How good of a bridge builder is James Click?

A good friend of the blog, Old pro, threw out a number of ideas for blog posts the other day and so here is the first idea that we will address here.

“If you are James Click, what is your long term plan to keep the Astros competitive? Does he have enough info on the players who are going to be free agents in the next couple of years to formulate a plan?”

The first point here is that this should have been a Jeff Luhnow post. Luhnow, who proved so adept at guiding the Astros through the depths of despair to a dominating team is of course out of the picture. Right around now he would have been the guy who would be facing what new GM James Click is facing, which is creating a plan to bridge to a successful future. But, of course, we will never know if and how Luhnow would have handled this situation.

This Situation

The Astros have been one of the most successful teams of the last half-decade. They have been to the playoffs four of the five seasons (with the fifth season being a winning one). They have won one World Series, came within a handful of outs of winning a second, lost to the eventual WS champion Red Sox in an ALCS and lost to eventual WS Champion Royals (who they also came so close to beating) in an ALDS. They have won 100+ games three seasons in a row. They have had an MVP and a couple Cy Youngs and a Rookie of the Year in the last five seasons.

In 2015 their position players were the youngest in the majors at 26.3 years old, while their pitching staff was the 4th oldest at 29.4 y.o. In 2019 their position players were now the second oldest in the majors at 29 y.o. and their pitchers the fifth oldest at 29.9 y.o. So, suddenly a team that had been one of the majors youngest for the everydays had aged quite a bit.

There are multiple sites that rank MLB teams minor league systems, but MLB Pipeline (Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum) seems to align with the thoughts of many out there when it ranks the Astros minor league organization as 28th heading into 2020 or 2021 depending on how things work out.  Now how much of that drop in rankings (they were 6th before the 2019 season) is based on true losses through trades and call-ups and how much is based on psychologically wanting to punish the garbage can beating men is not clear. But there can be no doubt that the trades for Justin Verlander (Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers), Gerrit Cole (Michael Feliz, Joe Musgrove, Jason Martin, Colin Moran) and Zack Greinke (Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas, Corbin Martin, Josh Rojas) plus some other moves along the way have drained a lot of talent from the organization.

The scandal punishment took away a 1st and 2nd round pick from each of the 2020 and 2021 drafts for the Astros. Picking later in drafts due to great seasons has affected the talent that the Astros can pull in and having to wait even longer to make those picks also affects that ability to grab talent.

On top of this, the team has over the last couple of seasons started to lose free agents, and is facing even more losses in the next couple seasons. The largest of these have included Charlie Morton (15-3 in 2018), Gerrit Cole (20-5 in 2019), Wade Miley (14-6 in 2019), Collin McHugh (58-35 over 6 seasons) and Will Harris (1.50 ERA in 2019).

If the 2020 season never happens the Astros may never see George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel and Brad Peacock play another game in their home uniforms. By the end of 2021, the Astros could also lose Verlander, Greinke, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna and Lance McCullers Jr. to free agency.

In other words, the “Situation” is one that feels like moving from solid footing out onto black ice. And James Click is the man who must figure out how to bridge over the black ice to a good if not better tomorrow.

The Good News

The plus side to all this is that the team is not bereft of a base. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and even Carlos Correa (at least through 2022) give the team a base to build off of and they do have some young arms (Josh James, Jose Urquidy, Bryan Abreu, Rogelio Armenteros, Forrest Whitley, who will probably be made to change his first name since it is the same as a Civil War general, Cristian Javier and many others) ready to step up in the next few seasons.

Building the Bridge

So, what can James Click do to build a bridge from previous success to future sustainable success?

  • Well, he has started to do some of it. Along with what looks like a solid draft, the team has also gone out and grabbed up some interesting talent from the great mass of undrafted college players.
  • He needs to continue the Astros focus on bringing in or trading for International talent. This has been the way that the team has built a strong base. https://chipalatta.com/2020/03/18/astros-international-emphasis/
  • He needs to continue his ability (honed with a smaller budget in Tampa) on developing talent from inside the organization. This especially applies to pitching which has been a “perceived” weakness of the current Astros.
  • He needs to work on making the right types of extensions for the free agents who will continue to bring value as they age.
  • He needs to use money freed up by free agents leaving to spend on our own or to bring other players in as needed.
  • He may need to make some decisions on whether he needs to help beef up the minor league system by trading someone, who has value, but who may not be long term signable.
  • He needs to show an ability to make reasonable trades that bring value to his team.
  • He needs to continue the Astros innate ability to pick talent off the scrap heap (Collin McHugh, Will Harris, Tony Sipp, etc.) and turn lemon Pledge into lemonade.
  • He needs to follow the rules, make sure those around him follow the rules and frankly needs to be a better human being towards his players, his direct reports, the media and to his peers around baseball than his predecessor was.

