When MLB's Winter Meetings begin next week in Dallas, there will likely be 29 general managers in attendance. The Astros, who are expected to dismiss Ed Wade on Monday, won't be represented unless they hire his replacement within seven days.
Save for the lead-up to the July 31st Trade Deadline, the Winter Meetings may be the most important time for a team to have a GM and philosophy in place. The Astros are in need of a complete overhaul, from the majors, to the minors, to the front office, and next week's Meetings would have been an excellent time to start the process.
Instead, with Wade gone, president Tal Smith retiring or being dismissed, and manager Brad Mills waiting to learn his fate, the organization may be in more turmoil than ever. The Astros are unlikely to be significant players in the free agent market, but if they were, would any agent acting in good faith tell his client to sign with a team whose direction is unclear? If another team sees a possible trade fit with Houston and wants to discuss it at the Meetings, who will decide whether the deal benefits the Astros?
By delaying and prolonging the confirmation process for new owner Jim Crane, Bud Selig and the other 29 owners dealt Houston an unfair hand. When the Cubs let Jim Hendry go, Tom Ricketts had plenty of time to bring in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. When Epstein left, John Henry and Larry Lucchino had time to settle on promoting Ben Cherington. Crane and new president George Postolos will not have that luxury, and they are taking over an organization much farther from contention than either Boston or Chicago.
Crane and his partners now face an unenviable Catch-22. If they rush to fill the GM vacancy before next week, they risk making a decision they will later regret. Conversely, if they wait until after the Winter Meetings, they may miss out on a valuable opportunity to begin turning the franchise around.
There is no question that the Astros—baseball's only sub-.400 team last season—need a new direction. Firing Wade immediately and starting to clean house was the right decision, and it would have happened weeks ago if Crane had been confirmed sooner.