Multiple sources, beginning with Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle, are reporting that the Houston Astros have fired manager Bo Porter. The Astros will hold a press conference this afternoon to discuss the move. Bench coach Dave Trembley was also relieved. Former major league utility infielder Tom Lawless will take over the team on an interim basis.
The Astros presently stand fourth in the AL West with a record of 59-79 (.428). This is actually a great improvement over 2013, when the Astros were a historically miserable 51-111 (.315). It was the club's third consecutive 100-loss season. Houston will break that streak this year barring a highly unlikely 3-21 finish.
The Crawfish Boxes
The Crawfish Boxes
Nonetheless, as recently as last week Ken Rosenthal reported that tensions between Porter and general manager Jeff Luhnow were running high. "Porter's frustration," Rosenthal wrote, "stems from a lack of input and from his belief that Luhnow engages in excessive second-guessing of his in-game management, sources said."
Evan Drellich, also of the Chronicle, reported Luhnow's preliminary statement on the change: "This decision was not made because of our current level of competitiveness in the Major Leagues. I recognize that our win-loss record is largely a product of an organizational strategy for which I am responsible. Rather, I made this decision because I believe we need a new direction in our clubhouse." Owner Jeff Crane added, "This was not an easy decision to make. We wish Bo nothing but the best in the future. Jeff has my full support."
Porter took over from Brad Mills (and interim replacement Tony DeFrancesco) for the 2013 season after serving as third base coach for the Washington Nationals. He also coached in the majors for the Diamondbacks and Marlins. As a player, he had brief stints in the majors as a utility outfielder with the Cubs, A's and Rangers from 1999 to 2001. At 42, he was the youngest manager in MLB. When Porter was hired in late September 2012, Luhnow said,
"I think he's going to push us to get better, he's going to push us to get better quickly, and he's going to shorten the time that it takes for us to get to where we want to be as an organization which is where the Houston Astros are competing year in and year out for division titles and championships.
"He's an expert in specific areas of outfield and baserunning and fundamentals. When we talk about what we need for our clubhouse and our young players and our system, we need someone with a real specific expertise and emphasis on playing baseball the right way."
Familiarity obviously changed Luhnow's mind. Porter leaves behind a team that has brought top prospects Jon Singleton and George Springer to the majors and has seen young second baseman Jose Altuve contend for a batting title. However, the Astros remain most of a pitching staff away from contention, and injuries or disappointing performances by possibly franchise-changing talents such as Carlos Correa and Mark Appel (respectively), combined with the ongoing debacle that is the team's 2014 draft, in which it failed to sign both first overall pick Brady Aiken and fifth-rounder Jacob Nix, may have drastically altered the timetable for the team's return to the postseason for the first time since the middle of the last decade. The Astros have not had even a winning record since 2008.
Managers are fungible, whereas general managers are not, so if there was to be a power struggle between Porter and Luhnow, the outcome was always preordained given any rationality on Crane's part. It remains for Luhnow to execute his vision for rebuilding the team regardless of the identity of the manager. Porter had some high-profile gaffes, but it's impossible to judge his performance given the team's incomplete state. Still, sometimes relationships come to a terminal point, in this case because Porter and Luhnow could no longer communicate, never communicated in the first place, or the latter perceived that the former had not done all he could to keep a losing team up for the dog days of August.
Whatever the reason, the destiny of the Astros will hinge less on the identity of the manager and more on the continued influx of young talent. Until then, the main quality required of any manager is to be cheerful and not get anyone hurt. In the coming days we'll hear more about whether Porter failed at the former task.