The Astros have announced the hiring of former Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations James Click to be their new GM. He takes over for the now-infamous Jeff Luhnow, who was recently suspended by MLB for one season and subsequently fired by the Astros as a result of the league’s investigation into the Astros’ sign stealing scandal.
No team is perfect, and even the best teams can stand to be improved further, but the Astros should continue to be one of the best teams in the league going into the 2020 season. In this sense, this is a dream job for Click. New GMs almost never inherit teams that are this good, because GMs usually only get fired when the team has stopped being competitive. The Astros’ situation with Luhnow, of course, was a special case.
This looks to be a great hire by the Astros, as Click is very experienced, and having come from the Rays, is familiar with the forefront of advanced player development. He should fit right in with the Astros.
Click should be looking into how he can improve this team around the margins, but in the meantime he needs to focus strongly on the organizational culture and the nonplayer personnel. The organization’s toxic culture under Luhnow was common knowledge even before Evan Drellich’s detailed report over at The Athletic. I, myself, discussed this a bit in my review of The MVP Machine:
“...the Astros have turned into a cutthroat organization with a bad reputation for dehumanizing the game and being unpleasant to work for.
Luhnow comes off as a baseball robot in this book. He heartlessly fired a minor league coach on the spot for refusing to implement long toss training. Luhnow was quite open minded at first, asking the coach to back up his objection with evidence, but since he had none, he went the route of your common internet troll: he just said it was “dumb.” I understand that there should be consequences for being insubordinate and disrespectful, but firing someone on the spot seems pretty harsh.
Nowhere is Luhnow’s soullessness more apparent than when he traded for Roberto Osuna, an alleged domestic abuser who was suspended by Major League Baseball for his actions. It was reassuring to read about how there were many in the Astros’ organization that objected to the acquisition. Luhnow just didn’t care because he had to win baseball games.”
Speaking of Osuna, Click needs to decide what he wants to do with him. His continued presence on the team is an affront to women fans and women in the organization, not to mention basic human decency. How to handle domestic violence in professional sports is far from simple, but there is a lot of room for the Astros to do better than they have. His acquisition was described as devastating by those in the organization that opposed it, and it likely was a significant factor in the high turnover suffered by the front office under Luhnow. If Click wants to prove to the public that things are going to change under him, this would be a good place to start.
Luhnow was undoubtedly a trailblazer in the sport, whose baseball acumen as a GM might be second to none, and while these are obviously great qualities for a GM to have, he was sorely lacking in one thing that the public frequently overlooks: management skills. By all reports he was terrible at managing personnel and fostering a culture that was anything but toxic.
My fellow chemist Stephanie Springer just wrote a well timed article on psychological safety in office culture. Luhnow failed miserably in this regard. It is now up to Click to instill a culture where employees feel safe, valued, where they feel comfortable to respectfully voice dissenting opinions, feel like they are encouraged to grow, and are presented with opportunities to climb the ladder.
Hopefully, Click will provide Luhnow’s strengths with none of his managerial failings. Of course, owner Jim Crane is still there, and we don’t know how much he impacted the toxic culture. Again, the team is in great shape, but Click has his work cut out for him with everyone else.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.