Over the years, the Astros and Rays have formed a quite interesting relationship. They’ve made a few big trades, most notably Aubrey Huff for Ben Zobrist and Mitch Talbot and Ty Wiggington for Dan Wheeler. Pitching coach Jim Hickey and front office executive Gerry Hunsicker both worked for the Astros before the Rays and Andrew Friedman and Scott Kazmir both hail from Houston. And of course, David Price‘s dog happens to be named Astro. This offseason, the connections have only gotten stronger the Astros signed ex-Ray Carlos Pena and unsuccessfully courted Friedman to be their general manager while also naming bench coach Dave Martinez a finalist for their managerial job. In addition, the Astros and their fans have looked to the Rays as a role model as the Astros continue their rebuilding process and hope to parallel the success the Rays achieved the last several years. No one would call any of these connections strong and they’re probably random at best, but they’re still quite fun to talk about and I had the opportunity to do just that for a little while with Greg Thurston of the Astros website Climbing Tal’s Hill. I also talked Rays with Greg at CTH here.
RK: Were you surprised when the Astros signed Carlos Pena this offseason? Do you think he can give the Astros any sort of production in 2013? Thinking about the signing, I think it may end up having a lot more benefits in terms of Pena’s clubhouse presence and example to the young guys than Pena’s stats. Do you like the move overall?
GT: I was a bit surprised by the Pena signing, especially with the surplus of 1B/DH candidates already on the roster. But you hit the nail on the head talking about his leadership qualities. I fell in love with Pena’s attitude at his introductory press conference. He seems like a guy that can pay tremendous dividends in the clubhouse with this young team. Whether or not he can get his batting average back to a respectable level remains to be seen, but he walks enough to maintain a decent OBP. Hopefully he can resurrect some power as well. Overall, I like the move.
RK: The Astros and Rays are on opposite edges of the spectrum right now, with the Astros in the midst of what could be a lengthy rebuilding process while the Rays have been reaping the benefits of theirs for years. As an Astros fan, do you look at teams like the Rays as hope that the major league nightmare the Astros are about to go through will be worth it in the end?
GT: I think teams like the Rays definitely provide hope for Astros fans to cling to. Our farm system has already been significantly upgraded and this year’s high draft position should result in another influx of talent. Things on the field have been ugly for a couple of years now and the league change help make this season even worse. But there is light at the end of the tunnel and I am optimistic that things will start getting better soon.
RK: What has been your overall opinion of GM Jeff Lunhow running this whole process? Did it tick you off when Houston native Andrew Friedman turned the Astros down?
GT: I was definitely hoping that Friedman would take the job, but I am extremely pleased with what Luhnow is doing. Obviously the results have yet to be seen at the big league level, but the Astros minor league system went from the worst overall winning percentage in baseball in 2011 to the best in 2012. The former regime had been pinching pennies in the areas of the draft and player development for years. For Luhnow to right the ship in such short order says a lot. Drafting Carlos Correa at 1:1 and still having enough money to sign a couple of players that other teams passed on due to signability issues was a stroke of genius.
RK: Do you look at Ben Zobrist and lament what could have been if not for the Aubrey Huff trade? Rays fans call that the best trade Friedman ever pulled off–what do Astros fans think of it?
GT: Aubrey Freakin’ Huff. That definitely turned out to be a terrible trade for Houston. At the time, it didn’t seem so bad. Zobrist had put up decent enough numbers in the minors, but he was always playing below his age level. I guess you never know if a guy is going to turn into a late bloomer, as was the case with Ben.
RK: Any thoughts on David Price’s dog being named Astro?
GT: Maybe he’s a fan of The Jetsons?
RK: He is indeed. But do you feel any honor at all that David Price’s dog shares a name with your team?
GT: No, not really.