anybody has a follow-up question, post it here and i'll pass it along. on a side note: i had a chance to meet a staffer from luhnow's wing of the operation, michael girsch, at the SABR convention in st louis last week. nice guy, and a regular reader of VEB and other card-centric blogs, chat rooms, &c. his work duties include surfing the internet in search of nuggets of information that might be useful. (ie, his job is to do what the rest of us are doing while avoiding our jobs; lucky bastard.) i told him i appreciated the fact that there are people in the front office who take fan ideas/input seriously.