The Astros made two major hirings in the last week and in some ways, it felt like they brought in Felix Unger and Oscar Madison to partner up in the manager and general manager spots.
Dusty Baker had been a big name that had been out there since the beginning of the manager search. The first time I saw James Click’s name in the GM search was when the articles appeared that he would be hired. Baker is 70 years old with more than 45 years in the majors as a player, coach or manager. Click is a 42 year old with 14 years in Tampa’s front office. Baker is famous. Click sounds like the pseudonym of someone who writes computer manuals. Baker is old school. Click is all new age in baseball terms. Baker is from the school of hard knocks. Click is a Yale graduate. Baker has been with seven different teams, four as a player and four as a coach/manager with the Giants bridging both. Click has only been with the Rays until a couple days ago.
But Jim Crane, who pulled in Jeff Luhnow from the front office in St. Louis to front a very successful teardown and re-build has done his research and quickly grabbed another young man and thrust him into the general manager’s spot. There are a lot of reasons to like this hire.
What makes a good “marriage”. A lot of us old-timers know that what makes a great marriage in our personal lives is not just compatibility. It is also two people with different strengths filling in the gaps for each other. In a recent Q&A with Allyson Footer, Baker said this about building a relationship with Click.
“There are some things that I can learn from him. There are some things that possibly he can learn from me. It’s like dealing with my son. I call him when I’m stumped on my computer when I’m stumped on my cell phone, how to transfer this and that. These are areas where I can improve. There are areas [Click] wants to improve on. We’ll enhance each other.”
Getting by with less. There have been concerns about how the Astros will do going forward as they feel the squeeze of budgets finally hitting or exceeding the luxury tax level in the game. Click is coming from an organization where they have won 90 and 96 wins the last two seasons with the 29th and 30th highest payrolls each season. He will probably chuckle at the angst folks have in not being able to spend, spend, spend as a solution to their problems.
Fitting in with the front office. It sure made a lot more sense to bring in an older style manager than an older style general manager. The front office as it is set up has a lot of analytics going on up and down the organization. James Click will be comfortable and will know how to use what has already been set up.
A little mix of more “humanity”. Click has been part of a Rays front office that although it has been analytics-focused, also had fun. It is understood that the employees would have ping pong tournaments and other stress-relieving and team building breaks. Jeff Luhnow (maybe unfairly) has been seen as a guy who ran a tight and not necessarily fun ship in his front office.
The long view. One of the things the Astros are saying with this move is that they see their GM as here for the long term – the manager – not so much. If Baker does not perform well, the GM will part of the search party after this season for someone who better matches up.
A different point of view. The Rays were proponents of the “opener”; bringing in a relief pitcher for an inning or two to start games. This worked out well for their team, which was number 1 in the AL in ERA last season. He may or may not bring this concept to the Astros, but it is likely that he will have different tricks up his sleeve (legal tricks) to help make the Astros a better team.
Worked his way up. In a recent article by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times he talked about his time with the Rays.
“Click…. joined the Rays in 2005 as an intern to help build a database for new baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman. Click got hired full time in 2006, and the Yale history major has worked his way up to vice president of baseball operations. He has a hand in all facets of the operation, including systems, research and development, logistics, player evaluation, contract negotiations and more.”
One of the things that impressed Crane about Click was how he had worked from the bottom up and actually had done all these jobs that would be under his direction as GM. There is a lot to be said for this.
The one unspoken plus here is that after the safe hire of Dusty Baker that seemed like an MLB sanctioned addition, that the hire of James Click feels like a pure Crane decision and a good move for this team moving into the future.