43 comments on “How good of a bridge builder is James Click?

  1. My father-in-law Ed got to go home from the hospital today – so thank you. I would appreciate your continued prayers as he still has significant challenges

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    • While my opinion might be in the minority here, I would like to see Hinch rehired here for the next season. He had a steady hand on the rudder in all matters except controlling “it.”

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      • I would like to see Hinch return. It is not going to happen – they don’t want that constant reminder for years to come as their figure head. If only his name was Belichick – cheating would be OK

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  2. Dan, before I retire to contemplate this post and share some ideas tomorrow, I would first remind you that Correa is a free agent after the 2021 season, not the 2022 season.
    You really outdid yourself on this one! We had best start getting ready for the newer version of the dominant Astros.

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  3. I am hopeful that Click will do well with the Astros. He is a smart guy; a Yale graduate.

    Tampa had good records the past two seasons with a limited budget and Jim Crane has shown he is willing to open his wallet.

    Tampa seems to have done well in trades since Click was there, although it’s not known to what extent he was involved with these:

    https://www.tampabay.com/blogs/rays/2018/03/24/20-years-of-rays-best-signings-trades-and-deals/

    But their recent draft history seems to be a mixed bag:

    https://www.tampabay.com/sports/rays/2020/06/14/for-a-team-that-wins-on-a-budget-rays-have-a-spotty-draft-history/

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    • I guess I don’t sweat the draft as much as I would for football and basketball. In those sports you are drafting people directly into the major leagues. In baseball you are drafting them into rookie leagues or maybe A- ball. Such a crap shoot.
      I would be interested in the Rays work in the international market.
      Plus it is always a good sign when a team makes trades and picks the right folks to pick up.

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      • Have to say, if the amateur draft were a crap shoot then many more late rounders would be better than early rounders. Most elite picks happen because of loud tools.

        One reason late rounders do move up, though, is going to clubs where development staffs are that much better. And if you loook at the tale of 2 seasons in Miley’s case, better advanced scouting by some clubs, over others.

        Luhnow told Bowden in 2018 Winter that more teams are catching on though. He might have been thinking that Stearns Elias Medjal and many others have been dispersed throughout the league now. Or how LaRussa started the shift, and how almost all teams were doing it by then.

        To AstroNut’s point, it’s kind of hard to tell who was really behind all the decisions of Andrew Friedman James Click and Chaim Bloom in Tampa, similar to Taubman’s input vs Luhnow of players we went after (Morton, Osuna).

        Liked by 1 person

      • If only we’d have taken Pete Alonso instead of Ronnie Dawson.. I know what ya mean.

        How about 30 teams passing 34 times on Josh James?

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  4. It is a beautiful blue sky Wednesday out there. You would never know there is so much of the world hurting.
    Dr. Anthony (Doctor Doom) Fauci has stirred up the baseball world by saying that he would avoid playing baseball into late October like a World Series because these viruses are often worse with the colder weather.
    Of course he is the same guy who would not agree that the warm weather would make things better.
    Not very confident about anything anymore,

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    • I can’t stand him. It blows me away how he is still considered an expert after the corruption that has been levelled against him. Astounding!

      And yes! A glorious day nonetheless.

      Prayers for Ed. And best to all the ChipFam..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. -Click is not allowed to do anything until MLB gives the green light for teams to do business. That is the first thing to remember.
    -Being aware of how the Astros stood in the eyes of their players who will be free agents at the end of 2020 is important.
    -The total salary that the five players mentioned above who are to be free agents at the end of this year is $62.2 million.
    -In my opinion, Kyle Tucker has to be a starter in the Astros outfield for the Astros to continue to be a factor in the WS race in the future. He is very important in the outfield because of the huge investment they have in him. Part of that investment that has to be couted is their refusal in the past to trade him for a player they wanted, thus, not being able to make the deal.
    -To me, getting the Astros’ pitching prospects to be contributors in the future is Click’s biggest job. Somehow, their pitching staff has to be made up mostly from their guys, not from other team’s guys.

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    • It goes against what I believe that Springer will choose to leave — hey, what do I really know if he and his wife haven’t decided either?

      I don’t think there’s any chance we’ll offer Brantley unless his ask comes way down, which he won’t forego testing the market for that number. He’s out.

