HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane said Friday he hopes to have a new manager in place by Feb. 3 and will begin interviewing candidates to take over as general manager next week. Crane has been moving swiftly, interviewing at least three managerial candidates since firing president of baseball operations and GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch on Monday.
Crane, speaking before the Astros’ annual Diamond Dreams Gala at Minute Maid Park, hopes to have both chairs filled before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training on Feb. 12. Former big league managers Buck Showalter and John Gibbons and Cubs third-base coach Will Venable are among those who have interviewed with Crane.
“I just want to get a feel for what other managers are doing and their skill sets and go through their resumes,” Crane said. “It takes a little bit of time. We’ve been working hard this week, and same thing on the general manager. I think there’s a lot of interest. This is a good ballclub. We should have another good season. This team is pretty much intact, and we’ll make additions if we need to. I don’t know any manager that wouldn’t want to manage these guys. They’re set to win again.”
Coming off a 107-win season in which they were eight outs from winning their second World Series in three years, losing in seven games to the Nationals, the Astros are looking for new leadership after Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow on Monday. That came only an hour after MLB released a report on the sign-stealing scandal and issued a suspension for Hinch and Luhnow for the 2020 season.
Since then, Crane has been making phone calls and receiving input from around the industry on available managerial candidates. Among those expected to interview are former managers Dusty Baker and Jeff Banister and Dodgers special assistant Raúl Ibañez. Astros bench coach Joe Espada remains in the mix.
Crane said experience is not mandatory but will be a consideration.
“Someone mature that can handle the group, someone that had a little bit of experience in some areas,” he said. “And then, the other thing I think is key, give them support, and we have some good coaches in here already. We’ve just got to find a leader who can handle some pressure. There’s going to be a little bit of pressure with where this team has been the last few months, so somebody that can handle that also.”
Crane is even receiving some input from franchise icons. He said Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and former Astros slugger Lance Berkman have offered to help find the right person.
“Listen, we’ve talked to all our Killer B’s,” he said. “We’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”
The interview process, Crane said, is a three- or four-pronged approach. Crane conducts the initial interview before the candidates talk to members of the baseball operations department and other executives.
“I do the preliminary and then I do the cleanup, and we kind of compare notes,” he said. “You learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate. You get a lot more information, so that’s the way we’ve been doing it.”
When it comes to his search for a GM, Crane said the club will begin meeting with candidates next week. He says there’s been no shortage of interest. Luhnow was hired shortly after Crane purchased the team in 2011, so this is only his second GM hire.
“The deadline is tight, but my goal is by the time Spring Training is over, everything is running smooth,” he said.
The Red Sox and Mets are also looking for managers after those teams agreed to part ways with Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán, respectively, in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. The saga has rocked baseball, but Crane says smoother waters are ahead in Houston.
“People think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that,” he said. “We’ll be fine. We’ll get this behind us. We’ll get going and we’ll start playing baseball in the spring.”
Crane open to Springer extension
Crane said he’s open to signing three-time All-Star outfielder George Springer to a long-term extension. Crane negotiated a $21 million contract with Springer for the 2020 season on Thursday, avoiding what could have been a messy arbitration hearing considering the two sides were $5 million apart.
Springer, the 2017 World Series MVP who’s been an All-Star the past three seasons, is in the final year of his contract. The Astros have already sewn up two of their four core position players -- signing José Altuve to a five-year, $151 million contract in 2018 and Alex Bregman to a five-year, $100 million contract last spring. Crane also signed Justin Verlander to a two-year, $66 million extension last year.
“We’ve made it clear to George and his agent,” Crane said. “It’s on their timetable now. We cleared up the arbitration. [That] makes things a little more comfortable for George. We love George. He’s one of our core guys. We hope we can get that done and see if that works.”