Will GM Dana Brown hire an in-house candidate? Composite image by Brandon Strange.
It appears that the frontrunners to manage the Houston Astros next year and beyond are veteran bench coach Joe Espada, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Dusty Baker the last four seasons, and Brad Ausmus, whose only attribute seems to be that he’s buddies with Jim Crane whisperer Jeff Bagwell.
Some decisions are easy: the right choice is Espada.
The Astros can hire pretty much any available candidate they want but why not go with a proven commodity who knows the lay of the land? Managing the Astros in 2024 is one of the sweetest plum jobs in baseball history. You know the stats: seven consecutive ALCS appearances, four World Series appearances since 2017, two championships. The team is locked and loaded for another post-season run with practically every key player from last year returning.
When a team wins its division and comes within one game of making the World Series – and it’s considered a disappointing season – who wouldn’t jump at the chance to manage the Astros in 2024?
This isn’t like a team that finished in last place and a total rebuild is necessary. The Astros don’t need to repair its foundation or knock down walls. The Astros organization is an architectural masterpiece. All the Astros need is a new coat of paint in the form of a manager to guide the best roster in baseball to another World Series run.
Just fill out the lineup card, install Yanier Diaz as the everyday catcher, and roll the ball onto the field.
So when Crane and general manager Dana Brown interview candidates, their only consideration should be … will the Astros give 100 percent for this guy? I was going to say 110 percent, but I don’t need Charlie Pallilo lecturing me how it’s empirically impossible to give more than 100 percent. It’s just an expression, Charlie.
The Astros don’t need to conduct interviews with retreads like Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, Don Mattingly, etc. It doesn’t make sense to bring in first-time candidates from other organizations. The obvious choice is right under the Astros nose. His butt print already is on the bench.
With Espada, owner Crane wouldn’t have to pay moving expenses to pack up his family, hire Three Hunks and a Truck and look for a home in Houston. From all indications, the players like and respect Espada. He’s been an eyewitness to the Astros current dynasty. There would be no learning curve, no need to wear a tag that says, “Hello, my name is Joe Espada.”
Every other candidate for the job would bring unknowns and question marks. Espada checks all the boxes. The Astros should play the chalk and hire Espada now so general manager Brown can start finding money to keep reliever Hector Neres and look for lefty bat. Spring training is, yikes, only three months away.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.