WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros owner Jim Crane, during a news conference Thursday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in which players apologized for their role in the sign-stealing scandal, said he would review the baseball operations department with new general manager James Click, who was hired last week. Click replaced Jeff Luhnow, who was dismissed a month ago, along with manager AJ Hinch, in the wake of the scandal.
Click said employees Tom Koch-Weser and Derek Vigoa, both of whom were named in a report by The Wall Street Journal as central figures in the scheme, were still employed by the club. Koch-Weser is director of advance information and Vigoa is senior manager of team operations.
“I think any new GM coming in would want to take a full view of the baseball operations staff and figure out how we take the awesome people that we have here and maximize them and put them in the right position to succeed,” Click said. “It’s something definitely on the front-burner for me.”
According to a letter from Commissioner Rob Manfred obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Vigoa presented the team’s algorithmic sign-stealing method called “Codebreaker” to Luhnow in 2016. The paper reported Koch-Weser used terms such as “dark arts” to describe the system in emails to several colleagues in 2017.
Crane vowed Thursday to ensure another scandal wouldn’t occur under his watch.
“We’re reviewing the baseball operations,” Crane said. “James Click and I will continue to work on that and put a structure together that we feel comfortable won’t happen again in the future.”
Meanwhile, Click addressed the status of hitting coach Alex Cintron, who was described as “driving a culture,” along with Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán, in the sign-stealing operation in an email to Luhnow from Koch-Weser, according to The Wall Street Journal report. Cintron was not mentioned in the MLB report.
“That’s something I’m going to talk to Dusty [Baker] about,” Click said. “Right now, Alex Cintron is the hitting coach and everybody speaks highly of him.”
Speier joins Baker’s staff
Chris Speier, who was Dusty Baker’s bench coach with the Washington Nationals, has joined the Astros’ staff as quality control coach, Baker said Thursday.
Baker was hired only two weeks before the start of Spring Training, making it difficult to make any changes on the staff.
“At each job I’ve gone to, I’ve had more choices than this, but I’ve got there earlier,” Baker said. “I don’t believe in getting rid of everybody that’s an incumbent, because they can make my job easier and cut down the time it takes for me to know who I have and who I don’t have.”
Speier, 69, played 19 seasons in the Major Leagues as a shortstop with the Expos, Giants, Cubs, Cardinals and Twins and made three National League All-Star teams. His coaching experience includes stops as Baker’s bench coach with the Nats (2016-17) and Reds (2008-13), and Speier was also on Baker’s staff with the Cubs, serving as third-base coach (2005-06). Speier spent the 2004 season as bench coach for the Athletics, and he coached third base for the 2001 World Series champion D-backs and 2000 Brewers.
Baker back in West Palm
Baker is very familiar with West Palm Beach, where the Astros and Nationals share a Spring Training facility. He helped open Ballpark of the Palm Beaches while managing the Nationals in 2017 and is back on the other side of the complex now with the Astros.
“Now when I come in, I’m still a little confused because I’m supposed to be going left,” Baker said. “This is where I made my first Spring Training with the Braves in 1968, so the town has changed. Time has passed very quickly and I see the progress of this town and this area. I’m excited. Nobody is going to kill my joy.”