With only a few minutes to chat with Astros G.M. Jeff Luhnow, I got straight to the point. I asked him if the team was already leaning toward starting the season with Rick Ankiel instead of Fernando Martinez. You see, I’d read a couple of articles at astros.com that suggested that could be the case.
Luhnow speaks highly of Ankiel here and talks about the WBC possibly putting Martinez behind schedule here. Luhnow assured me that I was reading too much into it and that no decision had been made at this juncture. He said that Ankiel’s chances of making the team are good if he can play at the level he did when the two were in St.Louis a few years ago. He also said he likes Martinez and thinks Fernando has the best bat speed on the team.
Another reason I was under the impression that Martinez might be sent down to make room for Ankiel was the uncertainty of whether or not Fernando had minor league options remaining. I knew Martinez had one option year left when he was acquired from the Mets. Since he started last season at AAA , was called up, then sent back down on an injury rehab assignment, then recalled – I was unclear on whether or not an actual option had ever taken place. Apparently it did. Luhnow confirmed the fact that Fernando is indeed out of options. To me, that means he WILL be on the Opening Day roster.
As for Ankiel, he will have to prove himself this spring. Luhnow said he will make use of information gathered from coaches and staff members to make player personnel decisions. He talked about how the coaches are generally focused on winning this season, while as G.M. he has to stay focused on doing what makes sense for a longer time frame, say 3 to 5 years.
We talked about how increasingly difficult those player personnel decisions are going to become, considering the recent influx of talent (especially pitchers) in the Astros minor league system. Luhnow said those decisions are possibly the most difficult part of his job. He said he was close to designating Lucas Harrell for assignment last spring, but decided to release Livan Hernandez instead. Whew! That was a close one.