No surprise that Astros fire Porter
September, 1, 2014
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
On a certain level, there was always the belief that Bo Porter was a placeholder, a manager to fill out the lineup card, play the young guys, take his lumps and not complain about all the losing. When the front office deemed the rebuilding process complete and the Houston Astros ready to win again, general manager Jeff Luhnow would bring in a different manager -- either one with more experience and a proven record of success or a younger, more sabermetrically inclined manager.
The Astros fired Porter with a month to go in the season; the timing isn't really a surprise, as it gives the Astros an early start over other teams that may be looking for a new manager in the offseason. Why wait to begin the search if you know you're going to fire Porter anyway?
This appears the key section of Luhnow's statement: "What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization. It is essential that as an organization we create an atmosphere at the Major League level where our young players can come up and continue to develop and succeed."
Reading between the lines, I wonder if this is a direct shot at the Mark Appel incident, when the Astros' No. 1 pick from last year passed through Houston this summer for a throwing session on his way to a promotion to Double-A. Several anonymous Astros players voiced their opinion that Appel hadn't earned his way to a major league clubhouse -- even for a throwing session. Considering most Astros players have barely proven anything themselves at the major league level, it seemed a curious thing for a terrible team to get upset about. Even if it was just a couple of opinionated guys in the clubhouse, it came across as a bit of a poisonous culture, with Porter getting some of the blame, fair or not.
While Porter was apparently willing to buy into the front office's sabermetric bent -- the Astros lead the majors with 1,204 defensive shifts (the Yankees are second with 687) -- we also don't know what went on behind closed doors. Maybe Porter privately complained to Luhnow about all the shifts. Maybe he didn't like the front office's overall influence or some of the decisions like having George Springer start the season in Triple-A.
Or maybe Porter's fate was sealed back in May of 2013, when he embarrassingly tried to replace a reliever who hadn't faced a batter. The opposing manager had inserted a pinch hitter and Porter thought he could then replace his pitcher. A manager who doesn't know the most basic of rules probably isn't the guy you want managing a team in a playoff game.
Brian Blanco/Getty ImagesBo Porter was 110-190 in his stint as the Astros' manager the past two years.
The Astros weren't going to win the past two years, with or without Porter. Was he ever going to be the long-term skipper? Probably not.
Luhnow's search will obviously begin with a manager comfortable working with young players -- whether that's a veteran retread skipper like Manny Acta or current Mets bench coach Bob Geren or a first-time manager remains to be seen. Last offseason's trend was to hire first-timers -- including Matt Williams, Brad Ausmus, Bryan Price and Rick Renteria, with Ryne Sandberg in his first full season after taking over the Phillies in late 2013. Only Seattle's Lloyd McClendon was a retread.
Luhnow's other mantra, as he said in his statement, is a guy willing to go along with the organizational plan. For the Astros, that means going along with new ways to think about the game -- shifts are just one element of that philosophy. Maybe they go with a recently retired player, like the Tigers did with Ausmus -- Jason Varitek is a popular name that has been thrown out there. A's bench coach Chip Hale interviewed last offseason with Seattle; coming from Oakland, he would probably understand the Astros' sabermetric mindset as well as any candidate.
Regardless, the Astros are on the verge of becoming a .500 team next year and maybe a playoff contender in 2016. This manager is the one they want to be there when they get back into the postseason.