Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (12538050k) Former Astros player Jeff Bagwell, left, talks with Houston Astros' Alex Bregman, right, during baseball practice in Houston, . The Astros host the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday ALCS Red Sox Astros Baseball, Houston, United States - 14 Oct 2021

John McClain: Astros relying heavily on Bagwell


Seeing how much Astros owner Jim Crane trusts Jeff Bagwell and values his opinions and recommendations on and off the playing field, it won’t be surprising if the Hall of Fame first baseman is reunited in the front office with one of his closest friends, Brad Ausmus.

Bagwell’s influence within the organization has been growing for a couple of years. Obviously, Crane is comfortable with Bagwell in his role as an adviser and confidant, even though his title remains community outreach executive.

At a news conference this week introducing José Abreu as the newest Astro, Crane disclosed Bagwell was part of the entourage that went to Miami to close the deal with the former White Sox first baseman. Afterward, Crane had no problem with Bagwell doing a 15-minute interview with reporters who cover the team.

As always, Bagwell was candid and informative talking about the Astros and himself. One of the many questions he answered was one about Ausmus and the possibility of the former Astros catcher joining the front office.

“I think Brad would be an amazing front office guy,” Bagwell said. “I think he can use analytics and his knowledge of playing to really benefit whatever team he’s with.”

Asked if he could see a general manager job in Ausmus’ future, Bagwell said, “Yeah, eventually. It’s kind of on his plate. I think he’d be great at it.”

Ausmus, 53 and one year younger than Bagwell, did two tours with the Astros covering 10 years of his 18-year playing career. He and Bagwell are so close that Ausmus and Craig Biggio were former teammates asked to speak when his No. 5 was retired in 2007.

Ausmus, who was popular and respected by teammates, fans, and media in Houston, has experience as a manager and coach. He also spent a season in the Angels’ front office before he moved into the dugout. This season, he was Oakland’s bench coach and turned down an opportunity to return to the A’s, perhaps because he wants to return to Houston, where the Astros have played in four World Series in six years, winning two.

It seems clear if Ausmus wants to work for Crane, Bagwell recommends him, and they can get his role and contract worked out; he could become part of the best team in baseball, and maybe be groomed to be a general manager. Obviously, Crane likes having former Astros on his payroll. Bagwell, Biggio, Jose Cruz, and Enos Cabell are members of the organization. Ausmus would be a terrific addition.

Crane hasn’t been in a hurry to hire a new general manager to replace James Click, who turned down a one-year extension after the Astros won the World Series. Crane said he might wait until January to hire his new GM, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if it happened in February when the Astros get closer to spring training.

As Crane pointed out, the front office has been working just fine while he takes his time finding Click’s replacement. There’s no reason for Crane to hurry like he did when he hired manager Dusty Baker and then Click after firing A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow.

With three assistant general managers – Bill Firkus, Andrew Ball, and Charles Cook – to consult and Bagwell playing a substantial role, there’s no reason for Crane to rush into any decisions.

“It’s great,” Bagwell said about working for Crane. “I enjoy it. It keeps my mind going. There’s not a lot of things I know in life, but one of them is baseball.”

“If I can give what I know about what it’s like to play on the field, to be in certain situations in the clubhouse and even in life – I made enough mistakes in life that I can help there, too – I love being a part of this. I love the Astros. I just want to see us win.”

When Bagwell joined Crane, Firkus, and bench coach Joe Espada on the trip to Abreu’s house in Miami, it showed how much the owner respects him and values his opinion.

“I don’t have to sell the Houston Astros,” Bagwell said. “We just won a World Series. What I sold (Abreu) was the players. What I sold was the clubhouse – the desire to win every single day. I don’t want to hear (about) windows. I want it to be every single year we have a chance to win.”

Talking about signing Abreu, who turns 36 in January, to a three-year, $58.5 million contract, Bagwell said, “We just got better, and we’re not done, for sure.”

Bagwell has become more involved in the front office, but he’s not a candidate to become the next general manager.

“I would not interview,” he said.

In his current role, Bagwell is having a blast watching his team, doing a little television and radio, advising players and talking with Crane about all things baseball. He’s not concerned with his title.

“I bother Jim nonstop,” he said. “I think he’s tired of me. I want to do whatever Jim needs me to do. I’m not pushing myself to do anything. I know I’m involved. I know I enjoy talking the game of baseball, and I certainly enjoy talking about us and how we can get better.

“I’m just a voice for how I see baseball, how I see the other things in baseball that aren’t just numbers. Numbers are important, don’t get me wrong. But there’s other things that matter.”

Bagwell sounds like he’d prefer more balance between analytics and old-fashioned scouting with the human touch.

“I think analytics is great for pitching,” he said. “I think they can do a lot of things to help pitchers (like) spin rate, different positions in your arm (and) different things they do in pitching I think are great.

“We’ve done a great job developing pitching. We’ve done a great job of finding pitching. Even big-league guys that have (come) here have gotten better, so I totally believe in that.”

Bagwell pointed out baseball is “played by humans” and not “by computers.” He believes hitters don’t need to be overwhelmed with analytics.

“I get afraid hitters get too much information,” he said. “If you ask any hitter when they’re going good, ‘What are you thinking about?’ The first answer is, ‘Nothing.’ I don’t want them thinking about 10 things when they’re at home plate. I’m trying to dumb it down as much as possible.”

During games, Bagwell and Biggio are familiar figures sitting in Crane’s Diamond Club seats behind home plate. There’s a certain level of comfort for fans knowing Crane has two loyal, trustworthy Hall of Fame players who combined for 35 years with the Astros on speed dial for whenever he needs them.

“I owe Jim a ton of gratitude,” Bagwell said. “Where I was back in 2017 in my personal life, and for him to stick with me (and) believe in me, that’s why I’m very loyal to Jim.

“I think he’s a great person, anyway. A lot of people don’t know the things he does. He’s a tremendous owner, the best owner in baseball as far as I can see. He does things smart. He makes people accountable. I’m all about those kind of things. I’ll always be loyal and (do) whatever he needs for me to do.”

(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).

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