The absence of a general manager hasn’t stopped the Astros from being active in the free-agent market so far this offseason. The club re-signed reliever pitcher Rafael Montero to a three-year contract Nov. 15, and on Tuesday Houston signed slugger José Abreu to a three-year deal, a signal the defending World Series champions are aiming for a repeat.
While he searches for a new GM, Astros owner Jim Crane has taken a more active role in the front office, working along with assistant GMs Andrew Ball, Bill Firkus and Charles Cook -- the latter two having been promoted after the World Series. Crane has also leaned heavily on Hall of Fame slugger Jeff Bagwell, a trusted advisor who has Crane’s ear.
In fact, Crane sent Bagwell, Firkus and bench coach Joe Espada to Miami to help close the deal with Abreu.
“The visit was great,” Bagwell said. “It was good for us to let him know how much he would mean to us if we could sign him. Most importantly, we found out more about the person he was, what drives him. You look at the numbers, the games played, RBIs, what he does, the person he is and his desire to win and what he could mean to our clubhouse, as well as what he does on the field, that made me very comfortable for pursuing him.”
Crane said Tuesday he’s assembling candidates to become the team’s new GM, but he doesn’t expect the role to be filled before January. The team parted ways with GM James Click a week after the World Series. Crane said he’s happy with the way the front office has functioned sans a GM in the meantime.
“The front office is working fine, as you can see,” he said. “Our guys are experienced. We promoted two guys -- Firkus to assistant GM and Charles Cook to assistant GM. Both have ample years of experience here knowing how everything works. We’re full speed ahead.”
Bagwell, who set the team’s all-time home run record of 449 during his 15-year career in Houston (1991-2005), has had a growing presence around the Astros in the last few years. He’s a frequent contributor to the team’s radio and television broadcasts during the season, and he can usually be spotted sitting next to Crane in his box at Minute Maid Park during games.
Bagwell said he’s a sounding board for Crane and provides the perspective of a former player.
“So much of this game is made up of numbers and things like that, so there’s so many things numbers can’t tell you -- the type of person, what he means to our clubhouse, how he goes about his business,” Bagwell said. “Those are the intangible things I can see when I talk to somebody, more than just numbers.”
Asked bluntly if he wanted to be the next GM of the Astros, Bagwell smiled and said: “I’m good where I’m at right now.”