      I’m pro-Tucker, but think he’s just a cog. Not expecting him to be anything more than an average LF bat for a few yrs, with excellent speed and instincts on bases. Straw however, I think the team has as big ‘a plans for. They gave him #3 this season, and I think he’ll be a really good disruptor utility guy.

      If we don’t go FA market, I like Chas McCormick to get the call up. He’s rangy, has excellent bat-to-ball skills and a good eye. Sure, it’s not what we’re used to with a 100M outfield. That couldn’t last forever.

      In 2021, I’d watch for Bryan De la Cruz, and all eyes on Pedro Leon. The Int’l draft has now been moved (again) to January, so we may project Sept for him.

      2022 Brewer Barber Daniels Taylor Julks

      By then, we will have plenty of budget too, if we want to go outside the org; or trade some assets.

      A few prospects come to mind, who could be playing for other teams right now; Jones, Tanielu, Mayfield, Sneed, Armenteros, Emanuel perhaps.

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      • We also don’t agree on Schroeder Ha! i watched him and Kyle Serrano try to get out of the 2st inning over and over again last year. I think he’s a bust, and the money we paid him vs $10,000 for Javier makes me root for the underdog all the more.

        I really like Tucker. Is it just innocuous that he won’t stop stepping out of the box for a handful of dirt? Ugh so annoying for me, but I press through it.

        My point, OP, is that I don’t want to put undue pressure on him. I really thought his issue was nervousness in his 2018 call up, and he seemed to prove it by continuing consistent AAA numbers. I also think he was demotivated seeing Yordan Super 2’d, and knowing Kyle wasn’t getting a call up either in ’19. (Same with Whitley, the team has manipulated their time clocks), and they’ve had to settle for waiting on Reddick Brantley to leave.

        Keep in mind, Luhnow told Tucker on Dec 10, 2018 in Las Vegas to “come and win a LF spot”. Seven days later he signed Brantley to 2 yrs! How would you feel seeing that unfold if you were him?

        Based on his contact numbers in the Show, I’m just not projecting him as highly. I think there will still be a learning curve. Recall we debated Tucker and Benintendi, you said, let’s not compare them several yrs ago. In fact, a soph slump I’d lean toward Tucker (like Benintendi), rather than Alvarez because of fundamental swing factors. Tucker’s swing and some of his swing isses look really bad. He needs to improve pitch recognition. just some thoughts

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      • Should proof-read better; Jayson Schroeder had the hardest time getting out of the 1st inning last year, rather. I don’t give him much of a chance at true advancement. His trade “value” may indicate that within the next few years, so we’ll keep an eye out.

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      • I think that, with less than 1 yr mlb service time, Tucker is still key to the Astros being able to afford a great outfield. Even if they resign Springer, Tucker’s performance will go a long way to them being able to afford Springer. I still look at Tucker and see a much better hitter at his age than Yellich was, especially in the minors. I think Tucker has it in him to add a gear, similar to what Yellich did, when he settles into the majors.

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  6. Yikes, when politics start leaking into Chipalatta, I know we need baseball back! I think building an outfield for 2021 will be Clicks biggest challenge. Guys like Springer and Brantley will do very well in Free Agency. There are not a whole lot of real quality options on the market next year. We could end up without either one of them. I think Brantley will get 3 years at 20 or something in that range. The best thing for all concerned is to do what it takes to sign George and hope he ages well. But I’m not optimistic. So, we’ve got to tell Tucker it’s his turn. And maybe do the same thing with Straw in center. I don’t want to see Reddick extended, but we don’t have a whole lot of organizational depth out there right now. And what about Honest Abe Toro? Can he be turned into a reliable left fielder? I also would not rule out signing Jake again. And I would not rule out our GM making an old fashioned trade for a starting outfielder.

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    • Literally disagree with almost every sentence Lol!

      Haven’t we covered that Toro has never played a competitive inning in the OF? What’s amazing about this mentioning over and again is that you haven’t seemed to mention one other true outfielder in our system. Of the names we keep suggesting, why don’t you try a deep dive into a few of them, instead of looking at free agents? Haniger would be excellent, btw, in the $5M range.

      If neither of those pan out, there’s always trade like you wrote. So who would you target on other teams? Twins, Rosario comes to mind since they have excellent depth.

      Reddick extended? is that actually a phrase used, checking google. Nope doesn’t exist. Never going to happen. I’d be glad to go double or nothing on our Tyler White bet and say that Reddick won’t get half his salary in 2021. But, you know this because you said Astros would have to eat 1/2 if we traded him before this season.

