When most of us learned Livan Hernandez had been released on Friday morning, we were surprised to say the least. While Hernandez wasn’t pitching lights out ball, he had been pretty darn good early in spring and appeared to be working on his pitches these last two starts, more concerned with stuff than results. Throw in the complimentary words Luhnow had said about the veteran earlier this spring and more than a few jaws dropped. After most of the day to digest the move, I realized it was still surprising but boldly consistent to the message that Jeff has preached since day one. The Astros aren’t here to plug in band-aids where problems exist, they are here to develop. While Livan could have been a nice tutor for the younger guys, Brett Myers and Doug Brocail can serve in that role. He could have also been a nice trade chip come July when contenders are looking for veteran starters but it appears Luhnow was more concerned in seeing if Jordan Lyles has developed even more since 2011 or if Lucas Harrell has finally found his groove. So, again, development will be the key phrase in anything they do and any transaction they complete.
In truth, Livan was doing just fine. Ignore the ERA because for a veteran pitcher, that stat doesn’t exist during spring training. Livan had looked strong early and while struggling a bit these last few starts, he appeared ready for the regular season. Livan signed with the Braves within minutes of his release from Houston, that should tell you someone thought he could help. So the release had little to do about stuff and everything to do with opportunity. Lyles, Kyle Weiland, and Harrell have all had moments that make you think they deserve roster spots and made the Livan decision pretty simple. You could make an argument for Happ vs Livan but like most everything in sports, money and value is a factor in most decisions. Jeff Luhnow’s message is simple, the ‘Stros are about finding a pitcher who can pitch 200 innings for the next five years, not just this one. I can’t argue with that philosophy, in fact, I applaud it.
When the ‘Stros traded away most of their better players over the last two seasons, they made a choice most of us had been craving. They went young and while a few of Ed Wade’s signing spoke to the contrary, Jeff Luhnow has made sure not to deviate from the plan. Over the course of the offseason, Jeff signed Jack Cust, Zach Duke and Livan Hernandez to smart contracts but always thought of them as insurance never as replacements for young players. Over the course of the spring, as young players have shown improvement, those veterans have been let go one by one to find work in other organizations while the Astros kept their word and stayed with prospects. Looking around the diamond, the only regular players remaining above 30 years of age are Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez, both of whom don’t appear to be staying with the club much longer. They will also be replaced soon enough and the players we trade them for will also be young. They will also be part of the plan, get young and get good without shortcuts.
The moment the news of Livan’s cut was made, I was shocked. The more I looked over the decision and thought about what it meant, the more I realized how the move made sense on many levels. Does it make the rotation and in turn the club better in 2012? Maybe, or maybe not, but the long term message is what should matter, not the one it sends for this upcoming campaign.