The Astros will be just fine without James Click

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13610342ds) Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and general manager James click celebrate with the trophy after their 4-1 World Series win against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6, in Houston World Series Phillies Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 05 Nov 2022

The Astros will be just fine without James Click

James Click will be just fine without the Houston Astros as well.

On Friday, the Houston Astros announced that GM James Click would not be returning. Incredulousness started spreading faster than the initial wave of COVID. Hot takes swarmed about from the Astros being cheap to just plain stupid and how the franchise would regret this day.

Full stop.

I understand that many national pundits want to continue the concept of #OrangeTeamBad at any cost, but they are trying so hard right now. Media in other markets want to jump on the national guys’ bandwagon because everyone wants the Astros to fail so that Houston will stop beating their favorite teams.

Too bad.

For the dolts out there (and there are a lot of them) pushing the false narrative that the Astros are now abandoning analytics after winning two titles because of them, stop it. You are only making yourselves look like fools.

The Astros did not solely win two World Series based on analytics because no one has nor ever will win anything based solely on analytics.

The Astros have been one of the most analytically driven teams since the arrival of Jeff Luhnow. That model continued under James Click and will continue under the next general manager. The idea the Astros will now abandon analytics is the single dumbest take in baseball today. It is literally a load of you-know-what being thrown against the wall to see if it sticks so down-talking the World Champions can continue, facts be damned.

The Astros will not implode because they are not giving James Click the multiyear deal he wants. The truth of the matter is that baseball is big business, and this goes down in big business all the time.

If your boss is not happy with the way you operate, you are getting shown the door.

That is true in every walk of life, every business, everywhere. Professional sports are not exempt from this, especially for a franchise that has been run so well for so long that its systems will continue through a third general manager.

It is true that Click and manager Dusty Baker do not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. Dusty is an old-school player’s manager, and Click is an analytics wunderkind. They see a lot of things differently. I think that is good for a franchise.

I do not like the idea of everyone being on the same page about everything. All that does is lead to groupthink, acclimation of every idea, and ultimately it leads to failure. There must be different voices and opinions in the room to see things from different angles, to offer different perspectives. Those differences bring out the best in people because it makes them think deeper and be more detailed in their concepts. People can have different opinions and ideas and still maintain a healthy respect for each other, even if social media tries to show us otherwise on a daily basis.

The bigger issue for Click is that he and owner Jim Crane were often looking at things from different angles, and Click never seemed to be able to earn the owner’s trust the way his predecessor once did. Maybe Crane will never trust anyone the way he once did Jeff Luhnow, permanently scarred from a cheating scandal that led to his team wearing a public scarlet letter, stripped his franchise of its two highest draft picks for back-to-back seasons, and cost him $5 million out of his pocket. However, the general manager has to do everything they can to build that trust bridge with Crane as best they can because that is part of the job.

Crane is impatient. He is aggressive, and he likes the big splash. Click is conservative in his approach and overly patient. Click would rather survey the field and err on the side of caution. These differences in philosophy have been on display for three years.

Back in 2020, during the COVID-shortened season, Jim Crane and James Click publicly told the fans the team would be aggressive at the deadline. Of course, the front office did absolutely nothing at the deadline. The team went into a two-week tailspin feeling like the front office had no faith in them, and finished the season 29-31 as a result. Only because of expanded playoffs that season did the Astros make the playoffs. The manager Click did not want and did not hire, Dusty Baker, rallied his troops and got them all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS.

Think about what that 2020 season entailed for the Astros on the field. They lost Gerrit Cole in the offseason. Justin Verlander was lost for the season after the first game. Lance McCullers Jr. was returning from Tommy John surgery. At one point, the Astros had four starting pitchers on the IL at the same time.

The bullpen was a mess. The team was calling up players from the minors constantly. Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia made their MLB debuts. The bullpen heavily featured minor league call-ups Enoli Paredes, Cy Sneed, Andre Scrubb, and Blake Taylor – all rookies. Other rookies getting call-ups included Humberto Castellanos, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Bryan Abreu, and Carlos Sanabria. The staff was decimated with injuries, and it was literally anyone in the system who could throw was getting a shot.

This was all going on while the offense essentially took a year off. Michael Brantley and George Springer were the only regulars to perform at normal levels, while Kyle Tucker was a regular for the first time as he played decently.

Altuve had a miserable season, as did Yuli Gurriel. Martin Maldonado, Alex Bregman, and Josh Reddick performed below expectations. Yordan Alvarez played two games and was lost for the season.

Dusty rallied a bruised and battered group to Game 7 of the World Series. It seemed like it should have been something that brought the GM and manager closer together, but it seemed to have the opposite effect.

One season after losing star SP Gerrit Cole in the offseason, they would lose star CF George Springer in the offseason leading into 2021. The Astros made no major moves to improve the talent on the team and relied on promoting from within.

Myles Straw and Chas McCormick, two players who played well in the minors but were unproven at the MLB level, shared CF in lieu of Springer’s departure. Minor league call-ups like Taylor Jones, Jose Siri, Jake Meyers, Abraham Toro, Alex De Goti, Garrett Stubbs, and Ronnie Dawson would all help provide depth on the team at various times.

