Multiple things can be true about the reported rift between James Click and Jim Crane. First, that it’s an ill-timed distraction ahead of what’s expected to be another deep playoff run, and second, that it’s of the club’s own doing.
Despite a World Series berth in 2021 — which came the year after an ALCS appearance in 2020 — Click did not receive a contract extension heading into the 2022 campaign, which is slated to be his last under his current deal. Not much was made of it as the season began, as there was little reason to think he wouldn’t be re-upped for 2023 and beyond, but now with the calendar flipping to October, it’s awfully peculiar that amid another successful season that has the Astros atop the American League standings, Click still has yet to be extended. And it seems unlikely he will be.
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the relationship between the Astros’ general manager and the club’s owner is not a particularly healthy one:
Crane is difficult, demanding and heavily involved in baseball operations, acting almost as an owner/GM. He said he had no knowledge of the Astros’ illegal sign stealing in 2017 and 2018, and some in the organization believe he took a more active role because he did not want to get blind-sided and embarrassed again. In any case, Crane does not trust Click the way he trusted Luhnow, with whom he worked for eight seasons, enduring a painful rebuild and then enjoying great, albeit tainted, success. Crane also is more inclined to act quickly and boldly than Click, who came from the Rays, a more frugal, deliberate operation.
Rosenthal, who is the most credible and respected baseball reporter in the industry, isn’t likely to air this kind of information without having received some intel from league sources, especially when alluding to the lack of faith that Crane has in Click, which is a rather stark implication.
But independent of the validity of Rosenthal’s words is the simple fact that the Astros are currently set to part ways with Click after the season. Crane has not quelled that notion, only indicating that he’ll address Click’s future after the season.
No matter how it’s sliced, a change at the top of the organizational ladder would be nothing short of perplexing. While Click has not made the blockbuster acquisitions that his predecessor did, he’s also not been in a position to, inheriting an unremarkable farm system when hired in 2020. Instead, he’s made relatively inexpensive moves that have largely paid off.
Perhaps none look to be as fruitful as the Myles Straw trade, when Click dealt his starting center field to Cleveland in exchange for Phil Maton and Yainer Díaz at the 2021 trade deadline. It was a somewhat controversial transaction at the time, but it’s one that has already paid dividends, and could yield substantially more in the future. Maton was a key part of the Astros bullpen during last year’s World Series run, and Díaz is now one of the better catching prospects in baseball after being merely an A-ball lottery ticket. Straw, while still exceptional defensively in center field, has registered an anemic 64 wRC+ for the Guardians in 2022.
Though Click’s deadline haul this year seems underwhelming at this point, acquiring Trey Mancini, Christian Vázquez and Will Smith all for relatively cheap prices preserved an improving Astros farm. Moreover, an argument could be made that the club didn’t need to make a splash, with a 100-plus-win season subsequently justifying it.
Helming an elite team may not be terribly difficult, but keeping it on the right path while improving it through shrewd acquisitions takes a degree of skill that isn’t exactly commonplace. The reality is that the Astros were a juggernaut before Click’s arrival, and they remain one three seasons later. Regardless of how deep the club plays into October, there won’t be a demonstrable reason for Click to lose his job this winter.