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.

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Ever since they invented the telephone, face to face meetings have been overrated. The 'winter meetings,' a la political summits, are mainly free PR for the participants and an excuse for the media to pretend something's going on so please pay attention to our ads.
The odds of the Astros going "unreprsented" at the Winter Meetings are zero. Assistant GM David Gottfried was named Interim General Manager immediately when Wade was fired, and surely he will be in attendance.
@Timber: The Astros also indicated that Gottfried is not a candidate to be GM of the team long-term. He's a placeholder, and not someone who should be making decisions for whoever they ultimately choose. None of the other 29 GMs have an "interim" tag attached to their title.
It is kind of amazing how badly the Astros have been screwed over in the past few months. Moving to the AL means they have to directly compete with the Rangers for fans' attention throughout Texas. Since they'll be switching to a new Regional Sports Network with comcast in 2013 this matters more, because local cable providers will have to choose whether they'll carry the network or not, and if the Astros are not only terrible but in direct competition with the Rangers (and thus have few fans) I imagine fewer companies will subscribe to the channel. This is beyond simply angering the Astros' remaining die-hard fans by switching leagues. The delay in ownership also likely crippled the club. If Crane had been confirmed back in the summer, perhaps ownership would have hired a new GM midway through the season, possibly improving the trades they made at the deadline. While the Pence trade looks good in retrospect, the Bourn trade still looks awful, and at least some of that is Wade's fault. And now the Astros are handicapped going into the winter because they'll be searching for a new GM. Add in the fact that Crane's massive debt load is worrying in itself, and the whole situation stinks.
Not really sure what all the big decisions are for Houston that need to be made at the Winter Meetings. They shouldn't be significant players for free agents, and Wandy Rodriguez is probably the only important asset left. His value will go up as the starting pitching options available diminish, so he wouldn't be moved early on in any case.