HOUSTON -- Now that they’ve hired Dusty Baker to be their manager for 2020, the Astros appear to be in no rush to fill their open general manager position. Club owner Jim Crane said Thursday at a press conference to introduce Baker that his goal is to have the position filled by the middle of Spring Training.
With all the offseason heavy lifting done, Crane’s priority was finding a manager to replace AJ Hinch before filling the GM position to replace Jeff Luhnow. Crane dismissed Hinch and Luhnow on Jan. 13 -- only an hour after MLB had suspended them for one year for their role in the sign-stealing scandal. The Astros were also fined $5 million and docked first- and second-round Draft picks in 2020 and ’21.
The loss of Draft picks will make for an interesting challenge for the Astros going forward, along with a burgeoning payroll that’s north of the $208 million luxury-tax threshold this year and free agency looming for key players like George Springer and Michael Brantley after ‘20 and Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke after ’21.
Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that Royals director of pro scouting/special assistant Gene Watson and Rays vice president of baseball operations James Click had interviewed for the position.
“We interviewed a lot of great candidates,” Crane said. “We’re in the middle of that right now and we hope to have something done in the middle of Spring Training, maybe in the next couple of weeks. We’re going to take our time. We’re going to talk to a lot of people and do a thorough check on what’s available.”
Crane didn’t rule out the possibility that the Astros could stand pat in the front office for the time being. Each of the candidates being interviewed has spent time with Pete Putila, who was promoted to assistant general manager in September. He oversees player development but has taken on expanded roles since the dismissals of Luhnow on Jan. 13 and assistant GM of player evaluation Brandon Taubman in October.
A month before he was dismissed, Luhnow promoted Ehsan Bokhari to senior director of player evaluation, Sarah Gelles to director of research and development, Catherine Cage to program manager, Adam Brodie to manager of research, Will Sharp to manager of Major League strategy and Brendan Fournie to senior manager of player evaluation and economics.
In September, Luhnow promoted Bill Firkus to senior director of baseball strategy, Armando Velasco to senior director of baseball operations and Charles Cook to director of player evaluation.
“As I’ve said before, we have a very deep staff here and they’re very capable,” Crane said. “We’ve met with them all and reorganized the department a little bit to be a little more efficient, and we’ll probably hire a few people down the line. I’m very comfortable where we’re at.”