James Click’s future as GM remains uncertain


LAS VEGAS — Monday afternoon afforded James Click a chance he cherished. He participated in a championship parade he helped to produce, weaving through the streets of downtown Houston while more than a million of its citizens cheered. Click gazed upon a city he’s called home for three years, marveling at its diversity and delirium around the one professional sports franchise that brings it joy.

Click rode on a float alongside owner Jim Crane, manager Dusty Baker and a host of players. The celebration ceased around 2 pm Click’s flight to Las Vegas for the general manager’s meetings departed around 8.

Sometime in those six hours, Crane started negotiations to retain his World Series-winning general manager. Click’s contract expired Oct. 31. Crane knew this throughout the season and still chose not to act. Click did not answer whether he approached Crane at any point during the season and sought a contract extension.

Four years ago, Crane engineered a midseason extension for Jeff Luhnow amid a 103-win regular season. For the replacement who oversaw a 106-win campaign, Crane chose a chaotic, compressed period. One action is not all-encompassing, but the decision accentuates a lack of alignment between the two men tasked with maintaining the Astros’ golden era.

“I’ve been so laser-focused on the postseason and just trying to push that over the line,” Click said on Tuesday from the Conrad Hotel in Las Vegas during the league’s general manager’s meetings. “We were lucky enough to push it over the line. Now we’ve moved onto other decisions. This is the timetable the organization has decided and I’ll abide by that.”

Click chose not to share many specifics of his Monday discussion with Crane, but it’s clear they offered little clarity. He refuted an earlier report from USA Today that suggested he’ll receive a one-year contract extension for the 2023 season. On multiple occasions, Click said he is “in discussions” about his future.

“We are having discussions right now,” Click said. “I think any time you’re having discussions, that means it’s not complete.”

Click’s future remains in serious doubt and he spent 20 awkward minutes on Tuesday making that apparent. The Astros are masters of mangling situations. Somehow, they’re succeeding again just three days after capturing a World Series championship, shifting the conversation from a celebration to another clumsily handled piece of their history.

The team called a press conference for noon Wednesday at Minute Maid Park. The announcement emailed to media members did not include a reason or participants. It is expected the team will announce a one-year extension for Baker to return as the club’s manager in 2023.

Click said he did not find out about the press conference until a few minutes before meeting a throng of reporters at the general manager’s meetings. A team official emailed the announcement at 4:45 pm (Houston time). Click spoke about 25 minutes later.

“I have very little information on the press conference tomorrow,” Click said. “At no point has anyone told me that the press conference tomorrow is any sort of a deadline for my situation.”

Crane hired Baker, so it’s not unreasonable for him to handle his future. Asked if he had any input in the decision to bring Baker back, Click replied “Jim and I discussed Dusty and the entire organization frequently.” Click said he will remain in Las Vegas on Wednesday “trying to put together the team for next year.”

Click’s contract expired Oct. 31. When it did, he essentially became an at-will employee. Click is not the only general manager in Las Vegas without a contract. Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees is without one, but it’s considered a foregone conclusion he’ll be re-signed.

Click has no such guarantees. Speculation began in spring training about his future. Allowing this situation to fester signals a sort of dysfunction uncommon for a dynastic franchise.

“The opportunity to work for the people in the Astros’ organization, the opportunity to be a part of that culture in that clubhouse, to be around the caliber of players we have is almost impossible to find,” Click said.

“I’m incredibly proud of the front-office staff we have in Houston, around the country and around the world. I enjoy and I’m addicted to working with them and winning with them and winning with the players. In any job, there’s going to be things that are good and there’s going to be things that are bad. You just have to take it all on balance.”

It invites wonder whether Crane is delaying an inevitable outcome. Every indication — from Crane’s silence, to a supposed one-year extension offer to whispers from other front-office members within the sport — suggests this is a partnership headed toward a parting of ways at some point.

Offering a 44-year-old World Series-winning general manager a one-year contract extension is evidence enough. Asked if he’d accept a one-year deal, Click replied: “I’m not going to comment on hypothetical negotiations.”

The philosophical chasm between Click and Crane has never felt more apparent. Crane has heavily inserted himself into baseball operations decisions, according to multiple people familiar with the organization’s infrastructure. Click has only worked under two owners: Crane and Rays owner Stu Sternberg. In describing Crane’s involvement with baseball operations, Click said “I only have one other owner to compare it to and it’s a little different than that guy.”

Speaking in a sort of candor he hasn’t in some time, Click acknowledged on Tuesday that he and Crane are “different” in their approach.

“We’re different,” Click said. “There’s some things we do very differently. There’s some things we’re very lined up on. That’s going to be true of any relationship between a boss and an employee. I think he likes to act very quickly in certain cases. I tend toward a more deliberate approach. He is very demanding, but he also gives you the resources to accomplish what he tasks you to do.”

Click did not construct the core of this World Series roster. Nineteen of the 26 players on it were acquired under Luhnow. Click engineered contract extensions for Yordan Alvarez, Lance McCullers Jr. and Ryan Pressly, but Crane is believed to have had a heavy influence in some of the negotiations. Owners often do with those types of deals, though, especially a six-year, $115 million contract for Alvarez that is the second-largest in franchise history.

Click inherited a roster and infrastructure ready for World Series contention without the type of transformative deals Luhnow negotiated. Click had one massive deal agreed upon at the Aug. 2 deadline — sending José Urquidy to Chicago in exchange for catcher Willson Contreras. Crane, at Baker’s behest, nixed the deal. The two trades Click made as a result, for Trey Mancini and Christian Vázquez, produced underwhelming results.

“There’s 30 different owners and they operate 30 different ways,” Click said. “What should happen to every team is not necessarily for me to say. You’ve got some people who like to deal with these things one way and you have some people who like to deal with them in another way. All of us in these jobs navigate the realities of our particular situation.”

For Click, the reality included an awkward 20-minute interrogation about his uncertain future. He handled himself with professionalism, cracked a few self-deprecating jokes and deferred many of the questions to Crane — the man who should be answering most of them. Crane’s recent public comments, including after Monday’s parade, have been devoted to plaudits about the team’s fanbase.

Click and a handful of his lieutenants arrived in Las Vegas late Monday night. Senior director of baseball strategy Bill Firkus, senior director of player evaluation Charles Cook and director of research and development Sarah Gelles are among the Astros’ contingent, along with both of Click’s assistant general managers — Scott Powers and Andrew Ball.

Click hired both Ball and Powers last winter to expand his front office. Pete Putila’s departure to San Francisco leaves the two men as Click’s highest-ranking deputies. If Crane had Click on thin ice prior to the season, his decision to authorize two new hires — along with farm director Sara Goodrum — adds more confusion to an already awkward situation.

Click did not list any conditions he would demand if he returns — like autonomy in all baseball decisions. He said it “could go any number of different ways,” complex discussions that probably deserved more than a hasty post-parade talk.

“The crowd showed what a global city Houston is and the culture that it has,” Click said. “It was on full display. The support the town has, I’ve never been a part of anything like that. It is addictive. My wife and I are really, really happy there. Our kids are happy. We feel very settled. I’m really hopeful to be back.”

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