The Houston Astros are leaving general manager James Click just days after winning the World Series. Team owner Jim Crane broke the news on Friday after apparently offering Click a one-year contract.
Click, a former Tampa Bay Rays executive, was hired in early 2020 following the sign-stealing scandal, replacing suspended and fired general manager Jeff Luhnow. Click kept the Astros’ dominating hit streak going through turmoil and suspicion. The team has reached the playoffs every year and has qualified for the World Series twice, emerging victorious this season.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports Click, 44, declined a one-year contract offer from Cranewhich would have pushed him back into the lame duck status he and manager Dusty Baker worked under in 2022.
“We are grateful for all of James’ contributions,” Crane said in a statement. “We’ve been very successful in each of his three seasons, and James has been a big part of that success. I want to thank him personally and wish him and his family continued success.
Despite Crane’s words, the actions of offering a GM champion a one-year contract say something different: he didn’t really want Click to run the team.
The break in Houston’s front office caps off a bizarre behind-the-scenes progression for baseball’s new champions. Click and Baker’s uncertain status for 2023 was already raising eyebrows midway through the playoffs. The Philadelphia Phillies, for example, stripped manager Rob Thomson’s interim tag and gave him a two-year contract on October 10, amid a successful playoff series. Crane and the Astros went through a 106-win season and a World Series without securing the much more proven leader services of Click and Baker.
Baker agreed to return for 2023 earlier this week.
What led to the rift between Astros’ Jim Crane and James Click?
Reports in October hinted at a vague rift between Click and Crane, but the World Series champions failing to retain baseball’s best executive for the following season is unprecedented in the sport’s contemporary history, centered on the front- office. The last top baseball executive to quit a World Series winner before the start of the following season was Larry MacPhail of the Yankees in 1947 – the product of an incident at the celebration where he punched an inebriated writer , among other antics.
The closest comparison might be…Dave Dombrowski, the current president of baseball operations for the Phillies team that the Astros just beat. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry fired Dombrowski at the end of 2019, less than a year after winning the 2018 World Series, and quickly hired executive Chaim Bloom to steer the team in a very different and caring direction. of costs, which included the exchange of Mookie Betts.
The owners’ motivations behind this change are less clear.
The click largely allowed the Astros to move in the same direction set by Luhnow. They’ve built much of their squad internally, notably through success in the player development department, and have avoided major long-term deals. Their main outside additions have largely been short-term (retaining Justin Verlander) or mid-level, but they have continued to win despite the departures of George Springer, Gerrit Cole and, most recently, Carlos Correa. They made Correa an offer, but eventually saw him walk away, to install rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña and see him win the World Series MVP.
Industry speculation relayed by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in October focused on Click’s decision to bolster the front office and scouting staff beyond Luhnow’s lean operation. He also mentioned that Crane relied more on former players in his circle, including Jeff Bagwell and Reggie Jackson.
Click continued to represent the Astros at general manager meetings this week despite being out of contract. When Crane called a press conference on Wednesday, an initial report said he was to announce Baker and Click’s return, but Click quickly told reporters he had no new deal.
“We’re having discussions right now,” Click said, according to ESPN. “I think every time you have discussions it means it’s not complete.”
Click told ESPN he hoped he would return to Houston, but didn’t deny some philosophical differences with Crane, a handy owner who reportedly canceled a delay deal that would have brought Chicago Cubs wide receiver Willson Contreras to the Astros. .
“We’re different,” Click told ESPN. “Jim is – well, listen, let me clarify. There are some things that we do very differently. There are some things that we are very aligned on and that’s going to be true for any relationship between a boss and an employee. “I think he likes to move really fast. In some cases, I tend towards a more deliberate approach. He’s very demanding, but he also empowers you to accomplish what he asks you to do.”
Who will now lead the front office of Astros?
Click’s exit suddenly raises a pretty big question: Who will take over MLB’s most successful organization? And can they continue?
Highly scrutinized and widely hated due to the panel theft scandal and other cynical and off-putting moves of the Luhnow era, the Astros front office has undeniably built a winner. Following MLB’s report of the scandal — which questioned whether Houston had created a toxic culture — Crane hired Click from the Rays to stabilize the operation.
The fact that he did this…and won a World Series…but wasn’t rewarded with a contract commitment will raise big questions for anyone considering taking the job. Is Crane looking for more influence? Does it require a smaller front office?
Even with those questions, it probably ranks among the most coveted jobs in baseball. Star players like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez are already signed for team-friendly extensions. Others, like Kyle Tucker, Peña and most of the starting rotation, have been under the team’s control for two or more seasons.
Several key Astros baseball executives — who could reasonably have been considered candidates for the job — have left in the past two months. Longtime Astros executive Pete Putila left for the San Francisco Giants general manager role, which reports to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi in the decision-making hierarchy. Oz Ocampo, an international scouting ace who has received plenty of credit for discovering key players in the Astros’ rotation, has accepted an assistant general manager position with the Miami Marlins.
The most obvious name to immediately consider will be David Stearns. He resigned as president of baseball operations for the Milwaukee Brewers in late October, surprising the baseball world and fueling speculation that he intended to jump ship for the New York Mets. The same suspicion will resurface now, but in relation to the Astros. He worked in Houston’s front office under Luhnow before taking over the Brewers.
Stearns remains under contract with the Brewers, and any attempt to hire him would require permission from Milwaukee team owner Mark Attanasio. He largely hesitated to grant itor what compensation the Brewers might seek if he did.
Luhnow — the architect of the Astros’ tanking and comeback — currently works as a football executive, the only major figure who hasn’t returned to the game after his suspension. Manager AJ Hinch now leads the Detroit Tigers, while bench coach Alex Cora has returned to his job as manager of the Red Sox. Player Carlos Beltran, who lost the job of manager of the New York Mets before presiding over a game, did not find another job in a team, but works in television. Luhnow played down any interest in returning to MLB when Sports Illustrated spoke to him earlier this year.
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