According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Astros have reportedly interviewed three candidates thus far for the open general manager position: Former Marlins executive Michael Hill, Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown, and former Giants executive Bobby Evans. With Spring Training only a month away, it appears the process is picking up steam now. It won't be a shock if the organization announces James Click's replacement shortly.
The list of three candidates is likely to grow as additional interviews come to light. It goes without saying that the long-term direction of the Astros hinges significantly on this next hire. While Jim Crane will likely remain active in some capacity as recent years have indicated, the next head of baseball operations will largely determine how the department will flow. The pressing concern is whether Crane will want to implement more traditional leadership atop his baseball operations department in lieu of the innovative approach Houston has been known for since he purchased the club. With former players like Jeff Bagwell and Reggie Jackson in Crane’s inner circle of advisors, one can see why there is concern about the long-term direction of a franchise rebuilt mainly on a strong analytics-based approach.
Fresh off two executives (Jeff Luhnow and Click) known for their primarily analytical style, it would be an odd departure if Crane hired someone with a more traditional skillset as his next general manager in light of the organization's overall success since 2015. On paper, Hill and Evans' candidacies seem to indicate as much. However, assumptions at this point, especially in the case of Hill, are possibly premature as the Marlins' ownership issues often prevented the proper construction of a competitive roster over a more extended period. For Evans, it is pretty telling that this is his second time through the interview process for the general manager position with Houston. That said, the overall track of both executives when in charge of a baseball operations department is lacking. There is a reason why the Giants pivoted to Farhan Zaidi with their next baseball operations hire.
Of course, it isn't a guarantee that Crane will hire someone to entirely depart from what made the Astros largely successful for the past eight years, perhaps aiming to achieve a balance, which isn't an outlandish idea on the surface. Brown is arguably the most intriguing of the three known candidates for this reason, considering his recent tenure with the Braves. While Luhnow cut back on the traditional scouting department in his tenure, Click revived its numbers a bit under his watch. Brown has developed a strong track record in his current role with Atlanta, drafting Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II on his watch. As followers of the Astros can attest, a productive minor league pipeline is required to keep competitive windows open for as long as possible.
Suppose the organization was to maintain some semblance of its progressive analytical approach while reinforcing its strong scouting presence. In that case, it could lead to that ever-eluding balance that Crane could want to achieve. There is such a thing as going too far into analytics without regard for other areas. For as much on-field success as Luhnow had, it wasn't without the obvious pitfalls. The same thought applies to the traditional approach, especially in today's baseball age. It isn't a coincidence that some organizations, specifically within ownership, most opposed to innovation in recent years, haven't experienced sustained success. The Astros have become relevant again thanks to, in large part, embracing new ideas and technology. It would be a downright shame to see a paradigm shift within ownership that causes this golden era to fade unceremoniously.