Who’s running my team: Houston Astros

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 04: Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, right, shakes hands with new general manager James Click as the conclude a press conference introducing Click at Minute Maid Park on February 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 04: Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, right, shakes hands with new general manager James Click as the conclude a press conference introducing Click at Minute Maid Park on February 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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One of a series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team. Today, we take a closer look at the Houston Astros.

Houston Astros

  • Owner: Jim Crane
  • President of Baseball Operations and General Manager: Jim Click

It’s a matter of record that the sign-stealing scandal took a major hatchet to the Astros’ front office structure. Only this week, having lost any ability to respond to other teams’ winter advances, owner Jim Crane identified the man he wants to fill that most critical of positions, Jim Click.

Click comes to the job from Tampa Bay, where he was vice president of baseball operations. Prior to that, he wrote for Baseball Prospectus, in effect telling major league execs how to build their teams. The Rays front office has become something of a GM incubator, having in recent years produced not only Click but Los Angeles’ Andrew Friedman, Boston’s Chaim Bloom and Tampa’s own GM, Erik Neander.

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Crane has been a largely hands-off owner since leading a group that purchased control of the team from Drayton McLane in 2011. He brought a diverse portfolio to the game, including experience in life insurance, capital management, and pipelines.

One of his first acts was to replace the incumbent GM, Ed Wade, with Jeff Luhnow, then an assistant with the Cardinals. From that point forward, Luhnow largely operated the front office with carte blanche control.

Given the developments of this past winter, Crane’s willingness to give Click that same level of independence may have changed.

The Houston Astros may have taken an off-field beating this winter, but the franchise is not without its advantages. With a 6.3 million metropolitan population, the area is the nation’s fifth-largest, and only upstate Texas can claim monopoly status on a larger metro area.

In 2019, Forbes put the franchise’s value at $1.78 billion, the game’s ninth-largest. When the 2020 figures are released in April, it will be interesting to see whether that value has been at all compromised by the scandal.

With four playoff appearances in five seasons – topped by the 2017 World Series win – the Astros have become a consistent draw. They have annually exceeded 2 million attendance since 2015, peaking at 2.98 million in 2018.

Financially, the Houston Astros basically operate on their own. The 25 percent of the total value they extract from MLB revenue sharing is a smaller percentage than all but five teams. Those five, by the way, have the game’s five highest overall values, each more than $1 billion higher than the Astros. That makes it far easier for them to flourish on a smaller percentage disbursement.

In real dollars, only the Cleveland Indians receive less aid from the central office.

The Astros’ self-sufficiency is founded on strong production from its market area and its stadium. The Houston market yielded $747 million in value during 2019, the game’s 10th highest total. Minute Maid Park added $368 million, the ninth-highest total.

The above, obviously, is a dry numerical background that cannot cope with the most intriguing question surrounding the Astros: How will it cooperate moving forward? The fact that Click arrives from Tampa-St. Pete suggests he will be analytics-minded; that’s what they do in Tampa. It’s also the path Luhnow assiduously followed…and the one that eventually got his administration in trouble.

At his introductory press conference, Click had little specific to say aside from making it clear that he was in no mood to look back. “We’re focused on the future,” he said.

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Whatever his intentions for communicating with the roster about the sign-stealing scandal, he had nothing to say publicly. “Obviously, there’s been some things in the past that, yeah, may have not been going the way the Houston Astros organization wanted it to,” he said. “I wasn’t here for that. I’m trying to bring a fresh look and keep what’s working and try to engage the staff and everybody as much as possible.”