Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and pro scouting director Kevin Goldstein are visiting Japan as part of the club’s efforts to beef up its presence there, reports MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. As Luhnow seeks to transition from rebuilding to contending, the Astros increasingly look to be a player in acquiring higher-end talent at the MLB level.
The pair of Houston executives will meet with some Nippon Professional Baseball club representatives, see a few players in action live, make media appearances in a bid to enhance the Astros’ profile, and interview some candidates for a scouting position. “People know we bid on Tanaka, and that was a surprise [in Japan],” said Luhnow. “I don’t want it to be a surprise next time. I want them to know, the good Japanese players, the Astros are going to be players, and we’ll have a presence there and the general manager has traveled over there.”
In part, the team is acting on lessons learned from its experience in bidding on Masahiro Tanaka. While Luhnow said he felt confident enough to offer Tanaka a contract after scouting Tanaka in international competition, he found it notable that the Yankees had scouts on hand to watch Tanaka in domestic action for two years before they signed him. “You’ve got two of the top starters in Major League baseball right now, between [Yu] Darvish and Tanaka, that pitched over there and made a successful transition over here,” said Luhnow. “I don’t see that stopping any time soon. I feel like the Astros need to have a scouting presence over there so we can be better informed as these players become available.”
Of course, the fact that the Astros were involved in the Tanaka sweepstakes was itself a strong indication that the club was ready to open its wallet to improve its major league offering. Houston ultimately spent $48MM in free agency, which fell in the middle of the pack league-wide but represented a major development for a club that had largely cleared its books of future salary commitments. Most recently, the team has begun promoting (and trying to extend) some of its top minor league talent.
Opening new doors in Japan indicates a more sustained commitment to adding talent directly to the major league roster. Unlike the situations in most other international baseball hot spots, players that come to North America from Japan (through the revised posting system) are generally at or near MLB readiness.