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Luhnow visiting Japan to boost Astros' presence

After missing on Tanaka, GM making five-day trip to strengthen relations

SEATTLE -- Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and pro scouting director Kevin Goldstein are traveling to Tokyo on Friday for a trip designed to increase the club's profile in Japan, as well as interview five candidates for a scouting job based in the country.

Luhnow and Goldstein will spend five days in Tokyo and plan to meet with representatives from several Nippon Professional Baseball clubs to discuss and explore the types of relationships the Astros could have with the teams, whether it's information-sharing or something more collaborative.

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The Astros bid more than $100 million last winter to sign Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who's been dazzling since signing with the Yankees.

"The Astros have not had a presence in Japan," Luhnow said. "We signed Kaz Matsui back in the day [2008-10], and we scout Japanese players in the big international events, so we felt we like we had enough information on Tanaka to be a competitor and to bid on him. I feel like the flow of Japanese players is going to continue.

"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. I don't see that stopping anytime 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."

After the Yankees signed Tanaka, Luhnow was struck by the fact Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said they had a scout at every one of his starts for the previous two years. With that in mind, Luhnow wants to hire a Japan-based scout who is bilingual, bicultural, played baseball and can help the team better evaluate talent the next time the Astros are in the hunt for a premium Japanese player.

Unlike players from Korea and Taiwan, who can sign as amateurs with U.S. teams, Japanese players usually only sign with Major League clubs after they've paid their dues in Japan and gone through the posting process, which means they're typically older.

"We're talking about someone who can see the 25-year-old right-handed pitcher and tell us whether or not he will succeed at the big league level as opposed to a 17-year-old high school player and whether or not he's got a chance to [succeed] some day," Luhnow said. "It's a different type of scouting that you do."

Luhnow said he and Goldstein will attend several games, scout some players and meet with the media to try to boost the Astros' name out there. Luhnow has been brushing up on his Japanese by using the Rosetta Stone language-learning software. He's been to Japan once, but not for baseball.

"People know we bid on Tanaka, and that was a surprise [in Japan]," he said. "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.

"When I go to Venezuela, because very few GMs go there, it's a big deal for them that someone at a senior level is coming down. I know general managers have traveled to Japan before, but I want to let them know that it's important to us, and so important that I'm willing to go over there and go to some games and meet some people and try and establish a presence over there. It's a global game, and we recognize that and want to be a part of that."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Houston Astros