Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: though small in number since 2005 and even less notable on the Internet, there exists a sect of baseball fandom that chooses to root for the Houston Astros. Why they do this is of their own volition. Geography or sadism likely play a role but at Minute Maid Park, some 10-12,000 people routinely pass through the gates to watch another loss and then head home. You might think of it like Stockholm Syndrome but the problem is, those fans were never kidnapped and return voluntarily. It is an award-winning study in psychology waiting to happen.
So, as an Astros fan, when I read yesterday evening that the club fired manager Brad Mills and two of his coaches (hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham), relief hit. I was never a supporter of the former Boston bench coach and as nice as he was, Mills seemed in over his head. Six relievers aren’t required on a Wednesday night in June for a struggling franchise. He came from the “what does the binder say” mode of skipper-ing a la Joe Girardi but the difference is one oversees a club with future Hall of Famer’s and the other a group that might be selling real estate in two years. There’s a bit of insecurity and a lack of confidence in not trusting pitchers or thinking that every positional move made evokes the Tony La Russa success rate. It doesn’t.
Mills accepted a job with failure written all over it three years ago because there are only a finite number of them. If he was happy being a bench coach, he’d have stayed with the Red Sox and had easy access to the Josh Beckett Bar and Grill. Mills wanted the promotion though, took it and finished his Houston managerial career more than 100 games (171-274) under .500. He’d do it again if offered the chance.
Plenty was written late Saturday night and Sunday morning about the way Mills was fired. Why not let him end the year when he wasn’t given much to work with anyway? Well, why let him? The team is a train wreck, he hasn’t and won’t win games with his decision-making and by getting a start on every other team looking to fire their own skipper, Houston sets the financial bar.
This is a team in flux. Veterans have been traded for prospects three years in a row leading up to the July deadline. Owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow purchased the team with an intent to raze it and rebuild it in their methodology. Mills doesn’t fit that, they’d like their own candidate and I have no issue with Luhnow issuing a pink slip six weeks before it was guaranteed to arrive.
Triple-A manager Tony DeFrancesco earns the interim gig with tiny odds, I’d assume to stay permanently. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman mentioned Astros’ bench coach Joe Pettini, Cardinals’ first base coach Chris Maloney and Reds’ Double-A manager Jim Riggleman as longer-term possibilities.
The American League West beckons as does the top overall pick in next year’s Amateur Draft. For years under Drayton McLane, the stop-gap, aging veteran free-agent pickup plugged holes in a franchise ready to burst. Now, a farm system formerly devoid of talent is starting to resemble what it’s supposed to, a pipeline to Houston. Players no longer post middling stats without fear of being sent to Oklahoma City. There’s accountability and direction.
Brad Mills chose freely to exit Boston and inherit a job teeming with red flags. When the club sold, his fate was sealed. His departure is no different, only more high-profile, than the current exodus (ie: mass releases) of minor league players not drafted by Luhnow’s staff.
Houston fans understand this, as shadowy as they are. There’s a plan in place and Mills’ wasn’t on the agenda. This Astros fan sees no problem with that.