You wouldn’t know it by watching them on the field this season, but the Houston Astros are a team dealing with turmoil.
General manager James Click and manager Dusty Baker are working without contracts for next season, and within the industry, the assumption is Click will not be retained because of a festering personality conflict with owner Jim Crane.
Click was hired away from the Rays after GM Jeff Luhnow was fired in 2020 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into sign stealing by the 2017 Astros. Under difficult circumstances, Click has maintained Houston’s position as one of the best teams in the game despite star players such as Carlos Correa and George Springer leaving as free agents.
The Astros were 29-31 in 2020 but advanced to the American League Championship Series before falling in a seven-game series against the Rays. Houston is 201-123 since and has won two pennants. That would usually lead to a lucrative extension for an executive, but the tension within the front office has only gotten worse, according to team insiders, with Crane feeling he has not gotten enough credit for the team’s success.
Crane spoke briefly to reporters before Game 3 of the ALCS. He was sparing in his comments about Click.
“James is doing fine,” Crane said. ‘We’ve got to finish up this season. He’s done a good job.”
Winning 201 games and two pennants over two seasons would seem to be better than “doing fine.”
Crane refused to comment further and later told the New York Post he would decide the future of Baker and Click after the playoffs.
Click has steadfastly refused to comment on the situation this month, saying the focus should be on the field.
Baker also has evaded questions about whether he will return.
“I don’t want to be a distraction to my team,” he said. “I’ll let you know at the end of this year.”
That’s a departure from his usual eagerness to be on the bench.
Baker was a wise choice to replace A.J. Hinch, who was fired along with Luhnow. Baker’s presence, at least to some degree, softened the anger directed at the franchise over the cheating in 2017.
“Try to deflect as much as I could away from them, and also to not have to talk about it all the time,” Baker said. “Also to ask the world for forgiveness that we didn’t get much of, but you still ask for it, and then you forgive yourself if you are guilty.”
But Baker is 73, and if the Astros win the Series, that’s a perfect off-ramp from a career that is sure to be recognized with a Hall of Fame plaque.
“I mean, my future is now,” Baker said. “My future is today. I’m not really worried about my future, because I’m just glad to — after having cancer and having a stroke — I’m just glad to be here today and watch the sun come up every day.”
Baker’s reluctance to commit to managing beyond this season could be the result of what are described as “philosophical differences” working with Click.
Crane hired Baker on Jan. 29, 2020. Click was hired a week later. Click is a Yale graduate who wrote for Baseball Prospectus before joining the Rays and working his way up — basically the same path Chaim Bloom took to the Red Sox.
As the Astros have gone through the playoffs, assistant GM Pete Putila left the organization to join the Giants as their GM and work under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
A second key executive, international cross-checker Oz Ocampo, was hired Thursday by the Marlins to become an assistant GM under Kim Ng. In two stints with the Astros, Ocampo has been crucial in their success scouting amateurs in Latin America.
He was behind the signings of Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, and Framber Valdez.
It seems strange, a team in the World Series having so much turnover and dissension. But the Astros have so far made it work.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Dubón looks back at Sox with fondness
At 28, Mauricio Dubón has carved out a career as a reliable utility player. He has had stints with the Brewers, Giants, and now Astros since 2019 and is on the World Series roster.
He still wonders what might have happened had he stayed with the Red Sox.
Dubón became a prominent prospect with the Sox, hitting .323 with an .840 OPS and 30 stolen bases in 2016 with Portland and Salem. He was then traded to the Brewers as part of the deal that brought back reliever Tyler Thornburg.
“It’s part of the game,” Dubón said. “[Dave] Dombrowski came in and destroyed the whole system. But the Red Sox raised me to a professional level. They helped me a lot growing up.”
In Dombrowski’s defense, few of the Sox prospects he traded have amounted to much. Dubón has since been traded twice and has a modest .653 OPS over 262 major league games.
“To this day, I’m forever grateful the Sox gave me the opportunity they did,” Dubón said. “I still talk to some people there, especially people like [assistant GM] Raquel [Ferreira] and [field coordinator] Andy Fox.
“I hope Xander [Bogaerts] stays there because I know what he means to that organization. He was always great with me and other guys in the minors.”
Dubón played with Rafael Devers in 2016 and knew then he’d be a star.
“I’m not surprised at all he’s doing what he’s doing,” Dubón said. “I’m surprised they haven’t signed him yet. This is a guy who will be doing what he’s doing for the rest of his career. Coming up in the minors, you could see it.”
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Christian Vázquez and Ryan Pressly are now teammates with the Astros trying to win the World Series. They were first teammates in 2008 with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.
“Christian was my very first professional catcher,” Pressly said. “I was very pumped when we traded for him. We’ve always kept in contact. It’s great to see what he’s done.”
Pressly was a 19-year-old drafted out of high school in 2007. Vázquez was 17 and had been drafted that season.
“It’s crazy that all those years ago we were playing together,” Vazquez said. “He threw hard, 97-98, and had a good curveball. He’s even better now.”
Pressly progressed to Double A in 2012 before being taken by the Twins in the Rule 5 Draft. He was traded to the Astros in 2018 and has a 2.39 ERA, two All-Star berths, and 76 saves since.
▪ Sox bench coach Will Venable is one of a large number of candidates to replace Mike Matheny as manager of the Royals. Kansas City also has interviewed several of its coaches, Phillies third base coach Dusty Wathan, and Dodgers first base coach Clayton McCullough.
▪ Here’s to Brock Holt, who announced his retirement as a player on Thursday. At 34, he’s on to the next stage in his life.
