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Report: there is some major tension between Astros manager Bo Porter and GM Jeff Luhnow

Aug 29, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT

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Ken Rosenthal has a report of management strife between Astros manager Bo Porter and GM Jeff Luhnow.

As is so often the case in any organization, it boils down to communication. Or lack thereof. Specifically, Porter’s anger at not being consulted by Luhnow in several instances, including a time when prospect Mark Appel was called to Houston to throw a bullpen session for the team’s pitching coach. Rosenthal reports that Luhnow has also been too critical of Porter’s in-game decisions. Porter has complained to team owner Jim Crane.

Which, OK, it’s a team that loses a lot of games and which — because of some irrationally exuberant reporting about its competitive prospects — has been under a lot of scrutiny of late. That leads to tension. Although I was rather surprised by Rosenthal’s wind up to this:

The question now is whether their relationship can be salvaged – and whether Crane will want to replace one or both.

Crane might resist any change, not wanting to admit that he made a mistake with either hiring. But it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.

Rosenthal is not the type to overstate things for dramatic effect. One gets the sense that he’s actually hearing this from someone. That would be pretty nuts, but maybe things are pretty bad.

  1. simon94022 - Aug 29, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    I get the distinct impression that Luhnow is not a good “people person.” Maybe he would be a fine fantasy GM, but in the real world he may be missing the most important skills.

    • tigersfandan - Aug 29, 2014 at 12:47 PM

      The same might be said about Bo Porter.

      • lalocrawford503 - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:27 PM

        If they had any bullpen, any, they’d be close to .500. Seriously, dude can manage a little. He can’t help who the GM signs on some level.

    • Paper Lions - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      The most important GM skill is definitely not being a people person, all the congeniality in the world won’t help build a talented organization.

    • 78mu - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      Luhnow may not be a people person but he’s built a system of how to evaluate talent and enough people around him to implement it that it is unlikely Crane would dump him over Porter. To get rid of Luhnow would look like a major setback of the rebuilding process Crane wanted.

      It’s a lot easier to find a field manager that can hopefully relate to the young players than it is to find a GM that can build a winning team.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:48 PM

        That is a battle every manager should lose….manager’s are fungible, most impart negative value with the on-field managing and most are similar in “leadership” qualities. The skill set required to be an adequate GM is far harder to find that the skill set required to be an average MLB manager.

    • ptfu - Aug 29, 2014 at 4:53 PM

      Exclusive interview with Jeff Luhnow:

  2. ud1951 - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    Luhnow notably got under both Jocketty and LaRussa’s skin in StL, and while TLR is fairly well known to be prickly, Luhnow’s role with the team was small enough that one would not have expected him to become an issue. Jocketty was actually his boss and getting your boss fired takes a talent that is probably not in all that high of a demand, and maybe not something you’d want to highlight on your resume.

    What is emerging in Houston now appears to be a portrait of Luhnow being able to put together systems to find talent, but not actually being able to lead and manage an organization. He was famously successful in StL but without the management and leadership duties.

    • drewsylvania - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:02 PM

      If an underling gets a boss fired, that’s a fault of the boss.

    • 78mu - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:35 PM

      “TLR is fairly well known to be prickly”

      That may be the understatement of the century.

      • yahmule - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:39 PM

        I agree about TLR, “prick” would have been sufficient.

    • Paper Lions - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:45 PM

      Luhnow didn’t get Jocketty fired, Jocketty got Jocketty fired because he refused to learn anything new or to change with times. He was losing power in the organization because there were things he was horrible at….which is why player development was taken away from him. Jocketty wasn’t actually Luhnow’s boss, Luhnow reported to DeWitt, which pissed of Jocketty, and which no one considered idea, but which was done because it was deemed necessary to advance the organization.

      Jocketty was fired because he wasn’t on board with the owner’s vision of how the team could produce sustained success. DeWitt was the driving force behind the changes in the organization and Luhnow was one of the guys he hired to advance his vision of the operation. Jocketty was let go (not actually fired) because he didn’t agree.

      • ud1951 - Aug 29, 2014 at 5:27 PM

        All fair points and yes, Dewitt wanted to take the Cardinals in another direction. Jocketty had been very successful in the direction he was going, so it was obviously a mismatch, one that Luhnow I suspect helped to exacerbate.

        And as prickly as TLR was, he was also very cerebral and analytical, if Luhnow was going to reach anyone in the organization, you’d think it would have been TLR.

        But the jury is still out on Luhnow. He did find a lot of great prospects using his methods, but this is the first season the Cardinals critical mass is Luhnow selected talent and they are struggling. The question is, if they miss the playoffs this year for the first time since 2010 and 10 of the primary 15 guys on the team (8 position players, 5 starters an 8th inning RP and a closer) and virtually all the spare parts are Luhnow drafted players, is the Luhnow method as good as it looks? And he had plenty of high profile swings and misses on draft picks–as all GMs do.

