Astros look ahead after firing of Hinch and Luhnow

Houston Astros and owner Jim Crane look to move on after firing manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the team’s sign-stealing during its run to the 2017 World Series title.

HOUSTON — The Houston Astros suddenly have a couple more holes to fill.

Less than a month before the start of spring training, the American League champions are without a manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were suspended by Major League Baseball and subsequently fired by team owner Jim Crane for the club’s sign-stealing scheme.

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

Now that the punishment has been handed out and Hinch and Luhnow, the architects of Houston’s unprecedented success, the franchise must find a way to move forward. First the Astros must hire a manager and general manager who will try and continue the success that the previous regime built.

“I’m optimistic,” Crane said Monday. “This thing is deep here there are a lot of smart people here. We’ll have a speed bump here ... this is a tough day. But can we recover? Absolutely. And we’ll have a great team next year.”

Even with all the chaos surrounding the team, the Astros are expected to be favorites to win the AL West title again this season. They lost ace Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency, but return almost all the key pieces that helped them to their second World Series in three year, this time capped by a Game 7 loss to Washington.

It’s unclear if Hinch’s firing will impact team morale. The 45-year-old Hinch was a favorite among players for his management style and interaction with the team. The former catcher and Stanford graduate was 481-329 in five seasons in Houston with four playoff trips.

To Crane, finding someone to replace him is the priority.

“We’ll quickly look for someone to manage the team ... certainly we have possibilities internally,’’ he said. “We’ll also look outside.”

If the Astros decide to promote from within, the most likely candidate is bench coach Joe Espada, who is seen as a rising star in the baseball community. Crane called him ‘’capable’’ of running the team on Monday.

The 44-year-old Espada began his coaching career with the Marlins and worked as a special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and was an assistant coach for the Yankees before joining Houston for the 2018 season. Espada, who played baseball but never reached the majors, was a candidate for some managerial openings this offseason.

Though Crane will work quickly to hire a manager, he said that he won’t rush just to have someone in place to start spring training and that they could open camp with an interim manager.

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