Houston Astros

How much will the Houston Astros miss A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow?

The Houston Astros fired A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow on Monday after MLB handed down their sign-stealing punishment. How does Houston move forward?

It’s official, the MLB thinks that the Houston Astros did something seriously wrong, and they are making them pay the price. The league suspended manager A.J. Hinch and their general manager Jeff Luhnow for one full year. They also took away their 1st- and 2nd-round picks in 2020 and 2021, along with levying a $5 million fine.

The Astros responded by immediately firing Hinch and Luhnow. They will try to start completely fresh after this controversy threw the entire regime in question. With some even questioning whether their World Series win is legitimate, ownership clearly wanted to act decisively to attempt to put this behind them.

The penalties are unprecedented, and they will undoubtedly impact the Astros for years to come, but how do they hurt the Astros chances right now?

Going into Monday, the Astros had the second best World Series odds with most sportsbooks having them around 6/1 to win it all, only behind the New York Yankees. Their roster is stacked after years of building, and they still have some of the best talent in the league thanks to having high picks for half a decade.

Losing their manager is going to be the biggest impact to this franchise in a day-to-day sense. A new voice is going to be picking the starting staff, putting a lineup together and just keeping the locker room together through some of the biggest adversity since the steroid scandal pointed a finger at star players in the ’90s and 2000s.

We have to first look at who’s taking over. Joe Espada is likely going to take over as manager, after he surprisingly stayed put this offseason. He had interviews with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. Despite getting deep into the interview process, he did not get either of those jobs. That’s great news for the Astros, who now have a major league-level coach still calling the shots. Maybe they gave him the option to stick around knowing their could be punishment looming for Hinch.

However, this will be his first year as a big league manager. He’s going to make some crucial mistakes. If his mistakes costs the Astros 10 of their 162 games next season, he’s still likely managing a playoff team.

Where the firing of Luhnow really impacts the Astros is moves to make the team better. Obviously, losing the picks makes the draft a little less valuable, so where the GM could impact the team most is from now until the trade deadline. Remember, the Astros fired their most recent assistant GM Brandon Taubman after his “expletive-filled” tirade against a group of female reporters. Taubman, though currently not employed by a team, was also handed a season-long suspension by the league on Monday.

Owner Jim Crane said at Monday’s press conference that he will oversee baseball operations, and while he didn’t announce a new or interim GM, Pete Putila is the lone assistant GM in the front office.

Will the Astros allow a guy who’s basically now the third in command to make major decisions with prospects? Is he or she allowed to trade one of their top young players to get them a rental if they need it? What about if Justin Verlander goes down with injury? Can they make that crucial move that re-establishes their rotation?

We’d expect the Astros are going to go on a full-blown GM search – promoting from within might taint the whole house-cleaning image – but until that hiring happens, we can’t see them making any moves.

They already lost Gerrit Cole, which is huge obviously. They didn’t do much to replace him, as they were likely focusing on this issue at hand. This rotation is Verlander and Zack Greinke, then a bunch of maybes.

The American League West still seems like it’s weak at the bottom and there for Houston to win. The Seattle Mariners are still rebuilding. The Texas Rangers made a splash by trading for Corey Kluber, but there’s still questions with that team. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels have yet to find a way to fix their rotation, despite the addition of Anthony Rendon on offense.

The Astros can absolutely make the playoffs this season with a new manager and GM, but to think they are World Series favorites, or even close, is a stretch. We expect them to compete, but we also wouldn’t be surprised if they pull a New Orleans Saints after Bountygate and miss the playoffs entirely despite their talent.

Next: What Can MLB Do About Sign Stealing?

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