LAS VEGAS — World Series-winning general manager James Click said Tuesday he is in talks with the Houston Astros on a new contract but has not yet come to an agreement with the organization, leaving the architect of baseball’s champion in limbo as the offseason begins .
Click’s contract expired Oct. 31, during the World Series in which the Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. He refuted a USA Today report that said he had agreed to a one-year deal, telling reporters: “We are having discussions right now. I think anytime that you’re having discussions it means that it’s not complete.”
Click said he discussed a potential contract with Astros owner Jim Crane on Monday in the hours between the team’s championship parade and his flight here for the annual general managers meetings. The Astros called a news conference for Wednesday afternoon, which Click said he found out about “recently” after the team announced it, during which they’re expected to announce a contract extension for manager Dusty Baker. When Click was asked if he planned to be a part of the news conference, he said: “I am planning to be here trying to put together the team for next year.”
Click, 44, joined the Astros after they fired general manager Jeff Luhnow in 2020 following revelations that their 2017 championship team engaged in a sign-stealing scheme. In his first GM job, Click inherited a talented team that was teetering in the wake of the scandal. He helped stabilize the Astros, who declined to comment through a spokesperson when reached by ESPN.
Philosophical differences between him and Crane left multiple Astros front-office employees concerned about whether Click would return, sources told ESPN. Despite a World Series appearance in 2021, Click entered this season as a lame duck. Crane has leaned increasingly on advisers Jeff Bagwell and Reggie Jackson, both Hall of Fame players, according to sources. At the trade deadline this year, ESPN reported earlier this week, Crane spiked an agreed-upon trade that would have landed the Astros catcher Willson Contreras from the Chicago Cubs for right-handed starter Jose Urquidy.
“We’re different,” Click said. “Jim is — well, look, let me clarify. There’s some things that we do very differently. There’s some things that we are very lined up on and 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 said he was not under the impression that the Wednesday news conference would serve as a deadline for him negotiating a new contract. His old deal, he said, converted into at-will employment status, allowing him to leave the Astros’ job for another team. Click said he would prefer the situation not devolve into that.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “My family is very happy in Houston. We’ve settled in. I really love the town. The diversity is amazing. I thought honestly during the parade, one of the most standout things to me was just the crowd, and it shows just what a global city Houston is and the culture that it has. It was on full display. The support that the town has, I’ve never been a part of anything like that. It was addictive. And my wife and I are really, really happy that our kids are happy. We feel very settled. I’m really hopeful to be back.”
Rarely do World Series-winning general managers not return in the aftermath of their victories. And even more rarely do they leave of their own volition. Former Astros assistant GM David Stearns stepped down from his role as president of baseball operations with the Milwaukee Brewers in late October, and though he remains under contract with the team, he is an exception. Perhaps the closest analog to Click, if he can’t come to an agreement, would be Alex Anthopoulos, the longtime Toronto Blue Jays GM who left the organization after it hired Mark Shapiro as team president.
“The opportunity to work with the people in the Astros organization,” Click said, “the opportunity to be part of that culture in that clubhouse to be around the players, the caliber of players that we have, is almost impossible to find. . .. 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.”
Click declined to say what he was seeking in a contract, whether it was multiple years or more autonomy over baseball-operations decisions. Running a team with Crane’s involvement is an experience unlike his only other job in baseball, with the Tampa Bay Rays, whose owner, Stu Sternberg, is far more hands-off.
“I only have one other owner to compare it to,” Click said, “and it’s a little different than that guy.”
The uncertainty didn’t seem to faze Click, who joined his contemporaries during a media session at Resorts World Las Vegas, where the GM meetings are being held before free agency starts in earnest Thursday. Until then, free agents are only allowed to re-sign with their current teams.
The Astros will have plenty to do this winter, with ace Justin Verlander, first baseman Yuli Gurriel and outfielder Michael Brantley among their free agents. Though the Astros would welcome Verlander back, Click said, the soon-to-be-40-year-old, who is expected to win the American League Cy Young Award, will be coveted among contending teams.
Whether Click will be around to even pursue Verlander remains in question. But coming off Saturday’s championship and the ensuing celebrations, Click came to Las Vegas with a plan regardless of his employment status. “I’m on a hot streak,” he said. “Figure I’ll go hit the tables.”