Sep 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies catcherCarlos Ruiz
(51) tags out Oakland Athletics shortstopJed Lowrie
(8) at the plate during the seventh inning at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Poker is an interesting game. It can be played for fun, of course, but the best players know it is strategic in nature, to the point that your opponents can be manipulated in order to gain the best possible advantage. Guys like Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and any number of riverboat gamblers made both a reputation and some serious cash at the poker table.
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Major League Baseball has its share of poker players, too. Some general managers like to go “all-in” with the big free-agent splash. Others might view success in terms of adding several smaller pieces. If you mix in courage, a dose of ego, along with the desire to ultimately win, and you might have the makings of baseball’s version of “Canada” Bill Jones.
Not all successful poker players must be well-known to be successful however. Take for instance the Houston Astros’ very own Jeff Luhnow. While he has taken some risks that we are all aware of by extending contracts to Rick Ankiel, Carlos Pena, or a rehabbing Jesse Crain in the hopes that they might click, there is more to a winning poker player than hoping your opponents have an even worse hand than you.
“Dude, you gotta have a poker face, like me.” – Bill S. Preston, Esquire
Could it be possible that a really good card shark (let’s call him JL) can bid up other players on hands he knows he doesn’t have a chance to win in order to dry up his opponents’ ability to bid on the jackpots that he (JL) can and might win? Does this apply to Jeff Luhnow?
Since the 2014 season ended, the ‘Stros have been linked to Chase Headley with a rumored and totally unconfirmed offer of 4 years/$65 million. On Monday, Headley agreed to terms with the Yankees on a deal for 4/52 plus incentives. Prior to that Luhnow was in large on David Robertson, only to see the White Sox reel him in. Fast forward from each move: Luhnow signed both Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson for slightly above what it took Chicago to sign Robertson, and cashed in his chips on Jed Lowrie on a 3-year, $23 million deal with a fourth-year option that could bring his total deal to $28 million, nearly half of what Headley took for the same amount of time.
Did Luhnow bid up his competition on players he didn’t necessarily want in order to eliminate some of the competition for the players he wanted all along? He has definitely plugged most of the holes in the Houston lineup that needed plugging, and has done it with quality major-leaguers at relatively affordable prices.
What say you? Is it luck or skill or some combination of both? Did others overplay their hands and fall into the trap set by “Full House” Jeff Luhnow? Whatever the case, the cards are definitely starting to fall the Astros way.