Within the scope of the punishment levied against the Houston Astros by MLB, one issue is sort of set aside — the 2020 Houston Astros are, on paper, a pretty damn good baseball team.
The purpose of this missive isn’t to spend time debating the penalties. If anything, $5 million and the loss of four highly coveted draft picks in 2020 and 2021 is a bit on the lenient side. That is, until you factor in the one-year suspensions of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, both of whom were subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.
Players play the games, but a GM and manager are the heart and soul of the day-to-day drip of activity that goes into roster building and player development. As skilled as Luhnow was in building up the Astros, the key job in Houston is now in the dugout. The next manager will have to be as skilled in public relations as he is in winning ballgames.
Let me be clear: There is nobody as good as Buck Showalter at doing those two things: making people feel upbeat and optimistic about their team and pushing the right buttons to win games.
Former GM and current analyst Jim Bowden is pushing ex-Padres and Giants skipper Bruce Bochy for this position. While Showalter is not likely a Hall of Fame skipper, Bochy will certainly go into the Hall thanks to his three championships and four World Series appearances.
There is just one problem with Bochy: spring training convenes in less than 30 days, and he is still being cagey and vague as to whether or not he wants back in the dugout in 2020.
Showalter, on the other hand, might play cagey until the time the ink dries to extract every dollar of his worth. He is probably home with his wife, Angela, trying on uniforms and jackets to see the best fit.
Look, I know in the immediacy of such a turbulent couple days, Crane has to put a new front office and managerial team together. There will be some push to hand the job to Joe Espada, the Astros’ well-regarded bench coach. Prior to working with Hinch, Espada was highly thought of by the Yankees. He coached in New York under Joe Girardi from 2015-2017.
But in the light of day, one would have to believe this is a bit like asking the fox to guard the henhouse. Alex Cora, the bench coach of the 2017 Astros, was fired as manager of the Red Sox Jan. 14. MLB also has a bit of sketchy situation with Carlos Beltran managing the Mets.
Beltran said in November that he wasn’t involved in the Houston’s sign-stealing scheme, but MLB’s report specifically mentioned Beltran, a player on that cheating Astros team in 2017. While it’s unlikely he receives a suspension, could his tenure end before spring training? Beltran’s new bosses may feel his credibility in a tough media market forces their hand.
In my mind’s eye, I think this double whammy in Houston is going to hit the fan base a little like a natural disaster. It’s going to rattle the ground the fans have stood during these past five years of the Astros’ renaissance.
I can just see Showalter communicating to the local Houston media with them as the proper conduit to the fans by espousing warm wit, brilliant insight with just the right measure of shame for those that came before him — all the while making those around him feel hopeful.
He is one of the true difference makers I have ever been around in a locker room. He is what this very good Astros team needs right now. In fact, it’s fair to say he could do to Houston what Joe Torre did in New York after George Steinbrenner fired Showalter.
As I recall, that didn’t work out too badly.
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