HOUSTON -- He was a mixture of excited and daunted, which are expected moods considering the roller coaster new Astros general manager James Click has endured in the last week. The excitement over landing the job of a lifetime couldn’t be fully consumed without reminders of the difficult work that lies ahead.
Click was chosen by Astros owner Jim Crane to lead the Astros -- a team which is still reeling from a sign-stealing scandal -- into the future. And that future is coming quickly. The Astros open spring camp next week in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Click could pull all-nighters and still not be up to speed on everything when camp opens.
“There are more firehouses to drink from than I know what to do with at this point,” he said. “I have a lot of catching up to do but I have a great staff in place already and I’m really excited to see what they can tell me and what they want to do in the future.”
Much of what Click was asked during his introductory press conference on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park were nearly impossible for him to answer. A week ago, Click was the vice president of baseball operations for the Rays and had interviewed for the job in Houston. In the hours since he accepted, he had to make sure his family was prepared to move to Houston. Baseball was secondary.
Still, Click understands the importance of getting up to speed on his new club as soon as possible, while building a relationship with manager Dusty Baker. Click will rely on his baseball operations department heavily in the near-term and future. At 42, being general manager of the Astros was a job he couldn’t turn down despite the controversy that’s surrounded the club the last three months.
“The more I got to know about the team, the roster, the front office, the city of Houston, the more excited that my family and I became about the opportunity,” he said. “To be honest, it happened more quickly than we thought so we’re still playing a little bit of catch-up, but we’ll get there.”
Click takes over for Jeff Luhnow, who rebuilt the Astros into a power -- including a 2017 World Series championship -- before an MLB investigation proved the club used cameras to illegally steal opponents’ signs during that season and into 2018. That ultimately cost Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs. The sign-stealing scandal will remain in the forefront in the discussion when camp opens next week and the players convene for the first time.
“We’re focused on the future,” Click said. “Obviously, there’s been some things in the past that, yeah, may have not been going the way the Astros organization wanted it to. I wasn’t here for that. I’m trying to bring a fresh look and keep what’s working and try to engage the staff and everybody as much as possible.”
Working in Click’s favor, however, is the Astros are poised to contend this year. He’s joins a front office that’s been as analytically advanced as any in the game, including the forward-thinking Rays. The team will have a payroll in 2020 that’s about three times what the Rays worked with last year, and Crane has indicated he will continue to spend money as long as the club remains competitive.
“Hopefully he can do a lot with a lot here,” Crane said.
The Astros face a huge challenge the next couple of years being without their first- and second-round Draft picks as a result of the penalties handed down by MLB, but they remain one of the favorites in the AL. Click saw how talented the Astros were when Houston beat the Rays in the AL Division Series last year.
“We've all watched the Astros and the things that they've been able to accomplish on the Major League level and at the Minor League level and some of the things that they have done to change the way that we all think about the game of baseball,” he said. “I'm really excited to continue that and continue to push it forward and to win another championship.”
The direction of the front office remains to be seen. It’s too early for any of that. Click is still trying to remember names and which halls to turn down at Union Station. In its report on the sign-stealing scandal, MLB said the Astros' front-office culture was “very problematic.” The hiring of Click represents a fresh start.
“I think we'd like to do everything we can to continue to make sure that this is an employee-first culture kind of place where people want to work and are involved and engaged,” he said. “I have every faith that we are going to be able to create that and continue the positive culture that we have here at the Astros.”