Astros GM James Click still out of contract, but Dusty Baker returns

Astros GM James Click still out of contract, but Dusty Baker returns

LAS VEGAS — On Monday afternoon, James Click got a chance he treasured. He participated in a championship parade he helped produce, weaving through the streets of downtown Houston to the cheers of more than a million of its citizens. Click gazed at a city he called home for three years, marveling at its diversity and delirium around the one professional sports franchise that brings him joy.

Click rode a float alongside owner Jim Crane, manager Dusty Baker and a host of players. The celebration ended around 2 p.m. Click’s flight to Las Vegas for the GM’s meetings departed around 8 a.m.

During those six hours, Crane began negotiations to retain his World Series-winning general manager. Click’s contract expired on October 31. Crane knew this all season long and chose not to act anyway. Click did not respond if he approached Crane at any time during the season and asked for a contract extension.

Four years ago, Crane engineered a midseason extension for Jeff Luhnow amid a 103-win regular season. For the substitute who oversaw a 106-win campaign, Crane chose a chaotic and compressed period. An action isn’t all-encompassing, but the decision accentuates a misalignment between the two men tasked with maintaining the Astros’ golden years.

“I’ve been so focused on the playoffs and just trying to push that over the line,” Click said Tuesday from the Conrad Hotel in Las Vegas during league general manager meetings. “We were lucky to push him over the line. Now we have moved on to other decisions. This is the schedule that the organization has decided and I will stick to it.

Click chose not to share many details of its Monday discussion with Crane, but clearly they offered little clarity. He refuted an earlier USA Today report that suggested he would receive a one-year contract extension for the 2023 season. On several occasions, Click said he was “in discussions” about his future.

“We’re having discussions right now,” Click said. “I think every time you have discussions it means it’s not complete.”

Click’s future remains seriously uncertain and he spent an awkward 20 minutes on Tuesday making it clear. The Astros are masters at mutilating situations. Somehow, they pull it off again just three days after winning a World Series championship, shifting the conversation from a celebration to another awkwardly handled piece of their history.

The team called a press conference for Wednesday noon at Minute Maid Park. The announcement emailed to members of the media did not include a reason or participants. The team are expected to announce a one-year extension for Baker to return as club manager in 2023.

Click said he only heard about the press conference minutes before encountering a throng of reporters at the chief executive’s meetings. A team manager emailed the announcement at 4:45 p.m. (Houston time). Click spoke about 25 minutes later.

“I have very little information about tomorrow’s press conference,” Click said. “At no time did anyone tell me that tomorrow’s press conference was some kind of deadline for my situation.”

Crane hired Baker, so it’s not unreasonable for him to manage his future. When asked if he had a hand in the decision to bring Baker back, Click replied, “Jim and I frequently chatted about Dusty and the whole organization.” Click said he would stay in Las Vegas on Wednesday “to try to build the team for next year.”

Click’s contract expired on October 31. At that time, he essentially became an at-will employee. Click isn’t the only Las Vegas general manager without a contract. Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees is without one, but it’s taken for granted that he will be re-signed.

Click has no such warranties. Speculation started during spring training about his future. Letting this situation fester signals some kind of dysfunction that is not common for a dynastic franchise.

“The opportunity to work for the folks in the Astros organization, the opportunity to be part of that culture in that clubhouse, to be around the caliber of players that we have is almost impossible to find,” he said. declared Click.

“I am incredibly proud of the front desk staff we have in Houston, across the country and around the world. I love and am addicted to working with them and winning with them and winning with the players. In any job, there will be things that go right and there will be things that go wrong. You just have to take everything into account. »

It begs the question of whether Crane is delaying an inevitable outcome. Every indication — from Crane’s silence to a supposed one-year extension offer to whispers from other members of the sport’s front office — suggests this is a partnership headed for a parting of ways at a given time.

Offering a 44-year-old World Series-winning general manager a one-year contract extension is proof enough. When asked if he would agree to a one-year deal, Click replied, “I’m not going to comment on hypothetical negotiations.”

The philosophical chasm between Click and Crane has never been more apparent. Crane became heavily involved in baseball operations decisions, according to several people familiar with the organization’s infrastructure. Click has only worked under two owners: Crane and Rays owner Stu Sternberg. In describing Crane’s involvement in baseball operations, Click said, “I’ve only got one other owner to compare him to and it’s a little different from that guy.”

Speaking with a kind of candor he hasn’t had in some time, Click acknowledged on Tuesday that he and Crane are “different” in their approach.

“We’re different,” Click said. “There are some things we do very differently. There are some things that we are very aligned with. This is going to be true of any relationship between a boss and an employee. I think he likes to move really fast in some cases. I tend towards a more deliberate approach. He is very demanding, but he also gives you the resources to accomplish what he asks you to do.

Click did not build the core of this World Series list. Nineteen of the 26 players listed there were acquired under Luhnow. Click engineered contract extensions for Yordan Alvarez, Lance McCullers Jr. and Ryan Pressly, but Crane was reportedly a heavy hand in some of the negotiations. Owners often agree to these types of deals, particularly a six-year, $115 million contract for Alvarez, which is the second-largest in franchise history.

Click inherited a World Series competition-ready roster and infrastructure without the type of transformative deals brokered by Luhnow. Click had made a massive deal by the Aug. 2 deadline — sending José Urquidy to Chicago in exchange for wide receiver Willson Contreras. Crane, at Baker’s request, canceled the deal. The two trades made by Click as a result, for Trey Mancini and Christian Vázquez, produced disappointing results.

“There are 30 different owners and they operate in 30 different ways,” Click said. “What should happen to every team is not necessarily for me to say. There are people who like to deal with these things in one way and others who like to deal with them in another way. All of us in these jobs navigate the realities of our unique circumstances.

For Click, the reality included an awkward 20-minute interrogation about his uncertain future. He behaved professionally, cracked a few self-deprecating jokes and threw many questions at Crane – the man who should answer most of them. Crane’s recent public comments, including after Monday’s parade, were met with applause from the team’s fan base.

Click and a handful of his lieutenants arrived in Las Vegas on Monday evening. Senior Director of Baseball Strategy Bill Firkus, Senior Director of Player Evaluation Charles Cook and Director of Research and Development Sarah Gelles are part of the Astros contingent, along with the two assistant general managers of Click – Scott Powers and Andrew Ball.

Click hired Ball and Powers last winter to expand its front office. The departure of Pete Putila for San Francisco makes the two men Click’s most senior assistants. If Crane had clicked on thin ice ahead of the season, his decision to allow two new hires — along with farm manager Sara Goodrum — adds more confusion to an already tricky situation.

Click did not list any conditions he would demand if he returned — such as autonomy in all baseball decisions. He said it “could go a number of different ways,” complex discussions that probably deserved more than a hasty discussion after the parade.

“The crowd showed how global Houston is and the culture it has,” Click said. “It was on full screen. City support, I’ve never been a part of anything like that. It’s addicting. My wife and I are really, really happy there. Our kids are happy. We feel very settled in. I’m really hopeful to be back.

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