      Jake traded back? Gosh, dave, wouldn’t we just have kept him for 3M, if we wanted his 80 OPS+?

      No, I think we pay George 4/110. He’s proven he will come into camp in great shape, and he’s the leader of this group. Straw Tucker Alvarez and a few secondary position guys round it out; Diaz (if extended), Stubbs and McCormick could all get some innings in 2021, as is.

      I could be wrong, this is probably “the plan” though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Did not mean to offend you GoStros1. And you probably do have a better memory than me at this point in time. Toro would not be the first utility guy to go out to left. I don’t think Marwin played any ML outfield until he was 26. Fair point on Haniger. If the healthy version shows up, 5 million would be a steal. But I think even he will get quite a bit more and for more than one year in 2021. Like I said, I don’t want to see Reddick extended. And I certainly apologize for using inaccurate terminology. Thanks for the lesson. As far as Nephew goes, I’m going to live with that one. I remain soft on him. He’s the underdog 33rd round pick that I could not help rooting for. As far as Jake goes, I don’t want him back either. But I would not be surprised. If we pay George 110 for 4 years, I’d be the first guy to congratulate you. I think that would be stunning negotiation by Click. I don’t see much of Alvarez in the outfield. I think he’s far too valuable at the plate to risk running him around out there very often. I’m pleased that we both envision Straw and Tucker to be part of the mix. And we seem to agree on Brantley. So really, we’re at least partially on the same page. Kumbaya!

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  7. On AT&T Sportsnet tonight they have 2005 NLCS Game 2 Astros vs Cards with Roy O vs Mark “Midnight at the Oasis” Mulder.
    – Love watching Roy O pitch again – doesn’t goof around – just gets after it.
    – I still hate watching Beckmann hit right handed especially in the 3rd spot
    – Chris Burke got an early triple that was bang bang at 3rd so we must have gotten 10 inconclusive replays of it
    – Fun seeing Willy T and Bidge and Ausmus and Morgan and all those guys – wish Bags still had a shoulder that season – might have changed everything

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    • In 3 consecutive ABs, Burke had the 18th inning walkoff HR against the Braves, a pinch hit 2 run HR in game 1 against the Cards and this triple to start the scoring in Game 2

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  8. They are interviewing Jim Hickey during the game – Brent Storm 1.0?
    The Astros did this weird thing. Ausmus got a double – and then Roy O bunted and then Biggio small balled him home.
    I’d forgotten what playing for a run looked like.

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  9. The Astros did something today that might pay off in the essence of this discussion. They signed JC Correa to an undrafted free agent contract. Signed out of Lamar university.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It would be nice if we could get Baseball this year but I’ll believe it when I see it. This past weekend I watched some of the golf tourney and a NASCAR race. As much as I like golf it was was like watching paint dry. No fans, no excitement, and poor coverage. As for NASCAR, I’m not a big fan as I never was per-say but it was a break from all the other stuff going on. I understand that they were going to start putting limited numbers of spectators in the stands….verrrry interesting.
      As for Baseball and fans in the stands, without them I find it similar to the experiment that the NFL did with a Monday Night game years ago. No announcers, you just watched the game. That went over like a lead balloon. Hard to watch a game with no fans. I think they actually contribute much more to the game than one wishes to admit. But we shall see. Maybe a smaller % and then increasing. I know there are those who fear the unknown about Covid but you can’t go through life in a state of constant paranoia and anxiety. (Just a comment and not an advocate of any particular position).

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is funny, but not having fans probably won’t affect me as much as other folks – I often have the game on in the background with the sound off. I’m kind of used to it. We are having to get used to all sorts of unthinkable things these days.

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  10. Click, as a bridge builder is a matter to discuss. The fact he carries no baggage as a GM is helpful from the perspective of dealing with players and other front offices.
    I think the months off from baseball activity has given him a chance to get things in our front office arranged just the way he would have wanted and that is an advantage.
    His years with Baseball Prospectus tells us how he feels about metrics and his years of working under the tutelage of Friedman and Bloom has given him the knowledge of two very respected baseball people.
    Click has the advantage of knowing what outsiders views of the Astros are, he knows what outsiders think about Houston’s players and he also knows another system and has an idea of what might work better or just how great the Luhnow system really was.
    I think the bridge will be built by November the 1st, 2020 and we will see what traffic is passing over it then. From then on, it’s Click’s team.

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  11. MLB and the “flagship” team shopped for a sentimental judge and found one who granted a stay to keep their cheating under wraps for a bit longer.

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