Astros Put Fans Out of Their Misery and Fire Brad Mills

So the Astros bloodletting continued this weekend. Manager Brad Mills, hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham were fired after Saturday night's embarrassing loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The firing of Mills was expected (as was the firing of most of the coaching staff), though most thought the move would come once the season ended.

I've got no problem with the timing of the announcement (some of my media brethren were upset about the lateness of the hour) or that the firing came so late in the season -- there were people on my Twitter feed calling this a classless move because the Astros didn't wait until the season ended. My primary problems are that somehow Dave Clark and Doug Brocail kept their jobs and that the entire staff wasn't relieved of their jobs sooner, like when Ed Wade and Tal Smith were fired.

The Astros are a bad team. And it's not the fault of Mills that the Astros are a bad team. Only the most deluded of fans thought this team would be competitive this year. But there can be no argument that Mills failed the team, the players, management and the fans this season, and he needed to be replaced.

It's not so much that the Astros are a bad team. Or that they're historically bad. It's about how bad they've looked while losing. The team is bad when it comes to running the bases. The outfielders had trouble finding the cutoff guy. They had trouble executing rundowns. And a lot of that goes on the manager and the coaching staff.

The Astros had just one walk-off win under Mills this season. They were 1-11 in extra innings while Mills was around. That can't all be placed on the players. A lot of that comes down to strategy. And a lot of that strategy has been bad.

The question now should be what comes next. Or rather, who comes next? The interim manager is Tony DeFrancesco, who has been the team's AAA manager in Oklahoma City the past several seasons -- DeFrancesco also has a history in Oakland's system, which means he has an understanding of the "Moneyball" system and might actually encourage his players to take a few pitches every now and then.

And the team has said the hunt for the new manager starts now. I've heard fans mention the names of Brad Ausmus and Larry Dierker taking over the club for next season, but I've got to hope that Luhnow and Jim Crane ignore those fans and go for a manager that's used to handling these types of situations.

The number one name on my list would have to be Art Howe. Howe probably has zero interest in returning to the managing ranks, but he has proven that he can take a team of youngsters and turn them into a major league team, as he did with the early-`90s Astros. And Howe also managed the Oakland A's when they were purging the team of high-priced stars and becoming a low-salary "Moneyball" squad. He's used to collaborating with the front office and pushing their program, i.e., so long to the automatic sacrifice bunt with a runner on first and no outs.

I don't think Crane or Luhnow will make such a hire, however. Nor do I think they will attempt to hire Jim Riggleman, another name that's been mentioned for the job, and another former manager used to dealing with lousy clubs full of young kids and has-beens -- Riggleman was the manager of the Washington Nationals for a while during their rebuild. I do think Joe Pettini, the Astros' current bench coach, is the top candidate for the job. Pettini's been a minor league manager in the Cardinals system, and he was the bench coach for Tony LaRussa for a decade. That would make sense seeing as how Luhnow has been raiding the Cardinals for personnel throughout the season.

Crane says he wants to move fast in finding a new manager, and that he hopes to have the new person hired by November 1. I don't care if they hurry to make the move. I'd just prefer they get the right person for once, which was something that Drayton McLane had trouble doing.

It's Jim Crane's team, and he's free to do what he wants with it. I liked the hiring of Jeff Luhnow, and I like how Luhnow's been systematically removing the traces of McLane, Ed Wade and Tal Smith from this team. But ultimately, what I think doesn't matter. I just hope they hire someone who has a clue, something the last two Astros managers haven't had much of.

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