The team again pledged to be aggressive at the deadline, but when Max Scherzer, the prize of the trade deadline, informed the club he did not want to play in Houston, all plans changed. Click pivoted to his analytics background and made shrewd deals to refit the bullpen and save a few bucks in the process. There were no killer moves, but the moves were savvy and universally praised.

Those moves helped propel the Astros to the World Series, but in the series, they were overmatched. The rotation was gassed after not having Verlander all season. McCullers was injured early in the postseason and lost for the ALCS and World Series. Jose Urquidy had spent two trips on the IL and was pitching on guts. Luis Garcia was exhausted from throwing a career-high in innings and was averaging three innings per start in the playoffs. The bullpen was overtaxed from throwing so many postseason innings, as the starters could not go deep at all.

All of it left everyone wondering if the Astros could have done more to bolster their team and get over the hump and win that World Series. Everyone included Jim Crane.

Dusty Baker’s contract ended after the 2021 season, and to that point, he had never won a World Series as a manager. James Click was likely looking forward to hiring his own manager, but then Jim Crane stepped in and gave Dusty another one-year deal. Click would have to wait at least one more season to hire his own manager.

Now, if Click was upset by this, he had a right to be. He did not hire Baker, and every GM wants to hire their own people and put their stamp on the organization they run. The problem was Click had not yet seen he was not really running the organization; Jim Crane was.

Heading into 2022, there were again no big splashes in free agency or big trades. Jim Crane negotiated a new deal with Justin Verlander, not James Click. The only move of significance authored by Click was a two-year, $17 million deal for reliever Hector Neris, formerly of the Phillies.

For the third straight season, the Astros were letting go of a premier talent for nothing. Carlos Correa was not resigned, and the keys to shortstop were handed to rookie Jeremy Pena.

The Astros were essentially running back last season’s team, but with a returning Verlander and without Correa.

After losing Michael Brantley for the season on June 27, it was expected the Astros would make some kind of major move to help push the team over the top. The starting pitching was performing very well, the bullpen was the best in MLB, but the offense was inconsistent and struggling at times. They needed a significant boost to make up for the lost offense of Brantley, a high average/high on-base top-of-the-order hitter.

For the third straight trade deadline, the Astros were under the radar. There was no big splash, no impact bat. They made sensible, lower-risk deals for Orioles 1B/DH Trey Mancini and Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. While both are professional hitters, neither carried the kind of bat Brantley did, and Vazquez would play part-time behind Martin Maldonado.

While it is fair to say the Astros’ weak farm system (they did not have a lot of top-end farm talent at high levels in the system) is partly to blame for not making a big move, the team still has an impatient owner and wanted a bigger player. They did not get one.

The divide between Click and Crane continued to grow, and by mid-August, there were loud rumblings that anything short of a World Series victory would mean the end for James Click in Houston. Click was in the final year of his initial three-year deal with the club. The writing was essentially on the wall. The divide between owner and GM was unbridgeable.

With a 106-win campaign, the second-highest win total in team history, the Astros took the postseason and monumental moments followed. Yordan Alvarez had record-setting home runs. Jeremy Pena was getting big hit after big hit after game-winning hit. Yuli Gurriel, coming off his worst season in MLB, turned back the clock, became Playoff Pina, and looked like the batting champion he was.

Following the ALCS sweep of the hated New York Yankees (WE WANT HOUSTON), the team gathered on the stage after the game to accept their trophy and awards. The players chanted, “DUSTY! DUSTY! DUSTY!” and everyone was jumping and happy, enjoying themselves. Everyone except James Click. If he did not already know, he knew then.

The team loves Dusty, and Crane was not going to fire him. Click’s vision of hiring his own manager was going to be put on indefinite hold. This is not usually how the story goes for a GM who gets to three ALCS, wins two pennants, and goes to back-to-back World Series, ultimately winning one.

The one-year offer Crane made to Click was an insult. Let us just call it what it is. Crane did not trust Click, did not like his more prudent style, and wanted to replace him. The one-year offer was window dressing. Kudos to Click for seeing what it was and rejecting it. He had to know it would be a year of misery no matter how good the on-field product was, and there was no need to subject himself to that. Good for Click for getting out.

Do not feel bad for Click. The opportunity Crane gave him three years ago has given Click a golden resume. He will have his pick of all jobs next season, provided some team does not create a position just for him in the next couple of weeks. He will be a well-compensated baseball executive for a long time because even though he could not mesh with Jim Crane, most teams would prefer to do business Click’s way than Crane’s way because most teams do not have Crane’s revenue streams.

As Texans head coach Lovie Smith says, sometimes divorce is a good thing.

Divorce will be good for both parties here. Jim Crane will hire the GM he truly wants (David Stearns?), and James Click will join a team that wants him and trusts him to lead the franchise in his vision.

While sports fans see the shock value in a champion GM being treated like a replaceable part, the truth is that is how big business operates. If you do not maintain a good relationship with the owner, you are replaceable regardless of who you are.

Click will take some valuable experience gained with him into his next position. Crane will be more comfortable with the new person he hires. Both will continue to be successful.

The Houston Astros are going to be just fine. So is James Click. National pundits be damned.

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