TURN BACK THE CLOCK
How a door could be open for a controversial return of Astros staff member
The Houston Astros have seemed to be in a wait and see approach since the organization fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow in 2020 for the sign stealing scandal. The Astros hired Dusty Baker and James Click to replace both individuals.
Baker was given a one-year deal that had an option, which the Astros exercised to keep him in 2021. Houston then gave Baker a one-year extension for 2022. Click originally signed with the Astros under a multi-year deal, but now his contract is nearing its end and Houston will wait until after the 2022 season to make any decisions. Now the question arises, who is more likely to be back for Houston in 2023?
Under the leadership of both, Houston has continued to see the success it experienced under the old regime. While 2020 saw the Astros finish with a subpar 29-31 regular season record, the team made it to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
Houston followed it up in 2021 by getting to the World Series, the third time in five years, and 2022 sees the team sitting atop the AL with the best record by a decent margin with less than a month left in the regular season. The Astros are once again expected to make a deep postseason run.
Despite the success, however, fans and the Astros organization alike have never seemed to be sold on Baker. The short-term commitments to the skipper are the biggest signs that point in that direction.
From Click’s perspective, Houston gave a stronger vote of confidence in him from the start. Under Click, the Astros have seen franchise players in George Springer in 2021 and Carlos Correa in 2022 leave, but the team’s success hasn’t skipped a beat.
Click has also negotiated the extensions of Yordan Alvarez, Lance McCullers Jr., and brought back Justin Verlander. Most recently, he also made trade deadline deals that brought Trey Mancini, Christian Vázquez and left-handed pitcher Will Smith to bolster the team’s roster for the postseason run. Additionally, Houston has seen younger players rise like Framber Valdez, Jeremy Peña and now potentially Hunter Brown.
Ultimately, the market and postseason success will decide what direction owner Jim Crane goes in with Houston in the offseason. From a general manager’s perspective, the Astros could always bring back Luhnow, who oversaw the team from its rock bottom years of 100+ losses to the 2017 World Series Championship.
While the MLB world will certainly explode if the Astros brought back the old architect, eventually, the backlash would fade. There is certainly a precedent for it. Manager A.J. Hinch is back in the majors, now overseeing the Detroit Tigers, and the Boston Red Sox kept it straightforward, bringing back manger Alex Cora after only one year out of the league.
Is bringing Luhnow back realistic? Probably not for various reasons. The primary reason being that in a world where only one of either Baker or Click can return to the Astros, it would have to be Click because of how he has kept the roster deep and made acquisitions to keep the team in position to compete for championships.
Baker, while he has overseen two deep playoff runs, seems like he is one bad series away from giving the organization a reason to move in a different direction.