HOUSTON -- New Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow is confident he can turn the Astros into a winner.
That doesn't mean he expects the turnaround to be swift for a team that finished with the worst record in baseball last season at 56-106.
Luhnow, a vice president with the St. Louis Cardinals last season, takes over for Ed Wade, who was fired late last month in the first major move by new Astros owner Jim Crane.
Luhnow wouldn't give a timeframe for when he thinks the Astros will be able to contend.
"I know it's going to be a challenge and it's going to be years," he said. "My guarantee is that we're going to work as hard as we can to make that time as short as possible."
Crane said that Luhnow signed a multi-year contract, but wouldn't provide any further details.
Luhnow said there were three main reasons why the job was attractive to him. He's excited about the new ownership group, loves the fans in Houston and third, and most important, is happy the team has a plan in place that he agrees with.
"It doesn't steal from the future to make things a little better in the present," he said. "It builds this organization for sustained success. We want to create a winner that lasts and we want to do it the best way possible."
Luhnow said Brad Mills will remain manager and that he is "thrilled" to work with him, but indicated that other staff changes could come after he gets into his new job.
Luhnow attended his first major league games as a child watching Houston when they played at the Astrodome. He loved the energy there and appreciated the intensity of Houston's fans when he visited the city while with the Cardinals when the teams played in the NLCS in 2004 and 2005.
"The excitement here at Minute Maid Park when the park is full and everybody is waving their towels was exciting," he said. "We're used to that in St. Louis. I've seen it here in Houston and I really want to get back to that. That's what the fans deserve. We want to put a product on the field that fans will come and watch."
The 45-year-old Luhnow had been a vice president with the St. Louis Cardinals since 2003. He has overseen the Cardinals' drafts for several years and was involved in selecting several players who contributed to their World Series championship this year, including Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn.
In the last two years, the Astros traded away stars such as Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence for mostly young prospects, with Wade saying he had "inherited a pretty barren farm system" that he had to replenish.
Luhnow believes cultivating those prospects will be the biggest key to success.
"We have to build from within," he said. "We've got to be the best at finding talent, developing talent and utilizing the talent at the major league level."
In 2006, Luhnow added player development to his duties in St. Louis. Cardinals farm teams have won five minor league championships since then.
Crane said that the Astros interviewed more than 10 candidates before settling on Luhnow.
"He's a great leader," Crane said. "He has great people skills and I know he'll do a great job with us. He's been a winner at every level in baseball he was put in a position to lead."
Luhnow has been in charge of the Cardinals' Latin American scouting and development since 2004. He has been credited with developing players from the area who have reached the majors as well as become top prospects in the minor leagues. He was raised in Mexico City and is fluent in Spanish, which the Astros believe will be beneficial in his dealings with Spanish-speaking players and fans.
"From the standpoint of the Hispanic community, I think he'll add a big plus for us there," Crane said. "As our city continues to grow we have a big population and we want to play to that."
Baseball owners approved the sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Crane on Nov. 17, a transaction that requires the franchise to move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013. The sale was officially completed on Nov. 22 and Crane fired Wade the next day, a move the team didn't announce until Nov. 27.