Entering the weekend, the Astros hadn’t decided on a new manager, at least publicly. While general manager Dana Brown was continuous in his praise of Joe Espada in recent weeks, he never said Espada was the front-runner for the position before his introduction press conference. Other than Espada, it isn’t known who else the Astros interviewed to manage the club following Dusty Baker’s retirement. Brad Ausmus was rumored as a possible candidate, which wasn’t a surprise considering his close relationship with Jeff Bagwell. He also interviewed for Houston’s manager position once before in 2020 and for the general manager role last offseason. There were the Braves connections to monitor with Brown, with a couple of coaches in Atlanta rumored as possibilities, including the newly hired Angels manager Ron Washington. Even Craig Counsell generated some interest among Houston’s top brass before the Cubs agreed to make him the highest-paid manager in baseball.
Ultimately, the Astros decided to stay in-house and name Espada as the 20th manager in franchise history, tasked with leading a roster ready to contend again in 2024.
We got our guy! We have hired Joe Espada as our 20th manager in franchise history. pic.twitter.com/g1XK2ziiwU— Houston Astros (@astros) November 13, 2023
Below are some takeaways from Espada’s press conference.
- Brown’s comments about Jim Crane letting him lead the charge in the manager search were a refreshing change of pace from the organization, considering how the last offseason unfolded. The fact that Crane or any of his inner circle weren’t present during Espada’s press conference could indicate that Brown may have more autonomy than initially assumed.
- Espada’s history as a conduit between the players and the front office can’t be overstated. Alignment and communication with the front office, specifically Brown, was essential with this hire. The pressing question now is how the front office will change in the near future as multiple departures and promotions have occurred since October. Espada’s hiring, though, does inspire hope that the manager is more receptive to implementing strategies from the front office than his predecessor, Dusty Baker.
- I am curious to see how Espada specifically handles the blending of analytics with input from coaches, scouts, and, most importantly, the players. He specifically mentioned how he and Brown will “put the best players on the field.” There is a balance to achieve with these dynamics and it is a tall task for any manager. Collaboration is key to this partnership and it feels like the organization is in agreement on this front for the first time in a while.
- Continuity was the theme of the press conference. Espada served as the bench coach under Hinch for two seasons (2018-19) and Baker for four (2020-23), so his familiarity with the organization was a key selling point for his candidacy. A positive one, in my opinion.
- Figuring out who will serve as Espada’s bench coach is a priority, according to Brown. From the outside looking in, it feels likely that the Astros will retain, or at least try, most of their coaching staff from last season. It is worth noting that Baker inherited most of his coaches from Hinch’s tenure. It remains to be seen what Espada will ultimately decide, though.
- Beyond what happens with the bench coach opening, Brown specifically mentioned backup catcher and bullpen help as needs of the team. He and Espada will meet to discuss their options. But it is worth noting that payroll constraints could be a limiting factor as Brown has indicated earlier this month.
For 2024, the Astros, with Espada managing the club, are poised to compete again. Most of the roster is already in place and the clubhouse is one that he is already familiar with. That said, Espada’s tenure could be tested as soon as 2025 as the roster is set to possibly turnover. Both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are scheduled to enter free agency following the 2024 season, with Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez reaching the end of their arbitration years after 2025. Other veterans such as Justin Verlander and Ryan Pressly are only under contract for one more season, with both carrying options for 2025. Whether those options are realized or even exercised is another matter.
Regardless of what happens a year or two from now, the Astros are built to compete right now. Espada’s hiring represents that line of thinking as the organization chose to embrace continuity. In that respect, Espada was the best choice for the job, in addition to the other attributes he brings to the manager’s role. Considering how the organization stumbled through last offseason, Espada’s hiring does help calm some of those fears. Not fully, mind you, but at least some.