Boston’s search for a new manager may not be the last big hire of the Hot Stove season.
New Astros owner Jim Crane held two news conferences Thursday, after the ownership transfer from Drayton McLane was approved by Major League Baseball. At no point did Crane offer assurances that general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills will return in those roles for the 2012 season.
Both Wade and Mills have the financial security of contracts that run through 2012. (The Astros hold a club option on Mills for 2013, as well.) But Crane told the Houston Chronicle that he and his partners are “going to get to work” on changes to the team’s baseball operations.
The money and keys officially change hands on Tuesday. At that point, Crane plans to begin a review of the franchise’s baseball and business operations. One source indicated that Crane will decide before the winter meetings (held Dec. 5-8 in Dallas) whether he intends to keep Wade and Mills.
The Astros, coming off the worst season in franchise history, aren’t expected to make many big-dollar moves this offseason. But Crane may want to have his long-term GM and manager in place, to evaluate the current players and shape the organization’s culture moving forward. The Astros will move from the National League to the American League for the 2013 season.
Crane wants to rebuild the Astros from within, so he could seek executives who have had success with some of baseball’s best “homegrown” clubs: Andrew Friedman or Gerry Hunsicker with the Rays; Thad Levine or A.J. Preller with the Rangers; or Dan Jennings with the Marlins. (Jennings, who has a contract through 2015 in Miami, was denied permission to interview for the Orioles’ GM vacancy by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.)
Hunsicker, currently the Rays’ senior vice president of baseball operations, was the Houston GM from 1996 through 2004. The club reached the postseason in five of his nine seasons.
If the Astros fire Mills, he will join his close friend Terry Francona among the ranks of managerial free agents. Mills was Francona’s trusted bench coach with the Red Sox from 2004 through 2009, and Boston won two world titles in that span. If Francona and Mills are out of work at the same time, they will loom as a popular tandem to be brought in the next time a major-league manager is fired.
-- Jon Paul Morosi