It’s easy to forget now, but one of the first times Luhnow’s Astros came under fire pertained to the 2014 draft.
Note that these are just some of the incidents the Astros were involved in under Luhnow.
At the 2018 trade deadline, Luhnow acquired Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, who had been suspended 75 games for violating the domestic violence policy. Luhnow made the deal despite objections from members of his front office. (Mike Fast, now of the Atlanta Braves, was among those to leave after the season.)
But while no one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics, it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic. At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture – one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to the Brandon Taubman incident, the Club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.
Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix
The Astros’ initial response to the claims, first publicized by Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated and later verified by others, was to label the story “misleading” and irresponsible.”
That was the year the Astros selected Brady Aiken with the No. 1 pick. A post-draft physical found an “abnormality” as it pertained to Aiken’s UCL, leading the Astros to lower their offer to the minimum amount required for them to gain a compensatory pick in the next draft. Aiken’s agent, Casey Close, would rail against the Astros publicly, as the belief was that the Astros were trying to bully Aiken into a lower signing bonus so they could ink Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall. Indeed, the Astros were reported to have committed a no-no by agreeing to terms with Nix before rescinding their offer because of what happened with Aiken.
To Manfred’s point, the Astros endured a number of controversies during Luhnow’s eight-plus years in charge — extending to and culminating in the sign-stealing scandal. Below, we’ve touched on five other instances where the Luhnow-era Astros were found in murky waters.
Yuli Gurriel‘s suspension
Major League Baseball Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s punishments were printed in the report, and included a million fine, forfeited draft picks, and season-long suspensions for general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper A.J. Hinch. Luhnow and Hinch , with bench coach Joe Espada likely taking over as interim manager.
Manfred also dedicated some time and effort to condemning the front-office culture engendered by Luhnow. Here’s part of what Manfred wrote: Luhnow’s no-holds-barred team-building tactics have caused controversy outside of the Astros ever since the organization embarked on its extreme rebuild. Our reporting indicated that at times they’ve proved divisive internally too.
The Osuna trade played a role in what happened with ex-assistant GM Brandon Taubman during the 2019 postseason.
On that note ….
Osuna remains a member of the Astros.
Luhnow’s public handling of the trade was no more skillful or empathetic. He said that he hoped the trade would become a “positive,” and defended the Astros’ “zero-tolerance” policy despite obvious unwillingness to adhere to it.
Gurriel was unable to play at the beginning of the season due to an injury, yet was kept on the active roster for the necessary five games before being placed on the IL. The Astros did have to play those first five games shorthanded, but it’s fair to say that giving Gurriel an extended rehab period is not what MLB had in mind when it handed down the suspension in the first place.
Gurriel was subsequently suspended for five games during the 2018 season — a suspension Luhnow essentially circumvented.
Taubman, for those with short memories, was fired after he made inappropriate comments toward female reporters concerning Houston’s employment of Osuna following Houston’s win over the Yankees in the ALCS. One of the reporters was wearing a bracelet designed to promote awareness of domestic violence.
The Astros used their compensatory pick for failing to sign Aiken to take Alex Bregman.
During the 2017 World Series, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel was caught on camera Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish.
Luhnow and his lieutenants deserve an enormous amount of credit for building a baseball juggernaut and pushing player development forward, but the willingness to endure criticism that enabled them to short-term-tank their way to three consecutive No. 1 draft picks, embrace much-maligned tactics like defensive shifting, and integrate technology into player development has also contributed to decisions like laying off virtually all of their pro scouts and acquiring Osuna while he was still serving a domestic-violence suspension. As is the case with a few of the trailblazers whose pioneering approaches to player development are documented in the book, the results can’t be questioned, but some of the methods can.
Before adding Osuna, Luhnow had to be talked out of drafting Luke Heimlich — the former Oregon State University pitcher who once pleaded guilty to molesting his six-year-old niece when he was a teenager. This revelation was reported as part of Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s book, The MVP Machine.