Astros, GM have ugly divorce six days after winning the World Series
LAS VEGAS – The cold-hearted truth is that Houston Astros owner Jim Crane wanted to fire general manager James Click long before Friday’s announcement.
Crane had to be persuaded into even offering Click a contract on Monday, knowing how it would be perceived firing a GM who just led your team to the World Series championship.
Crane consented, but insisted it would be only for one year, the same length as manager Dusty Baker’s deal, and a raise from his $1 million salary.
Click was deeply offended, considering GMs usually receive multi-year extensions after successful seasons, and departed the annual GM Meetings in Las Vegas without a deal.
Click publicly voiced his displeasure at his press briefing on Tuesday in a room full of other American League GMs, saying what everyone knew: He and Crane often had a difference of opinion.
“We’re different,” Click said. “There’s some things we do very differently. There’s some things we’re very lined up on. That’s going to be true of any relationship between a boss and an employee.
“I think he likes to act very quickly in certain cases. I tend toward a more deliberate approach. He is very demanding, but he also gives you the resources to accomplish what he tasks you to do. …
“In any job, there’s going to be things that are good and there’s going to be things that are bad. You just have to take it all on balance.”
Click went on to say that he was completely unaware of Baker’s scheduled press conference on Wednesday to announce his return. Certainly, Click wasn’t consulted, asked his input, and was not part of the negotiations to bring him back.
It was an awkward admission, and when they had the press conference, Baker was there with Crane at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Click was still in Las Vegas without a contract.
Crane and Click spoke again on Friday morning. Click still wanted a multi-year contract with a higher raise.
Crane didn’t budge from his original offer.
Take it or leave it.
Click, perhaps believing Crane was bluffing and there was room for negotiations, turned it down.
Crane, knowing that Click would reject the offer, walked away too.
The headline of the Astros press release read: “James Click and Astros Part Ways.’’
It was more of a graceful way of saying that Click was fired, although technically, Click’s contract expired anyways.
Click won’t be the last one out the door. There already are plans in place to fire at least one, if not several, of Click’s recent hirings. Assistant GM Scott Powers, who was hired along with Andrew Ball during the off-season, was also fired.
Certainly, if Crane didn’t trust Click during his three-year tenure – with several front office executives frequently voicing their complaints about him to Crane – he isn’t going to trust all of those who Click personally hired.
The intrigue now is who comes in to replace Click, inheriting a juggernaut, a team that has two World Series titles, four American League pennants, and six consecutive American League Championship Series appearances.
There will be immediate speculation on David Stearns, who stepped down two weeks ago as president of baseball operations for the Milwaukee Brewers, but still is under contract for one more year. He worked three years for the Astros as their assistant GM in 2013-2015. It’s highly doubtful that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio will let Stearns out of the contract, at least without compensation.
Sig Mejdal, the Baltimore Orioles assistant GM who worked six years for the Astros, will also be high on Crane’s list of potential candidates, with his name arising in mid-summer among Astros’ officials. There are others in the mix who were interviewed before Click, and even while he was on the job.
The truth is that Crane already had a potential succession plan in place for at least a year. Crane privately interviewed several candidates to replace Click last winter in which they would work under Click for one year, and then likely assume the GM duties. Click instead was permitted to hire his own assistants.
Crane will be criticized for firing Click, but it’s hardly unprecedented. Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations for the Philadelphia Phillies, and Walt Jocketty, special assistant for the Cincinnati Reds who stayed in Las Vegas for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation dinner, were each fired after winning World Series titles, too.
Dombrowski was fired eight months after leading the Boston Red Sox to the 2018 World Series championship, and Jocketty was fired one year after the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series.
Click, of course, was hired in haste after Crane fired GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in the wake of the 2017 Astros’ cheating scandal. Luhnow and Hinch were each suspended one year in January 2020, and Crane fired them hours later.
The Astros continued their success without them, advancing to within one game of the World Series in 2020, reaching the World Series last year, and winning it this year.
The current team that won the World Series had 19 players on its 26-man roster that were drafted, signed or acquired by Luhnow.
But while Luhnow had Crane’s trust, Click never did, and the chasm only grew during the three years.
It was almost as if Crane believed the Astros were winning in spite of Click, and found himself more involved in baseball operations than he desired. He rejected Click’s trade for Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for pitcher Jose Urquidy at this trade deadline, and grimaced at other moves that backfired. Certainly, he was looking forward to the day he could have someone else in the role that would earn his respect.
Click, 44, knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be fired.
He certainly wasn’t going to be around for the 2024 season.
So, he told Crane on Friday that, no, he still couldn’t accept a one-year contract.
It was the magical answer that Crane wanted to hear.
Just like that, Click was out.
The truth is that he really was never in.
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