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Cecil Cooper out as Astros' manager: Did he get a raw deal?

The fallout from the firing of Cecil Cooper is beginning, and JJO has taken to defend Coop for the most part. Opening his article on the firing, Ortiz lets everyone knows where he stands right off the bat:

Cecil Cooper was fired Monday as Astros manager, falling victim to an underachieving, injury-plagued team with a bloated payroll and one of the worst starting rotations in baseball.

Eh. I don't even know if this team underachieved. A team that has one of the worst starting rotations in baseball will find it difficult to compete, especially in light of the lack of depth from the major league level on down. Sure, they were injury plagued and the payroll is bloated, but Coop is not without blame in this mess. Surely he isn't the biggest reason for the Astros' disastrous 2009 season, but he did little to work with what positives this club did have going for it.

Some good news exists on the potential manager front, as Ortiz lays out possible replacements for the manager's role held in the interim by Dave Clark:

Clark, former Phillies, White Sox, Blue Jays and Angels manager Jim Fregosi, former Nationals manager Manny Acta and former Diamondbacks interim manager Al Pedrique, who was promoted to be Clark’s third-base coach from field coordinator, are some potential candidates to replace Cooper. Brad Ausmus, who is currently playing for the Dodgers, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, are former Astros who could be candidates if the Astros go for box-office appeal.

To, Ortiz' point about mismanagement and a bloated payroll, Drayton McLane doesn't seem to understand why his team failed so miserably in 2009:

If you'll look, this is the most expensive baseball team the Houston Astros have ever had," McLane said. "It's a huge investment we've had here. It's over $100 million. And we invested it in players that we thought could be championship players.

Currently constructed, there are few Astros that could reasonably be thought of as heavy contributors on a championship level team. Surely Lance Berkman, Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Valverde, Roy Oswalt (when healthy) and Michael Bourn are excellent at their craft and have performed well within their roles. Carlos Lee's contract has eaten up much of the payroll flexibility the Astros might otherwise have.

Speaking of Carlos, he made a pretty on point statement concerning this team. It would have sounded even better if it wasn't so damn ironic:

I’ll tell you, you just got to have a good balance and a competitive team, left fielder Carlos Lee said. If you see the team across the hall right here, the St. Louis Cardinals, they find a way to do it. They’re not a big-market team. They don’t spend that much money. I guess just find a way to do it. That’s what we got to do, just find a way to do it.

Apparently, Carlos is either unaware of his own mammoth contract, or is willing to overlook his contribution to the Astros' top heavy payroll structure.

To sum, Cecil Cooper got fired not because he's the worst MLB manager ever, or because he led a team with high expectations to a 70-80 record. No, he got fired because his veteran team lost confidence in him early on in his tenure, his tactical decisions concerning things like bullpen usage, walking/not walking batters (think Nick Johnson to get to the much less fierce-some Hanley Ramirez), the utilization of the hit and run and stolen base as well as his total lack of communication skills all laid a little bit of dirt on his managerial grave.

More than anything, it was the lack of communication between manager and team that concerned me the most. As a general rule, most managers cannot consistently help their teams win games. Over the course of many seasons, the best managers are those that only cost their team a few wins per season, rather than a handful. Nobody expected a man with no major league managerial experience to take this team to the top.

I'll concede the fact that Coop was put in an extremely unenviable situation, one where it would have taken a ton of moxy, a great deal of luck and a supremely good media presence to wiggle his way out of an escape smelling like roses. Cecil Cooper may be a good man, an honest man, and a baseball man through and through, but there are qualities that professional coaches need to embody in 2009 in order to be successful, and he just doesn't have them (or at least never exhibited them).

Watching his post game press conferences, you almost got the impression that Cecil didn't enjoy his job. He wore the criticisms, the losses, the long nights like a all too heavy Snuggie. Sure, it must have been comforting to some extent to know that he had risen to the highest on field job in the majors, but at the same time, the whole experience seemed to much for him. Where some would have taken that warmth and security and used it to benefit himself and his club, Cooper went the other way. He seemed abrasive at times, and overly affected by criticism at other instances. From pinning misunderstandings on players (think Roy Oswalt) to mishandling pitchers in touchy situations- both injury related (Oswalt again) and role related (just about every pitcher I can think of, especially Felipe Paulino and Russ Ortiz). His owner was misguided in thinking that his $107 million team could compete, and he was equally misguided in thinking that Cecil Cooper could act as the captain to the championship vessel.