Don't Cry for James Click

Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic$) would have you think James Click is a victim of an unjust crime. Even after reporting in September (The Athletic$) and October (The Athletic$) that Click was on the outs with Astros owner Jim Crane, Rosenthal seems to think the 44 year old in his first GM job was entitled to an extension. It is bewildering to think that anyone is entitled to one of the 30 top jobs in all of baseball, with vacancies few and far between. Click answered to one, and only one, person. He couldn’t navigate that relationship, and the idea that his departure takes away the shine of winning a World Series or will deter top candidates from the only GM vacancy in the game is nonsensical. What is the GM job if not managing egos – players, agents, coaches, and owners, not to mention fans.

Rosenthal elected to dive into the mud of Crane’s prior business dealings as an indicator of organizational decrepitude instead of mentioning any of the reports over the past three years that Click has been at odds not only with Crane, his boss, but also Dusty Baker. Professional franchise owners are businesspeople. Few people attain such wealth with clean hands, and connecting baseball decisions to problematic business actions from more than a decade ago to the firing of someone who never found his feet in an organization is lazy clickbait. Predicting this outcome in September and then expressing shock in November is beneath Ken.

Was Click good at his job? It is difficult to say. Not even Ken knows his role in decision-making for the Astros in recent years. Click has described himself as more deliberative and Crane as decisive. When Michael Brantley’s signing with the Blue Jays was prematurely announced in 2021 did Click have the groundwork laid to step in, or was the decisive Crane instrumental in bringing bag the beloved clubhouse leader and professional hitter? Crane’s role in retaining Justin Verlander has been widely reported through two contracts since Crane pushed the trade for him in 2017.

We also know Crane nixed the deal of Wilson Contreras for Jose Urquidy. With the benefit of hindsight, Crane did well to keep Urquidy. But watching three years of Dusty Baker in action also calls Contreras’ role into question. Baker would not have put him at catcher, preferring defense and game management. Baker would also have kept the defensively superior Gurriel at first. Contreras would have been a designated hitter, where the Astros certainly needed help, or a late game pinch hitter. Instead, the Astros were able to get Christian Vazquez, a defensive peer to Maldonado who caught twelve innings in ALDS Game 3, called a combined no-hitter, and brought enough pop to the plate to knock in critical runs in the ALCS and the decisive G6 of the World Series. Vazquez also provided necessary insurance now that we know Maldonado has had a broken bone in his hand since July and required sports hernia surgery in the days following the World Series. Contreras would have provided none of that.

The most turnover during Click’s tenure came in the bullpen – as with most teams year over year. Gravemen, Raley, Maton, and Stanek pitched well in 2021, with Maton, Stanek, Nerris, and Montero locking down innings for the 2022 World Series Champions. At the same time, Brent Strom and his successors, Josh Miller and Bill Murphy, have a history of getting the best out of pitchers that predates Click. And Dusty has often been overlooked in spite of a sterling resume of maximizing bullpen performance.

Click also signed Jake Odorizzi, who the Astros dumped for Will Smith, who did not pitch in the playoffs and is now a free agent. The Braves will pay most of Odorizzi’s salary for 2023 after sending him to the Rangers for a low ceiling gamble.

Perhaps Click’s greatest legacy will be the Yordan Alvarez extension. The deal already looks to be a steal, and it shows all of the trademark value and efficiency we would expect from a Rays alumnus like Click. That alone may keep him in the good graces of Houston fans for the foreseeable future.

Bob Nightengale suggests Click may have though Crane was bluffing, that Crane would relent and make a better offer. I don’t know if this is reporting or speculation. If the former, it is yet another example of Click not understanding the m.o. of the man who signs his paycheck, and the writing on the wall was etched in stone.