Fresh off of a world championship, the presumed path forward for the Houston Astros would be rather simple: run it back.
Astros' owner Jim Crane alluded to his "never satisfied" mentality in today's press conference, one called to announce the extension of Dusty Baker's contract for the 2023 season. Notably absent from the press conference was General Manager James Click, now working without a contract for 2023.
By now, all of Houston knows the story of James Click and what brought him to the Astros. Click arrived to stabilize an organization marred by scandal and in danger of losing what had been built. Since his arrival, Click's teams have made three consecutive ALCS appearances, two straight trips to the World Series and just won the 2022 Fall Classic.
Click built much of Houston's bullpen, signing Ryne Stanek and Hector Neris, trading for Rafael Montero, once an afterthought in the Kendall Graveman deal, and committing to Brian Abreu, author of one of the best postseason performances ever strung together by a reliever. He inked Yordan Alvarez to a long-term extension through 2028. Click landed Trey Mancini, Christian Vasquez and Will Smith at the deadline this year, proven talent that all made key contributions for Houston down the stretch.
To say Click has done a good job would be an understatement, yet for now, he remains a lame-duck, now in danger of becoming the first head of baseball operations not to return to the reigning champions since Yankees GM Larry MacPhail's resignation 75 years ago.
According to both Crane and Click, "discussions" are being had about Click's contract status, and those conversations will continue upon his return from GM meetings. Rumors have persisted about tension in Houston's front office, ranging from a clashing of ideals in how to build a roster (Crane being the aggressor, Click bring more frugal), reliance on analytics (Dusty said to be more old school with Click being believed to operate more analytically) to squashed trade ideas. To be fair, Baker downplayed the tension between he and Click.
While Click remains without a contract, Crane did emphasize trying to work out deals with free agents Justin Verlander and Rafael Montero, as well as adding "a bat or two" to the lineup, saying they have the resources to add depth in free agency.
Is extending Verlander to a short-term, massive AAV contract the splash the Astros will make? Do they try to bring back Brantley and Gurriel? Will a piece like Jose Abreu or Aaron Judge don the Astros' navy & orange?
All are pressing questions that will be answered in due time. But maybe the most pressing question of all remains: regardless of who is signed, who on earth will be the one tasked with acquiring the talent and pressing pen to paper on those contracts?
For now, it remains Click, though today wasn't exactly a vote of confidence. While much of the Astros' key roster pieces will be back in 2023 in pursuit of a repeat, in a truly unprecedented turn of events, it appears more and more likely the front office may be headed for a shakeup.
Houston will look to run it back, aiming to be the MLB's first repeat champion since the 2000 New York Yankees. They've got the talent to do so. But after today, the path to doing so may just have gotten a little bumpier.