Holt was traded to the Sox before the 2013 season, part of a six-player deal with the Pirates that landed closer Joel Hanrahan. His acquisition was a footnote at the time, but Holt went on to play parts of seven seasons with the Sox and Hanrahan lasted only nine games before what proved to be a career-ending injury.
Holt was an All-Star in 2015 and played 109 games for the 2018 team before putting up an .894 OPS over 32 plate appearances in the postseason. He started games at all three outfield positions, all four infield positions, and DH while a member of the Sox.
Holt and his wife, Lakyn, also became devoted supporters of the Jimmy Fund and were full-time residents of Boston for a few years. They became close friends with many of the families they met at Dana-Farber.
Retirement for Holt could include some work for NESN. But the Sox would be smart to consider him for a role within baseball operations. He successfully navigated good times and bad while a member of the team, and that experience would be valuable in player development.
What now for Judge and the Yankees?
Aaron Judge set an American League record with 62 home runs this season. He also was booed off the field by a surly crowd at Yankee Stadium when he ended Game 4 of the ALCS with a tapper back to the mound.
Will that be his final act in pinstripes before joining the Dodgers or Giants as a free agent?
Judge said throughout the season that his goal was to remain with the Yankees. But after an MVP-caliber season, he went 5 for 36 with three RBIs in nine postseason games and heard it from a fan base growing increasingly frustrated with what is now a 13-year drought without a title.
There is a notion Judge can call his shot financially, and that’s true to a degree. But he turns 31 in April, and that could lead to a shorter-term deal at a higher average annual value than a 10-year contract that pays at a lower rate over time.
The Yankees opened with an offer of $213.5 million over seven years before the season. Judge’s big season could bump that up to $245 million or beyond.
Even with Judge, the Yankees were 46-48 after July 1. But Hal Steinbrenner has said Aaron Boone will be back as manager. The same apparently is true for GM Brian Cashman.
Temperamentally, Boone is a great fit for the Yankees. But Game 3 of the ALCS was not his best moment. With Gerrit Cole at 96 pitches in the sixth inning, Boone lifted his ace with the bases loaded in favor of Lou Trivino. Trey Mancini hit a sacrifice fly and Christian Vázquez a two-run single.
Trivino pitched well this season. But with the Yankees down, 2-0, the game was on the line. Two higher-leverage relievers, Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loaisiga, were available but weren’t warmed up.
Meanwhile, first baseman Anthony Rizzo has the right to opt out of his deal and rapidly declining third baseman Josh Donaldson is under contract for another season at a $23 million payroll hit. He turns 37 in December.
The Yankees also desperately need Anthony Volpe to be their version of Jeremy Peña at shortstop, and he hit .236 with a .718 OPS in 22 games at Triple A to end the season.
Hitting coach Jeff Albert was offered a new contract by the Cardinals and declined. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Albert’s decision was driven in part by criticism from outside the organization, including on social media. Social media? Most everybody in the public eye has learned by now to ignore the trolls. The Cardinals were fourth in the National League in runs and third in OPS. Why would Albert care what somebody on Twitter thinks? … Bob Melvin is an excellent manager. But how did Josh Hader pitch only once for the Padres in five NLCS games and not at all in the last three? With Bryce Harper coming up second in the eighth inning of Game 5, Hader needed to be in that game instead of Robert Suarez. Instead, Harper hit that memorable two-run homer and the Padres were sent home for the winter. Postseason games have to be managed more aggressively … Phillies reliever Dave Robertson and his family now live full-time in Rhode Island. He turns 38 in April but plans to keep pitching. “I had a lot going on this season,” he said. “We had a newborn in the spring. I was traded. I caught COVID and lost a lot of energy. I feel like next season will be a lot easier and I’ll be more prepared.” Robertson had a 2.40 ERA over 58 games despite all his issues. He has had conversations with the Red Sox in recent years but they’ve never made a firm offer … Mancini likes hitting in Fenway Park. But not for the reason most righthanded hitters do. “There’s a lot of room in center field there, and in ballparks like that, I tend not to try and do too much,” he said. “I keep it simple and look for doubles in the gap.” Mancini will be a free agent after the World Series … The Reds will induct Bronson Arroyo into their team Hall of Fame next season. Perhaps Wily Mo Peña will be a guest speaker … David Stearns stepped down as Brewers president of baseball operations, and Matt Arnold will take over. Stearns said he will remain in Milwaukee in an advisory role. But how long will it take for Steve Cohen to lure him to the Mets? … Phillies second baseman Jean Segura played 1,328 games before reaching the playoffs. It was the longest streak for an active player … Adam Wainwright will return to the Cardinals for his age-41 season on a one-year, $17.5 million deal. “Long story short: Yes, this’ll be the last one,” he said. “Just everybody relax, don’t freak out about it.” The righthander has 195 victories, third in team history … Want to get to the World Series? Hire Kevin Gregg as your media relations director. The Red Sox named him to that position before the 2013 season. Gregg spent nine years in a demanding job, then took the same position with the Phillies. They also won the pennant in his first year. Clearly Gregg needs to get a raise … The 21st edition of The Tradition is set for Dec. 7 at TD Garden. Johnny Damon will be among the honorees. For tickets and more information, contact Rachel Locke at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (617) 480-4257 … Happy birthday to Marco Scutaro, who is 47. The middle infielder hit .284 for the Red Sox in 263 games from 2010-11 before being traded to the Rockies. He was 2 for 4 in the fateful final game of the 2011 season. Scutaro also caused me to miss a flight in 2007 when he belted a three-run walkoff homer with two outs and an 0-and-2 count against Mariano Rivera while playing for Oakland. Dave Valle is 62. The longtime Seattle catcher signed with the Red Sox before the 1994 season. He lasted 30 games before being traded for Tom Brunansky for his second stint with the Sox.