        But ultimately, if you are going to use the draft and player development to compete every year and get less established talent through trades, you’d like to know the methods actually produce a competitive product and so far, as I said, the jury is out on Luhnow’s method. Being the best at getting the best prospects does not assure a team of anything. Count me as skeptical that either the Cubs or the Astros will be nearly as competitive as soon as people think. Unless of course they open the checkbook and pay some established free agents to come in and lead the team.

        Right now all it seems to me to have been proved about Luhnow’s method is that it creates front office drama and promises a competitive (if not championship) team on the cheap.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 29, 2014 at 7:34 PM

        Change always creates drama. Go into anything with an established approach and do things different and drama will ensue due to people resisting change. That isn’t on Luhnow, that is how people are…especially when those people have huge egos, like most MLB managers, players, and former players.

        This year’s Cardinal team is no more a Luhnow product that last year’s was. All of the young talent on last year’s team was his doing as well…and without those guys they don’t go anywhere.

        TLR is far more stubborn than he is cerebral (whatever that means). TLR has always been resistant to change or new ways of thinking or doing things when those things aren’t his idea. If TLR was interested in using information to make decisions, he would have been heavily into doing so, but he wasn’t because he isn’t.

        Watch the Reds the next few years as they continue to nose dive…that would have pretty much been the Jocketty led Cardinals if they didn’t take player development away from him and change direction.

  3. drewsylvania - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    Bo doesn’t know?

  4. jkaflagg - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    For a balanced and fair look at Luhnow and his approach (including his time in St Louis), check the Bloomberg/Business Week article this week. Several notches above the “sports journalism” practiced by Smilin’ Ken, which usually consists some gutless weasel anonymously feeding him self-serving information…..

    Don’t doubt that there is some tension in Houston, given the continual losing plus the tumult (real and imagined) in the past few months. Luhnow’s made some mistakes and any Astro fan can give you a litany of Bo Porter Dr. Strangemove stories, but my guess is that Crane will attempt to smooth out the differences in the off season and give these guys a real (and perhaps final) chance to realize significant success from the great experiment.

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      Here’s the link that JKA forgot:

      • jinx21fan - Aug 29, 2014 at 3:36 PM

        Very good read, thanks for the link. I have to admit I’m old school, but I am trying to get on board with some of the advanced stats. I do believe baseball to be the one sport were the advanced stats are truer and more accurate.

        I do admit though, reading that really loses some of the magic for me. It’s the way things are I know, but just picturing that front office … I don’t know.

    • Wesley Clark - Aug 29, 2014 at 3:01 PM

      Great article. In the end it will be interesting to see if Houston can put a winning team on the field. If they eventually win, and win often for a sustained period of time, the way MLB teams are run will fundamentally change. The jury is still out but I can’t see Lunhow getting fired this offseason. After all the investment I would think that he will have every opportunity to succeed.

  5. beefytrout - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    I wonder how much of a hand Nolan Ryan has in this.

  6. [citation needed] fka COPO - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    Specifically, Porter’s anger at not being consulted by Luhnow in several instances, including a time when prospect Mark Appel was called to Houston to throw a bullpen session for the team’s pitching coach.

    Is Porter serious? He’s the coach of the MLB team, and shouldn’t have any say over what happens in the minors. Especially if the request for Appel to do a bullpen session came from Luhnow.

    • lalocrawford503 - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      A team that seemed really upset with Appel’s tried to be under-the-cloak-of-the-night BP session, he has a duty to keep the ship afloat considering they lose a lot, have the worst bullpen and he’s got to develop guys, and the only way to do that is keep them engaged, then, yeah, he probably should have known and be told about it. The guy is really not the bad of a manager, Qualls has blown 3 saves against the A’s this year, let alone other BP meltdowns not Qualls v. the A’s.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Aug 29, 2014 at 3:06 PM

        A team

        Except the only paper reporting it was a bad thing was the Houston Chronicle, with a couple of anonymous quotes. If you read guys like Keith Law and others in the prospect business (BA/BPro/etc), they all said it was much ado about nothing.

      • lalocrawford503 - Aug 29, 2014 at 3:23 PM

        I not a big fan of Keith Law, he’s very one-sided and lacks nuance when it comes to management-player disputes, rarely ever finds the details and mintuae, defaults to ‘Management is Management, deal with it’ so I don’t find much of what he says illuminating, just corporate/management talking points. So, of course he’ll say that.

  7. rawdog2013 - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    As an A’s fan I’ve had the pleasure of watching Bo Porter and he acts like a child.
    His whole beef with Lowrie was a complete joke.

    I’d take your GM over BP.

  8. irishlad19 - Aug 29, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Unsurprising that a losing team has internal mgt tensions as the season winds down.
    Owner has to decide how to make sure it doesn’t continue into the off-season. Typical solution is to fire one of them, which one is more valuable to keep?

  9. dinofrank60 - Aug 29, 2014 at 9:46 PM

    Maybe the Astros should consider teaching their players how to play baseball first and foremost. The few players they have are wasting away.

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