Astros Week: Click Out, Montero Back, Hot Stove on Fire

Jim Crane (right) has a busy winter ahead.
Jim Crane (right) has a busy winter ahead. Photo by Jack Gorman
One of the few disadvantages about winning the World Series (or participating in it for that matter, Phillies fans) is that it shortens the offseason quite substantially. In 2022, with the expanded season thanks to a lockout, it pushed the fall classic all the way to the week before free agency began, giving the Astros not much of a window for celebrating before getting on with business.

Obviously, the Astros will happily make that tradeoff, but it does complicate what promises to be an active hot stove season in Major League Baseball.

James Click gone.

The Astros ill-fated GM finally quit/got fired despite helping the team to its second title in five seasons. Owner Jim Crane admitted that after the firing of Jeff Lunhow and A.J. Hinch in the wake of the sign stealing scandal, he didn't have the time he would have liked to make critical decisions about his team's leadership. Landing Dusty Baker was obviously the right move and Baker was rewarded with an extension. But, Click and the demanding owner never really saw eye to eye and the end result is a vacancy at the team's most important executive baseball position. Where do they go from here and how do they navigate free agency and contracts for existing players? More on that to come.

Rafael Montero returns.

Color us all surprised that the first signing of the offseason was a three-year deal for one of the Astros best bullpen arms. We sort of assumed a team would unload the Brinks truck for Montero, who could easily be a closer on many teams. But, Crane made the calculation that pitching will continue to win games (and championships), keeping the deepest and most talented bullpen together for another season. Additionally, it gives them some injury protection for both the bullpen and the starting rotation as Bryan Abreu could potentially start a few games if needed.

click to enlarge
Rafael Montero returns with a brand new three-year contract.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Justin Verlander still lingers.

A number of Astros free agents remain on the market in these early days of free agency including Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley and, biggest name of all, Verlander. Crane told MLB reporter Brian McTaggart that Verlander was looking for a contract similar to the one the Mets gave Max Scherzer, which would be in the three-year, $130M range. Crane didn't immediately say that was well over what they were willing to offer, but the fact Verlander remains unsigned despite the closeness between owner and ace would seem to signify the team could move on from the 39-year-old Cy Young winner (the win was announced on Wednesday).With the wealth of starting pitching the Astros have, they could afford to allow Verlander to walk despite his outstanding 2022.

Jim Crane has his work cut out for him.

The team owner, who is now the main decision maker in all deals, is going to have a busy winter. In addition to looking for a new general manager, he will need to figure out what free agents the team is going to target, including their own. If Verlander does leave, they will have a sizable amount of salary flexibility for looking at players like White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu or Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras. That says nothing of the possibility of an extension for Kyle Tucker. Crane says it could be early 2023 before he has a new GM in place, wanting to do all his due diligence this time around. If so, he will become the de facto general manager for a very toasty hot stove season.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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