HOUSTON -- One day after Astros owner Jim Crane dismissed president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, it remains unclear what path the club will take to fill those vacancies with only a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.
Crane, during his Monday news conference to announce the firings and discuss the punishment handed down by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, said he would look outside the organization to find a replacement for Hinch, while touting the capabilities of bench coach Joe Espada. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Monday that Espada was the favorite to become the interim manager, but that decision does not appear to have been made.
Filling both positions, at least temporarily, is paramount to Crane, who said Monday he will run the baseball operations for the near term. Still, the Astros' coaching staff and players remain in limbo as Crane tries to right the ship.
Veteran catcher Dustin Garneau, signed by Luhnow as a free agent in November, said Tuesday during an appearance in downtown Houston that he was looking forward to working with Hinch and is ready to move forward with whoever Crane chooses to lead from the dugout.
“I played with Nick Hundley with the Rockies, and he had a lot of good things to say about working with [Hinch] with the Padres, so that’s kind of a bummer, obviously,” Garneau said. “I wanted to pick his brain. He’s one of the better managers in baseball. I was hoping to work with him, but now whoever’s going to be [the manager], we’re going to have to live with each other and win baseball games this year.”
Pitcher Cy Sneed, who made his Major League debut last year and pitched in eight games for the Astros, said Tuesday it had been a tough 24 hours.
“I wasn’t with the team in 2017 so I don’t know a lot of the ins and outs about all that, but AJ will definitely be missed, and I think a lot of guys will say that,” he said. “I still think we’re going to be a really, really good team. We have a lot of really good pieces, and I still think we’ll be really good.”
None of the Astros' core players, a group that includes second baseman José Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, shortstop Carlos Correa, center fielder George Springer and pitchers Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr., have spoken publicly about the firings. That could change in the coming days, with several players scheduled to appear at the team’s annual outreach caravan, which is taking place this week and culminates with FanFest at Minute Maid Park on Saturday.
The new manager and general manager will join a team that’s won 100 games three years in a row at the Major League level, culminating in a 2017 World Series championship that Manfred’s nine-page report released Monday said included player-driven sign stealing with the use of electronics. Despite losing key free agents Gerrit Cole, Will Harris and Robinson Chirinos this winter, the Astros remain loaded for 2020 and should be the favorites to win their fourth consecutive AL West title.
Thus, Crane should have no shortage of interested and qualified candidates for either position as he attempts to hire his third manager and second GM since purchasing the club. This is the first time the Astros have had a managerial opening since the end of the 2014 season and first time they’ve had an opening at general manager since the end of the 2011 season.