Every-Thing Sports

Jeff Luhnow is frustratingly smart and frugal

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has done a tremendous job since being hired on December 8, 2011. That was a month and a few days after he helped the St. Louis Cardinals winning their eleventh title. He's used his analytic/Moneyball style of team building to build the Astros organization into a perennial contender. The crowning achievement was the World Series title in 2017. Not too bad for a guy who was hired into the Cardinals organization in 2003 without any prior experience in baseball besides playing in high school. He had previously worked for McKinsey & Company, a global strategy and management company.

He's made a career of analyzing data, making sense of it, and using what he's found through analyzing said data to give an advantage to whoever he's working for. This is a valuable skillset, whether in the business world, or in MLB. Luhnow has proven he can provide an extremely high level of efficiency and production with his work.It's the same qualities that make Luhnow a pain in the ass when it comes to making trades involving high ranking prospects.

He won't quit Kyle Tucker

As presently constructed, this team needs another arm in both the starting rotation, as well as in the bullpen. The Mets wanted a package centered around Tucker, the tall, lanky left-hand hitting outfield prospect for perhaps their best pitcher Noah Syndergaard. When I heard Luhnow was unwilling to send Tucker, I was upset. Tucker came up last season and couldn't cut it. Yordan Alvarez has more than proven himself in the opportunities that he's been given this season. So much so that manager AJ Hinch finds ways to get him into games, despite Alvarez being a defensive liability. If Tucker was deserving of the nickname "Ted" (as in Ted Williams because of his supposed sweet lefty swing), he'd be up taking the at-bats Alvarez currently occupies. Alas, Tucker is still in the minors while Alvarez is putting up rookie of the year numbers.

Ditto for Forrest Whitley

The same can be said for Forrest Whitley. Whitley is the organization's best pitching prospect. He was hurt this year and not able to be called up when Alvarez was called up. He was originally thought to be called up in June so the team would hold off another year of arbitration. However, his injury set back those plans. Not to mention he hasn't been as sharp as everyone would have liked for him to be. That being said, he could've been flipped into a big leaguer that can help this team now instead of hoping he develops into a top of the rotation guy later.

Hoarding prospects has its advantages

Remember when Alex Bregman was a hot prospect? Remember when it was thrown out there that the Astros should trade him for Chris Sale? Remember when last season Bregman finished top three in the AL MVP race and earned a five-year $100 million dollar extension? Sometimes Luhnow's stubbornness pays off. He's shown that he's made the right calls so far for this organization. Winning that World Series title gave him some equity. So did restocking the minor league system and building a stacked big league roster. Maybe this guy knows what he's doing after all?

Bottom line: Luhnow knows what he's doing. Whether we believe in his methods or not, he's rebuilt this franchise from the ground up. However, it is still quite frustrating to see guys out there that can help this team win another title and Luhnow not going after them for fear of having to part with prospects he holds in high regard. Where does the chase for another title outweigh the potential future of the franchise? In my opinion, the title chase now outweighs the future. Winning another title can seal your legacy, as well as the legacies of everyone involved. Luhnow needs to realize that the guys he's trading away aren't future Hall of Famers. They'll probably be really good, but that's not enough to turn down proven big league talent that can help you now. I truly hope this article is rendered inconsequential by Wednesday at 3PM. That's the hard trade deadline. That's when we'll know if Luhnow thinks this team is ready for a World Series run as constructed, or he's made a move to reinforce what he's already built. As hard as it is for me to say it, in Luhnow I trust.

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James Harden returned to Houston on Wednesday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

"James Harden will always be a Houston Rocket" – Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, Tuesday March 2, 2021.

Really?

Then that must have been some other bearded fellow notching a triple double and leading the Brooklyn Nets to a 132-114 drubbing of the Rockets at Toyota Center, Wednesday March 3, 2021.

What a difference a day doesn't make, as the Rockets fell to their 13th consecutive defeat.

The Rockets played a tribute video for Harden, marking his first visit to Houston since the Rockets traded him, practically at gunpoint, to Brooklyn. On the same day Fertitta bizarrely fantasized that Harden will always be a Rocket, the team owner also announced that the Rockets will retire Harden's No.13.

What is wrong with you, Tilman? You sound like a jilted shnook who goes on the Jerry Springer Show to beg his runaround ex-wife to come back. Harden dumped you, remember? He wanted out of Houston so badly that he turned down your contract offer that would have made him the highest-paid athlete in American sports history.

Don't you recall his farewell comments as a Rocket? The Rockets were "just not good enough. I mean it's just crazy. It's something that I don't think can be fixed."

That's burning down the house on your way out. Not exactly Lou Gehrig's farewell speech, "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth," and praising his Yankee manager, teammates and owners.

Sure Harden was a video game scoring machine during his eight years in Houston. But he also chased away teammates. The Rockets never won a conference title with Harden. He stunk up the joint during some playoff games and disappeared in others. Overall, Harden was a spectacular player on a consistently good but never great team. That's his legacy in Houston.

I expected a tribute video for Harden and he probably deserved it. Why not? The Rockets did similar videos for role player Trevor Ariza and Russell Westbrook, who played all of 57 games during his one pandemic-shortened season in Houston and immediately demanded a trade.

A tribute video for Westbrook? What's next, a statue of Moochie Norris outside Toyota Center? Renaming Polk Street … Vassilis Spanoulis Way?

Retiring Harden's number 13 doesn't compare to similarly honored Rockets legends who played their hearts out, brought a title home or loved this team to their last playing breath, like Hakeem Olajuwon (34), Clyde Drexler (22), Calvin Murphy (23), Rudy T (45), Moses Malone (24) and Yao Ming (11).

James Harden crapped all over the Rockets on his way out the door. He was the ultimate prima donna during his time here, moody and mopey, demanding special travel arrangements, alienating teammates and taking playoff losses so hard he almost didn't make it to the strip clubs before closing time.

You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In Harden's case, he got going to Brooklyn. So much for the captain going down with the ship. Wednesday night, Rockets fans greeted Harden with some cheers, but more lusty boos on his return to Houston.

"I gave him a special introduction, like a home team introduction, but there were way more boos than I expected," said Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas.

Harden finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, a routine triple double for him of late. He controlled the Nets offense and dominated the game.

Of course it was a regular season game. It's what he does.

For those of you scoring at home: the NBA team with the most retired numbers is the Boston Celtics, with 22 jerseys "hanging in the rafters." That's the most of any team in any U.S. pro sport. The New York Yankees are next with 21 retired numbers. The Montreal Canadiens lead the NHL with 15 retired numbers. Not coincidentally, the Celts (17 – tied with Lakers), Yanks (27) and Habs (24) all lead their leagues with the most championships.

The NFL team with the most retired numbers is a strange one. It's the Chicago Bears with 14 jerseys that will never be worn again. The Bears have won nine titles, second to the Green Bay Packers with 13 championships.

Harden's jersey will not be the first "13" hoisted over an NBA court – far from it. Three teams, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Golden State have retired Wilt Chamberlain's No. 13. The Harlem Globetrotters also retired The Stilt's jersey, but I guess they don't count.

The Cavaliers retired Bobby Phills' No. 13 after his fatal car crash. Portland retired Dave Twardzik's jersey. Here's some synergy, the Suns retired Harden's current coach Steve Nash's No. 13. And the Spurs retired the No. 13 jersey of James Silas (no relation to Rockets coach Stephen Silas.

And as Charlie Pallilo – and only Charlie Pallilo – will tell you, the first retired number in North American pro sports history belonged to Ace Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs retired his number in 1934 after Bailey suffered a career-ending injury the year before.

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