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The Paradigm Shift

Does the hiring of Dana Brown represent a change in philosophy for the Astros and Jim Crane? Possibly.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Then, the relief came. No offense to Brad Ausmus, but I frankly had zero desire to see him in charge of a baseball operations department, at least right now without meaningful front-office experience. Of the known candidates, Dana Brown was one of the more appealing options, and his track record, most recently as the VP of scouting with the Braves, speaks for itself. Based on his résumé and the importance of increasing diversity within the general manager ranks, the Astros have possibly made a tremendous hire with Brown.

The hiring of Brown, however, further indicates a paradigm shift in organizational direction for the Astros is underway. While the front office was generally successful under Jeff Luhnow, it wasn’t without the obvious pitfalls. I believe the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal and Brandon Taubman’s inappropriate comments in 2019 continue to influence Crane’s change of direction within the front office in recent months. Plus, the scouting department, in particular, became noticeably lean in terms of personnel by the end of Luhnow’s tenure while subsequently reviving a bit under James Click. Brown, in turn, will likely continue to beef up the scouting department, which is a good thing. I can’t help but wonder if the recent success stories on the scouting side of the organization held some sway on the decision to hire someone of similar background.

At this juncture, the primary concern I have is how the various dynamics — and personalities — within the organization will ultimately mesh. It is no secret that Jim Crane and Click had their differences, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing on the surface. I do think any organization runs the risk of becoming too homogenized if everyone’s opinions always align. This thought applies to both the progressive and traditional sides of the game. To be successful long-term, there has to be a healthy relationship between analytics and traditional scouting. But a difference of professional opinion, as was likely the case with Crane and Click, is sometimes too great to overcome, no matter how successful the overall operation is. Case in point: Click’s lack of a long-term contract offer in the wake of winning the World Series remains stunning. But if Crane wants to make a change, it is his prerogative.

These Astros are primarily built on being progressive in their use of analytics plus savvy scouting. But with former players like Reggie Jackson, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Enos Cabell having Crane’s ear when it comes to baseball operations, it is clear that the hiring of Brown was partly due to him being a former player himself. Not sure I feel great about that development by itself.

While Crane stated, unprompted, that analytics won’t go away, their effect may be lessened under this new direction. To Brown’s credit, he did say “analytics are a piece of the puzzle.” But that statement doesn’t necessarily answer how much the operations side will change in the coming months and years. Eventual turnover is bound to occur and the thought of the Astros becoming less progressive in time is a possibility. But it is worth noting that Crane himself promoted two front office executives, Bill Firkus and Charles Cook, to assistant general manager status, joining Andrew Ball, following Click’s departure. Brown may leave the analytics side relatively as is if Crane so desires.

As currently constructed, Brown is now in charge of a roster that ought to contend for another World Series title in each of the next two seasons. Outside of some fine-tuning, there isn’t an immediate need to revamp. We probably won’t see much of an organizational philosophy shift on the field until 2024 at the earliest. As with Click, it will be difficult to judge Brown’s decisions immediately. But Crane took his time about hiring his next general manager and Brown is the choice. Crane clearly believes this new partnership will continue to produce familiar results. We will see.