Click Clocked

See if this clicks: James Click, the general manager who partnered with manager Dusty Baker to clean up the Astrogate toxins. The man who made the roster moves that brought the Astros their first un-tainted, un-suspicious, un-shifty (except maybe for their defensive infield shifts) World Series title this year. The man now forced out of his job by way of a single-year new contract offer aimed explicitly at insulting a successful but not entirely comfortable (to his boss) incumbent out of staying.

The man whose boss, Astros owner Jim Crane, has a remarkable talent for ducking accountability over his organization's troubles while accepting too eagerly the responsibility for their successes.

Click's now-consummated exit was a prospect drawing speculation even as the Astros entered the World Series they'd win in six gripping games against the upstart Phillies. Never mind that he'd done admirable work in reinforcing the team that just reached the Promised Land without so much as a whiff of legitimate suspicion beyond the minds of fans who still think the 2017-18 cheaters leave the team forever suspect.

If most of the 2022 Astro roster was still the handiwork of the disgraced Jeff Luhnow, though it involved mostly players not present for the illegal, off-field-based sign-stealing shenanigans, it was Click who retooled it where needed or desired and delivered the baby without complications or crimes.

It was also Click, we've been seeing more and more, who operated as the complete opposite of Luhnow. In Luhnow's Astroblanca, human life and feelings were cheap. In Click's Astro revival, ruthlessness was not an option. Click was anything but indecisive, but he also seems to have operated along the line that decisiveness didn't have to mean arrogant dehumanizing.

And it was Click who reinforced the Astro bullpen — adding Rafeal Montero, Héctor Neris, and Ryne Stanek, especially — that just posted a staggering 0.83 2022 postseason ERA, including Montero's spotless eighth in that Game 4 combined no-hitter.

It was Click who threw the dice that landed on rookie Jeremy Peña as the successor to free agency-departed shortstop anchor (and self-made public defender of the tainted 2017 World Series title) Carlos Correa. Peña not only spent the season making the job his to lose in the end but he came away as the Most Valuable Player of both the American League Championship Series and the World Series — the first rookie ever to land both in the same postseason.

It was Click who gambled and won that such pitchers as Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier (who started and went six full en route that Game 4 no-no), and Luis Garcia could step in for the departed Zack Greinke, Gerrit Cole, and Wade Miley.

And this was the thanks he got? You expect a single-year offer and deal for a 73-year-old manager. That's not an insult, that's a concession to the reality of age with which Baker has long been comfortable. You expect better toward a 44-year-old executive who'd just held hands with that elder manager and brought their team across the Jordan without turbulence or scandal at last.

The sad parts include that hints of the coming Crane/Click divorce first appeared approaching the trade deadline. Click was ready to ignite a deal sending pitcher José Urquidy to the Cubs for veteran slugging catcher Willson Contreras. Crane blew the deal up. Yes, Urquidy is still a young number three or four starting pitcher with three more years of team control, and Contreras was a free agent in waiting. But The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe reminds us, it was "the kind of win-now trade that's common for a contender. For Crane to turn that down and then create the impression that Click wasn't aggressive enough for his taste seems off, to say the least."

Crane's corporate history has seemed off enough when you remember that he's had other enterprises aside from the Astros that ran into big trouble and drew little enough more than a plea of "I don't think I should be held truly accountable" from the big boss man. Either he's never been schooled or he doesn't accept that when you lead you take full responsibility for what's done by your subordinates.

Crane has it only half right. He'll take complete credit for the good but duck his responsibility for the bad. He'll think a couple of firings will make all the difference. The bigger, deeper picture won't be found on his walls.

Just whom he finally enlists to take Click's job remains a matter of speculation. Click's liable to land on his feet, even if he spends 2023 as another team's advisor. Other teams who end up seeking a front-office change may cast their eyes and their dollars upon Click. It won't be the worst investment they could possibly make.

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