STEERING THE SHIP

How Astros' Joe Espada, new managers adjusting as opening day approaches

How Astros' Joe Espada, new managers adjusting as opening day approaches
The Astros open the season against the Yankees this Thursday. Composite Getty Image.

Joe Espada has worked for an impressive group of managers.

Espada was an assistant for three managers who have won a World Series in Joe Girardi, A.J. Hinch and Dusty Baker before becoming a skipper for the first time after the Houston Astros hired him following Baker’s retirement this offseason.

As Espada prepares for his managerial debut Thursday when the Astros open the season against the New York Yankees, one of his former bosses had some advice for the 48-year-old.

“He just needs to be himself and not try to be any of the managers that he worked under,” Hinch said. “He’s going to find his own way and his own path. His instincts are great. His work ethic is great. His relationship with the players is great. I just encourage him to be himself and make the decisions he wants to make.”

Espada is one of eight managers who are either new or managing new teams in 2024. He joins Cleveland's Stephen Vogt and the Mets' Carlos Mendoza as first-time managers this season.

For Espada, settling into his new job was helped by the fact that he’d been with the Astros as their bench coach since 2018.

“I’m glad that the transition happened with a team that I already knew,” he said. “The relationships are important. Walking into an organization where you don’t know a ton of people, it takes time to develop that trust and connection with people. But having that here has made the transition that much easier.”

Espada is the only first-time manager this season who moved into the job with a team he was already with. Mendoza, who replaced Buck Showalter, worked as the Yankees’ bench coach from the 2020 season until he was hired by the Mets. The 39-year-old Vogt ended a 10-year MLB playing career in 2022 and spent just one season as Seattle’s bullpen and quality control coach before being tapped to replace Terry Francona.

Milwaukee’s Pat Murphy is one of three managers, along with Ron Washington of the Angels and San Diego’s Mike Shildt, hired this offseason with previous managerial experience. But Murphy has the least experience as a manager of the three after serving as interim manager for the Padres for just more than half a season in 2015 after Bud Black was fired.

Like Espada, Murphy remained with the same team when he became a manager after working under Craig Counsell as Milwaukee’s bench coach since the 2016 season.

Murphy, who was hired after Counsell left to manage the Cubs, said the experience he gained in that position has prepared him for his new gig. He added that he reached out to Baker, Joe Torre and Joe Maddon for advice.

“Nothing presents itself as super difficult,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot standing where I was for the past eight years, in terms of ‘maybe I’d do it this way,’ or ‘ah, that makes sense.’”

At 65, Murphy is among the league’s oldest managers. He believes waiting so long to get his first full-time job as a manager has helped him appreciate it more.

“Your ego gets challenged in this deal all the time," he said. "If you let your ego out, it’ll disappoint you every time. When you’re younger and you’re trying to prove yourself, to be known or let people know how great you are, it’s so stupid. But it’s what we do.”

Washington is back as a manager for the first time since resigning from the Texas Rangers near the end of the 2014 after leading them to two World Series trips in eight seasons. The 71-year-old Washington, who worked as an assistant for the Athletics and Braves after leaving the Rangers, will be the oldest manager in the majors after Baker’s retirement at 74.

Shildt is back to managing after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 252-199 record from 2018-21. Shildt, the 2019 National League manager of the year, spent the last two seasons as an assistant under Bob Melvin before being promoted after Melvin left to manage the Giants.

Counsell and Melvin are in a different position than the other six managers, jumping straight from one skipper gig to another.

Counsell moved to Chicago after going 707-625 in nine seasons with the Brewers.

Melvin joins the Giants after a 20-year career as a manager with Mariners, Diamondbacks, Athletics and Padres.

He talked about some slight confusion he’s had this spring.

“You know there’s some times I look at my (lineup) card and I see the Giants lineup and I turn it over to the other side because I just assume that’s the other team,” he said.

Melvin is thrilled to return to the Bay Area after he was born and raised there.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve known a lot about this team the last several years, I’ve followed them really my whole life. They’ve made it easy on me.”

Espada was disappointed to have been passed over for a handful of jobs in the last few years before finally becoming a manager this year. But now that he has his dream job, he believes things are exactly the way they were meant to be. And he isn’t slowing down now that he’s in charge.

“Personal growth is important,” he said. “I try to every day just be better and I just make sure that I’ve surrounded myself with people that have my back and I have players that want what’s best for our team. So, I’m always seeking advice and trying to be the best I can in doing my job.”

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Kiper has the Texans bolstering their defense in Round 2. Composite Getty, Wiki Commons image.

In Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest two-round mock, he provided insights into potential draft picks and areas of concern for the Texans as they prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. The Texans currently have two picks in the second round.

When considering the Texans' needs, he selected Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton with the No. 42 overall pick and Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil with the No. 59 pick.

Kiper praised Newton for his exceptional performance as a defensive tackle, noting his impressive 7.5 sacks last season, the most among FBS defensive tackles.

With the departure of Maliek Collins, Newton could fill a crucial void in the Texans' defensive line, providing much-needed pass-rushing ability from the interior.

Another prospect Kiper identified as a potential target for the Texans is Michigan slot cover corner Mike Sainristil.

Kiper hailed Sainristil as the best slot cover corner in the draft, citing his impressive statistics from the previous season, including 6 interceptions, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. With the Texans' re-signing of veteran corner Desmond King, there is still uncertainty about King's role on the roster, according to Kiper, opening the door for Sainristil to make an impact.

Despite his relatively smaller stature at 5-foot-9, Sainristil's playmaking ability and versatility make him an attractive option for the Texans' secondary. Draft expert Lance Zierlein thinks Sainristil would be a good fit in Houston.

As the draft approaches, all eyes will be on the Texans' front office as they make critical decisions that will shape the future of the franchise.

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