Dirty laundry aside, there's no denying who's running the show in Houston

Astros Dusty Baker, Jose Altuve, Jim Crane
It's his way or the highway. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
bench astros (1)

Looking back on the 2022 Astros’ season, most will have fond memories of how it ended: a World Series win to prove the haters and doubters wrong. This win secured a legacy or dynasty for the team. It validated the 2017 title by erasing the cloud of suspicion that the sole reason they won in 2017 was by cheating. The tinfoil hat wearing crowd can suck it! This team won fair and square!

While there are plenty of things to remember about this past season, one of the things that I’ll remember about is that Jim Crane carries the biggest stick on Crawford Street. Don’t believe me? Ask James Click. Hell, ask anyone in that organization. They’ll gladly tell you who’s in charge and who has final say on major decisions.

After the sign stealing scandal and its subsequent fallout/punishments were handed down, Crane took a more hands-on approach. He hired Dusty Baker as manager. This move was seen as bringing in an old school baseball guy who’s known to be a players’ manager. He then hired Click to be his general manager. Click came from Tampa Bay where their philosophy is low and slow when it comes to building a winner.

Click’s low and slow approach (coupled with analytics), didn’t always jive with Dusty’s old school ways. However, when Crane wanted to make splash moves, Click resisted. That is where the rift began. That’s also where Click sealed his fate as Astros’ GM.

When the boss whose name appears on your paycheck stub says he wants something done, the smart thing would be to make it happen. Unless there’s a danger to your life or the organization, you do what you’re told to do. Click chose to remain steadfast in his ways. Nothing wrong with building through the draft, making small trades, keeping payroll down, and using/relying on analytics. Those moves are good for building a team into a winner. The Astros were built to win already. Crane wanted Click to make moves he felt would keep the winning going immediately. Click wanted to make moves he felt had long-term sustainability. In the end, the man who has the billions won the pissing match over the guy who works for him.

Michael Schwab reported this rift in detail on November 13. He outlined the exact instances in which he believed Click earned his exit from the franchise. I’m of the opinion Click thought he was trying to help Crane, but Crane didn’t want him to help by telling him what he should do. Crane wanted Click to help by doing what Crane ordered him to do. When Click realized Crane wasn’t going to listen, he started leaking things to the media. Of course, we may never know the true extent of how dirty the laundry really is, but we see the pile.

It's looking like Crane will now have a GM by committee this season. His hope will be to land David Stearns. He’s the boy wonder from the Jeff Luhnow tree that Crane has his eyes on, but the Brewers are making him honor the last year of his contract. Another report Schwab put out there was that Crane has possibly been in contact with former manager A.J. Hinch to come aboard as GM. THAT would be an interesting turn of events! ESPN 97.5’s Joel Blank and Paul Gallant did a video with an intriguing look at the next GM. Buckle up folks! This could be eventful!

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It's not time to panic, yet. Composite Getty Image.

This is not a column for fanboys or sugarcoating. To this point in the season the Astros stink like rotten eggs. They stink like Angel Hernandez’s umpiring. They stink like Bill O'Brien's general manager skills. The Astros are a bad team right now. That’s notably different from being a bad team. Their 4-10 record is well-earned and it is definitely possible that the Astros’ run of high quality and annual playoff appearances crashes and burns this season. But it’s laughable to declare so after just 14 games of the 162 scheduled have been played.

Last June the Astros had a lousy window in which they went 3-10. In August they had a 4-8 funk. In September it was a 3-9 stretch of collapse. The 2022 World Series Champions had a 3-8 hiccup in April, and a 2-6 blotch overlapping July and August that included getting swept in a three-game series by the then and now awful Oakland A’s.

Now the Astros are back home (Oh No!) for six games, three vs. the Rangers then three with the Braves. The Rangers lead the American League West but are just 7-6, so despite their cellar-dwelling status, the Astros are just three and a half games out of first. A winning homestand is obviously the goal. No, really. 3-3 would be ok, even though that would just about clinch a losing record heading into May.

Mandatory aside: spectacular weather is the Friday night forecast. Stop being stubborn and lame, Astros. Open the roof! I don’t mean just for the postgame fireworks.

On the mend?

The Astros’ track record of downplaying pitching injuries that turned out to be major certainly causes angst as we await Framber Valdez’s return from a sore elbow. If Valdez ultimately winds up out for months, the Astros’ starting rotation is in deep trouble. Even more so if upon the approaching delayed start to his season, 41-year-old Justin Verlander pitches to his age in terms of results and/or durability. However, if Valdez is ok within a month and JV is solid, those two, and Cristian Javier can stabilize the rotation quite nicely.

The Astros started three guys in the last four games who belong in the minor leagues. It was a sad sign of the times that the Astros were reduced to calling up Blair Henley to make the start Monday in Arlington. Except for Rangers fans and Astros haters, it grew uncomfortable watching Henley give up four hits, walk three, record just one out, and wind up charged with seven earned runs. But it’s not Henley’s fault that he was thrust into a role for which he was utterly unqualified.

Last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Henley’s earned run average was 5.06. Because of the crummy state of the Astros’ farm system, Henley failed up to Triple-A Sugar Land to start this season. After one not good start for the Space Cowboys, “Hey, go get out big leaguers Blair!” Henley turns 27 next month, he is not a prospect of any note. If he never again pitches in the majors Henley forever carries a 135.00 ERA.

But you know what? It was still a great day for the guy. Even if undeserved, Henley made “The Show.” For one day on the Astros’ 26-man roster, Henley made over four thousand dollars. To make him eligible for call up, the Astros first had to put Henley on their 40-man roster and sign him to a split contract. That means that until/unless the Astros release him, Henley’s AAA salary jumps from approximately $36,000 for the season to over 60K.

Lastly, while Henley’s ERA could remain 135.00 in perpetuity, at least he’s no Fred Bruckbauer. In 1961 Bruckbauer made his big league debut and bade his big league farewell in the same game. He faced four batters, giving up three earned runs on three hits and one walk. Career ERA: Infinity! Bruckbauer is the most recent of the more than a dozen pitchers to retire with the infinity ERA.

Spencer Arrighetti’s debut start went much better. For two innings, before it unraveled in a seven run Royals third. Arrighetti has good stuff, but not great stuff. Control has been an issue for him in the minor leagues. Without better command Arrighetti cannot be a plus starter in the majors.

Then there’s Hunter Brown. We could go decades without seeing another pitcher give up nine runs and 11 hits in two-thirds of an inning as Brown did Thursday. It had never happened in MLB history! To this point, Brown is an overhyped hope. ERA last July: 5.92, August: 6.23, September 1 on: 8.74. Three starts into 2024: 16.43.

Jose Abreu watch

It's still early enough in the season that even just a couple of big games can markedly improve a stat line but Jose Abreu continues to look washed up at the plate. Three hits in 37 at bats (.081 batting average), with the most recent hit a questionable official scoring decision. Manager Joe Espada has already dropped Abreu from fifth in the lineup to sixth, then seventh, then eighth. Two more slots down to go, Joe! Continuing to act like Jon Singleton could be a competent bat in the lineup is just silly though.

Catch the weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week now generally goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTubewith the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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