Crane Must Weigh Astros Manager, GM Choices Carefully

Astros owner Jim Crane has two huge decisions to make for his team in the next two weeks.
Astros owner Jim Crane has two huge decisions to make for his team in the next two weeks. Photo by Jack Gorman
The number of candidates interviewed for both top managerial positions vacated when Astros owner Jim Crane fired A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal continues to rise. In the days since the startling revelations released in baseball's punishment of both now former Astros, quite the list of names has been mentioned in connection with the jobs including Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter, Jeff Bannister and Brad Ausmus, and those are just for the on-the-field spot.

But given the importance of this decision, and despite the fact that spring training is mere weeks away, Crane cannot afford to rush this decision. The Mets have already named Luis Rojas to their vacant job left when former Astro Carlos Beltran agreed to step down from the position he had barely taken hold of. The Red Sox are still searching after parting ways with Alex Cora, another former Astro named in baseball's report.

Here in Houston, the situation is far more complicated. A manager to handle the plays on the field is one thing, but the Astros must also replace the man who was the architect of their entire management infrastructure. Luhnow quite literally changed how the Astros did baseball business and was wildly successful in the process.

It seems rather likely the GM list will be much shorter than the one for manager. The GM will need to be someone who can plug directly into the team's existing system. Much of the remaining talent know what they are doing when it comes to scouting, analytics and payroll. But the head person needs to be a decision maker who can drive the team forward into a future that is more uncertain than ever.

The Astros are pushed up against the luxury tax threshold leaving them virtually no room to add new players and they have robbed much of their minor league system to land big names like Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Whoever gets the job will need to rebuild the minor league system while trying to maintain the success of a ballclub with players still in their prime and even rising. No small feat.

On the field will be an interesting choice as well. With the controversy surrounding the team, a steady, proven hand would seem like the smart move here. But, Baker and Showalter, clearly the most respected veteran names on the list, aren't exactly new school when it comes to modern day analytics.

Perhaps the only name on the list thus far that would fit that bill is Brad Ausmus. He certainly has plenty of history in Houston as a former catcher, but his run-in with the Astros last year — beaning Jake Marisnick after a violent collision with the Angel's catcher during a game — could complicate his relationships in the clubhouse.

There are no easy answers here for Crane, but nothing short of the immediate (and potentially long-term) future of his franchise is at stake. The clock is ticking with just over two weeks until pitchers and catchers report. But, if we could offer the Astros owner any advice, it would be take his time. The team's success hangs in the balance.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke