Will Astros' Next Owner Make Big Changes?

HOUSTON - APRIL 12: Fans wave an Astros flag in center field at Minute Maid Park on April 12, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

It now seems highly likely that Drayton McLane will sell the Houston Astros to Jim Crane this summer. What can Crane do to turn around the struggling franchise?

It's looking more and more like the Astros will have a new owner this summer, and that it'll probably be Jim Crane. Chip Bailey writes that if and when Crane does take over, he should take quick and dramatic action:

Whether that big splash comes on or off the field may not matter. What will make a difference is if Crane backs up his first press conference with decisive action and specific change. Fans and other onlookers may expect quick movement certainly soon after - if not immediately - Major League Baseball approves the sale. A status quo may be met by great resistance, and the Crane Honeymoon could end quickly and sourly.

Let's assume Bailey is right ... that Crane needs to make a big splash almost immediately or risk losing the fans.

Okay, but what's that big splash going to be? Justice suggests bringing back erstwhile GM Gerry Hunsicker as VP, and getting rid of long-time executive Tal Smith, while retaining general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills.

That might make a great deal of sense, but it's hardly a big splash. Are there really thousands of Astros fans moping around at home after every Astros loss, pining for Gerry Hunsicker? And what would Hunsicker's role be? If he's going to take control again -- he was the Astros' GM from 1995 through 2004, the glory years of sorts -- where does that leave Wade, and what's the point of keeping him around?

The Astros haven't been good since 2005, they're awful this season, and last winter their farm system was ranked 26th of 30. I'm not saying all of that is Ed Wade's fault. Some of it probably is. Some of it is probably Drayton McLane's. But the buck mostly stops (or should) with those two fellows, and the next owner has to figure out if getting rid of the old owner is enough.

Meanwhile, Richard Justice knows all the principals -- both Crane and the people who work for him -- and thinks the sea change is going to include some advanced metrics:

He may fully endorse Ed Wade, or he may attempt to bring Gerry Hunsicker back. But even if Crane keeps a traditional baseball guy at the top of the masthead, he'll insist that they gather all the information they can. This includes boots-on-the-ground information from scouts and computer-driven analysis.

Crane is supposedly on board with the Houston Rockets' model, which includes a key role for objective analysis. You have to do a lot of things well, too. But considering where this franchise is right now, it sounds like a good idea.

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