The closure of the Astros’ Venezuelan academy was the first tangible evidence that something was wrong. How could one of the best organizations in baseball close one of the richest pipelines of talent in the sport? No one should blame the Astros, with all the dangers that had arisen in Venezuela it made sense that the a new pipeline be found, it wasn’t. The problem wasn’t leaving Latin America but not re-establishing a new source for quality, cheap prospects. The Astros had felt the negative effects of their mistakes over the past decade and not until Ed Wade began to attempt to re-establish some presence within that region did the ‘Stros lag very far behind many of their rival clubs. That, however, might soon be changing. Jeff Luhnow promised a new dedication to re-establish that once fruitful pipeline of great young talent and we might be seeing the first steps of that progress. The Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball last season with a declining payroll, will make a serious push for Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
Could the Astros actually steal away a player that was once destined to be a Cub, Yankee or Red Sox? Jeff Luhnow put everyone on notice today that the Astros plan to do just that, they will pursue Soler. This is a stunning turn in what has been a very eventful offseason, considering the Astros had basically put the fan base on cruise control when Jim Crane took ownership. Soler will not be cheap but he shouldn’t be unreasonably priced either. Given the fact that Baseball America has already gone on record saying he would be the 43rd best prospect in all of baseball had he already signed with an organization, Soler might be more affordable long term than a prospect of his caliber from the states. Soler is fast, a decent fielder, and has very good power so it’s not difficult to see his potential. That said, a prospect from the states has some type of track record against, in most cases, tougher competition and because of it, can be judged more effectively. This would certainly be a risk for Jeff Luhnow as Soler, much like the other big international free agent this offseason Yoenis Cespedes, is unproven. The Oakland A’s took that risk in signing Cespedes to an expensive contract earlier this month. Oakland saw a player that they believe they could mold into an impactful major leaguer. Soler has similar tools but most scouts seem to believe Soler could actually be the better deal and eventually player.
If Jeff Luhnow could pull this off, persuade a player who numerous clubs salivate over to sign with the rebuilding Astros, it would be something all of baseball would talk about. This move could be the transaction we look back on and say, yep, that is where Jeff Luhnow turned the franchise from a joke into a real baseball organization. Ed Wade had tried to do the same thing two offseasons ago when he dove into the international free agent pool to sign his own difference maker, Ariel Ovando. At the time, the 16 year old, was the major acquisition that was going to begin the influx of international talent into the Astros’ system. It hasn’t, although Wade did continue to sign young prospects from Latin America, not even Ovando has made a distinguishable impact in the organization. All of those players are still extremely young and could still make a significant impact down the road but none are Jorge Soler. Soler could be the type of player that may take only a short time to make the impact Ovando or any of the other international signings have failed to accomplish to this point.
This is far from a done deal as rich organizations will come strong after Soler but the Astros know that and the assumption is that they are very willing to dance with those clubs. Jim Crane then George Postolos and eventually Jeff Luhnow have maintained that while they won’t spend big money on free agents, they will spend on the draft and the international market. Luhnow will rebuild the Astros from the inside out and these signings are exactly how the Texas Ranger built their powerhouse. The Rangers are viewed as the best organization when going after international Free Agents under the old system, conveniently, they also represent the Astros rebuilding blueprint. The Astros don’t need to worry about the Rangers, they already made their big international splash this offseason but that is irrelevant to Luhnow. The only thing that should concern Luhnow and the Astros is how far they’d be willing to push for what could be the 1st big piece to their carefully constructed rebuilding plan.