Astros are looking for a manager, and if Joe Maddon were cloned tomorrow, they’d sign him up.
The Astros are on their way to 100 losses for the second straight season. If that sounds a lot like the Rays team Joe Maddon took over in 2006, well, so be it.
The Astros love that comparison, and they’re hoping the similarities don’t stop there. Like the Rays of 2006, the Astros have just hired an unproven young general manager. If Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow turns out to be as good as Tampa Bay’s Andrew Friedman, there are happy days ahead.
There’s one other comparison. Friedman took over a franchise that had a solid farm system, a farm system that produced plenty of the core guys that allowed the Rays to go from 101 losses in 2006 to the World Series in 2008.
The Astros believe they’ve got a very solid farm system, one that has been systematically upgraded the last few years. There’s no guarantee with young players, so there’s no way of knowing how soon the Astros are going to compete.
All that’s for sure is that, like the Rays, the Astros have an owner, Jim Crane, who understands that good organizations are built from the ground up and that there are no shortcuts. He’s willing to give Luhnow the resources and the patience to do things right. He hopes that once the Astros are back in contention, they’re in contention for a long time.
Maddon was the perfect hire for Friedman in 2006. He had a long career in the minor leagues and then had worked at the right hand of one of baseball’s best, Mike Scioscia. He also had an open, curious mind that devoured the stacks of analytical data that Friedman and his staff provide. That data helps Maddon with everything from lineups to defensive positioning.
That’s exactly the guy the Astros are looking for. Luhnow may interview some veteran managers to replace Brad Mills, who was fired on Saturday, but here’s guessing he ultimately hires an under-the-radar guy who, like Maddon, has great communication skills and a track record in player development.
From the moment Crane bought the Astros last fall, this was the plan he laid out. The thing that’s different about Major League Baseball from other sports is that there are no quick fixes. By the time a franchise is in trouble, by the time it’s clear the farm system is weak, it’s usually a two-, three- or four-year fix. It can only be repaired by stacking one good draft class on top of another and by being aggressive internationally.
The Astros are off to a terrific sport. Luhnow has begun his tenure by making massive changes in the front office and on the roster. Next season is likely to be a tryout camp of sorts as the franchise’s best young minor league talent is given an opportunity to show it belongs. By this time next year the Astros will know a lot more about how quickly they can contend again.
To help the reconstruction along, Luhnow is looking for a manager who can lead, communicate, identify talent and help develop that talent. There may not be a perfect manager out there, but Maddon is awfully close. He would be perfect.