HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane is putting together a preliminary list of candidates to become the club’s next general manager, but he doesn’t expect the position to be filled before the start of the new year.
Crane, in an interview with MLB.com on Tuesday night, said he expects to have a thorough search to replace James Click, who last week turned down a one-year offer to return as GM after the Astros won the World Series. Crane, in turn, promoted Bill Firkus and Charles Cook to assistant general manager, joining Andrew Ball as assistant GMs to the lead baseball operations department.
Firkus was the senior director of baseball strategy, and Cook was senior director of player evaluation.
“We’ve got some names [to replace Click],” said Crane, who is attending the Owners Meetings in New York. “I’m going to take my time on it this time. Last time, I was in a little crunch. I didn’t have a GM and didn’t have a manager.
“We’ve got a pretty solid baseball ops team that’s been around. Firkus and Charles Cook have been with the team a while. … We’re going to interview a bunch of people and see where we land with that. I don’t expect anything to happen before the first of the year.”
The sign-stealing scandal that cost GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch their jobs in the weeks prior to Spring Training in 2020 forced Crane to scramble for replacements. He hired Dusty Baker as the club’s manager on Jan. 29, 2020 (and re-signed him to a one-year deal last week), and Click was hired five days later after 14 years in Tampa Bay’s front office.
“We’re not on red alert like I was then,” Crane said. “I had no manager and no GM, so I moved pretty quick last time.”
In the meantime, the Astros have several front-burner items coming off a World Series title, led by the future of ace pitcher Justin Verlander. The right-hander -- expected to win his third AL Cy Young Award on Wednesday after going 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA -- turned down a $25 million contract option to return to Houston, making him a free agent at 39 years old. Crane said he’s “staying in the middle of that” until it gets settled.
Crane said Verlander is seeking a deal similar to Max Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130 million contract with the Mets a year ago. Crane said he hopes the absence of a state income tax in Texas will give the Astros an edge.
“I know him well, so we’ve been pretty candid,” Crane said. “He’s looking at the comp, which I think there’s only one or two. … J.V.’s probably got a few years left, and he wants to make the most of it. I think he’s going to test the market on that.”
Beyond that, Crane hinted the club would like to bring back veteran first baseman Yuli Gurriel. A popular player in the clubhouse and with fans, Gurriel, 38, batted .242 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs in the regular season but had a solid postseason, hitting .347 with two homers in 12 games. He suffered a right MCL sprain in Game 5 of the World Series and didn’t play in the Game 6 clincher.
“Yuli’s been great here,” Crane said. “We’ll work on that. We need some coverage.”
Crane said the club is waiting to see how veteran outfielder Michael Brantley, who’s also a free agent, recovers from the arthroscopic labral repair on his right shoulder he had in August. Brantley, 35, hit .288 with 14 doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs and a .786 OPS in 64 games but didn’t play after June 26.
“We’ll have to wait and see about that,” Crane said. “We have some room to move around in there with a couple of those spots. Yuli can play third and could probably play second. You’ve got to probably keep a close eye on him. He’s a good guy in the locker room, and you’re not going to know about Michael until probably March. If something comes up with a big bat for the outfield that could play multiple positions out there, we have that slot probably available. It would be nice to get a left-handed pitcher in the bullpen.”