Don't throw away those pie charts and obscure computer graphs just yet. Step Two in the Astros remake from the electronic spying scandal is the hiring of James Click as their new General Manager. The club is set to make this official in a Tuesday morning press conference. While Dusty Baker's hiring as manager, replacing A.J. Hinch, will make more headlines, the hiring of Click will ultimately be more important to the ballclub's ongoing success.
Click: Filling Luhnow's shoes
(c) Houston Astros
Click comes from the Tampa Bay organization where he worked for 14 seasons. For the past three years, he's been their vice president of baseball operations. A Yale graduate, Click once wrote analytical columns for the website Baseball Prospectus. He continues in the same methodology as Jeff Luhnow, the previous general manager, but hopefully with a kinder, gentler manner than Luhnow who was compiling a list of enemies that were thrilled to see him get the axe in the scandal he claims he knew nothing about. Owner Jim Crane says Click is respected in both the front offices and clubhouses around the league.
Tampa Bay has had a recent history of being successful despite a miniscule payroll compared to the free-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox who were in his same division. Having a payroll like Houston's with their talent should give him a fighting chance to compete with the twin terrors of the American League.
The good news for Astros fans is that most of the key management pieces to Houston's recent championships, other than Luhnow and Hinch, remain with the organization, including Pitching Coach Brent Strom who has been a key member of the mound resurgence of recent years, reshaping the careers of pitchers like Charlie Morton, Wade Miley and Gerrit Cole.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring camp on February 12th, so Click and Baker have little time to know their new troops and will lean heavily on the holdovers to shape the early moves of the organization. There will be enormous pressure on the pair, given they have an American League title to defend, a salary cap with no more room to spend and a cheating reputation they will try to root out from the remainder of the most involved players.
Incriminating news on that continues to trickle out. A self-described Astros fan reportedly did an audio analysis of most of the home games from the 2017 season and broke down the trashcan banging cues down to which players received the most help. Some of the hitters in that 2017 squad, like Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran and Evan Gattis, are no longer with the team so if Major League Baseball wants to use this research to fine players, it will be difficult to do so without expanding the misery to other teams.
Plus, there is still no news on likely punishment that could be handed down to the Red Sox over allegations from 2017 and 2018 about similar forms of sign-stealing.
With a new GM in place, there would seem to be light at the end of the tunnel for the Astros and a chance to change the subject once they hit the field. After catchy PR sayings to describe the last few seasons, perhaps this year's will be a rendition of Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry".
- Bob Hulsey