Rosenthal: Uncertainty surrounding Astros GM James Click marring World Series shine

I don’t know James Click’s personal finances, family dynamics, or career ambitions, so it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that he tell Astros owner Jim Crane to stick with his offer of a an you-know-where.

But it would only be fitting if Click, the team’s general manager, told Crane to stick his one-year you-know-where offer.

Crane, at least based on the success of the Astros, is a good owner. It doesn’t mean he’s a good boss, and it doesn’t mean he fosters a good culture.

Most Astros fans probably don’t care about such shortcomings, not when the franchise is celebrating a World Series title and sparking dynasty talk. But at a time when the team should command universal admiration, Crane is once again diminishing its position in the sport.

The Astros’ illegal theft of electronic signs in 2017 and 2018 was a direct reflection of the franchise’s win-at-all-costs mentality. Crane’s Click processing pushes the boundaries in a different way. And that, too, could have long-term ramifications for the club, from the quality of the candidate who might be willing to replace Click to the steps future employees might take to appease Crane – a circumstance similar to the one that got the Astros in trouble. previously.

Click and manager Dusty Baker’s contracts expired on October 31, midway through the series. Baker, 73, has agreed to a one-year contract to return. He wouldn’t return if he considered Crane’s offer illogical or insulting, and his stature gives him some security. Click, 44, is in a different position. He is expected to discuss his own one-year offer with Crane on Friday. Unless the offer is for an astronomical sum – unlikely – it is safe to call it illogical and insulting.


Jim Crane (Erik Williams/USA Today Sports)

I wrote about the strained relationship between Crane and Click on the eve of the series, saying that if the owner wanted to part ways with GM, he’d need better reasons than those cited by sources familiar with the situation: Stylistic clashes in between were disagreements over the size of the baseball operations staff and Click’s concerns about other voices in the organization influencing the owner.

Crane has yet to publicly discuss such reasons, which is his right – an owner can do whatever he wants, without explanation. But he hired Click in January 2020 to stabilize the Astros following the sign-stealing scandal. That’s exactly what Click did, compiling the most regular season wins in the American League during his three-year tenure, and ahem, capping an 11-2 postseason with the World Series title. 2022.

And yet, to the disbelief of his peers, he could actually be expelled.

Click, married with two children, told reporters at general manager meetings on Tuesday that his family is happy and settled in Houston. So maybe he decides he wants to keep the job, the warts and all. Even as a lame duck. Even with an owner daring him to say no, he could then claim, “I didn’t fire James. He walked.”

Crane will find another GM if Click leaves; the job, one of only 30 in the majors, will always be coveted. Top candidates, however, might avoid the Astros, or at the very least ask pointed questions of the owner. And if Crane treats such a ruthless baseball operations manager, how can other employees feel safe?

On Wednesday, Crane almost admitted it was his MO, telling a news conference announcing Baker’s extension that he was “never satisfied.” The problem is that employees who feel threatened will fight, scratch, scrap to survive. Previously with the Astros, they also cheated.

The Astros’ illicit theft of signs wasn’t just player-driven. Lower-level baseball operations personnel developed an algorithm in Excel called “Codebreaker” that helped decode signs faster — and when used during games, illegally.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, in his statement announcing the Astros’ penalties, described the culture of the team’s baseball operations department as “highly problematic.” For that, however, Manfred blamed former general manager Jeff Luhnow, whom he suspended for a year along with manager AJ Hinch (Crane later fired both). The commissioner actually praised Crane in his report, saying the owner was “extraordinarily disturbed and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to all information.” requested”.

Many rival fans to this day remain unhappy that Manfred did not penalize the Astros players, who were granted immunity in exchange for their honest testimony. Manfred ordered the team to pay a $5 million fine and forfeit their 2020 and 2021 first- and second-round picks. But he essentially exonerated Crane, as if the owner had nothing to do with it. the culture created by Luhnow, the relentless quest for efficiency, the obsessive search for advantage.

Crane’s history also includes war profiteering and discrimination cases that were filed against his air cargo logistics business, resulting in multiple settlements. Many fans tend to overlook such things; Mets fans love Steve Cohen, even though a company he owned pleaded guilty to insider trading and paid $1.8 billion in fines, and a former employee filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against him.

If Click moves on, Astros fans can justify his departure by saying that Luhnow mostly built the club. They may also point to a canceled trade crane at the deadline, as ESPN first reported – pitcher Jośe Urquidy to the Cubs for receiver/DH Willson Contreras – as a click move that could have haunted the Astros. . Such quibbles, however, would miss the most important points. How Click set up the franchise in the midst of its greatest crisis. How in his three years he led the team to Game 7 of the ALCS, Game 6 of the World Series and the Series title. And how he handled it all even though he was not initially able to bring his own collaborators.

Last offseason, Click hired two assistant general managers, Scott Powers of the Dodgers and Andrew Ball of the Angels; added Farm Manager Sara Goodrum of the Brewers; and increased the number of scouts in the team from 27 to 38. His loyalty to his people might be one of the reasons he’s reluctant to leave. Those staffers, upon joining the Astros, may have known that Click only had one year left on his contract. But they probably couldn’t imagine that the situation would deteriorate like this.

Whatever happens, Click will be fine. He graduated from Yale in 2000. He spent 15 years with the Rays before Crane hired him; his former colleagues now run the Rays, Dodgers, Red Sox and Brewers. If he wanted to leave baseball, he could surely adapt his experience in research and development to another field. If he wanted to stay in the game, a team would hire him, probably as a special assistant at first, and maybe allow him to keep his family in Houston.

The Astros, likewise, would expect to stay strong no matter who replaced Click. Crane will continue to spend the money needed to win. But the farm system, damaged by the confiscations of four first picks, is no longer what it once was, ranking 26th in Baseball America’s midseason rankings. And the team’s reputation, both within the industry and among rival fans, would remain in doubt.

Crane obviously doesn’t care. Maybe he shouldn’t care. But his handling of Click is another unfortunate episode for a franchise that has had too much under its ownership, a franchise that should bask in the glow of its intact World Series title. It would be hard to blame Click if he told Crane to stick his you-know-where offer.

(James Click top photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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