Jim Crane runs the Houston Astros with a strict business tycoon's supreme discipline. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan.)
Carlos Correa and his wife-to-be Daniella Rodriguez dressed to impress at the Diamond Dreams Gala. (Photo by Chris Baldwin.)
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel can be a left-handed difference maker. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman (with his hat) take a moment at the Diamond Dreams Gala. (Photo by Chris Baldwin.)
Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker and his girlfriend Samantha Simon at the Diamond Dreams gala. (Photo by Chris Baldwin.)
These aren't Justin Verlander's only sports b buddies. (Photo by Chris Baldwin.)
Before Earth, Wind & Fire shook the dance floor at the Houston Astros’ Diamond Dreams Gala, Jim Crane laid down some serious sounding tracks of his own. The Astros owner isn’t much for fooling around — or leaving much to chance.
Crane is already very confident in what the 2019 Astros can do. With his wife Whitney at his side and very much in the spirit of the Astros’ big charity fundraiser with her orange fur-like coat and sparkling Astros purse, the owner who resurrected the franchise pictured much more.
“The predictions are we’re even with the Red Sox at 5-1 (odds) to win the World Series,” Crane says when I ask how he sees the club at this point in the offseason. “So that’s pretty good. Now we’ve got to go play 162 games. The team’s well positioned.
“The division is weaker this year with Seattle trading off and Oakland’s a little light on the pitching. And neither LA or Dallas has made many moves. The additions (general manager) Jeff (Luhnow) made are good and he has the ability to make some more.”
Of course, with much of Major League Baseball’s free agent market still stuck in a holding pattern, some unexpected possibilities remain for the Astros. Like the idea that Dallas Keuchel or Marwin Gonzalez — or both — could still be back after all.
That is a wrinkle that Crane is embracing.
“Jeff’s still working,” he says. “Every day we’re looking at opportunities. We got a couple of guys who were here last year that there’s a possibility they will be back here next year.
“And we hope that happens. The big guys are Dallas is still out there. And I don’t think he’s signed yet. And Marwin either. Both great players and great for the franchise. And did a lot of work here — and we appreciate what they did.
“And they’re always welcome. Maybe something will work out. Who knows?”
With the current economics of baseball seemingly giving players less bargaining leverage than the logic of an open market might dictate, the Astros might make more sense for Keuchel and Gonzalez than they would have ever imagined themselves heading into free agency.
“I can’t comment,” Luhnow says at the gala when asked about Keuchel and Gonzalez directly about a half hour after Crane. “We have an interest in both those players and they know it. Obviously, they’ve been critical parts of our success the last six years.
“We’d like to keep them in the family.”
Still, Luhnow remains confident in a team that will have some of baseball’s biggest stars no matter what happens with the rest of free agency.
“I think we have at least four players on this team capable of getting MVP votes,” Luhnow says.
With Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander all in town for this Diamond Dreams Gala and Saturday’s FanFest extravaganza, plenty of the 2019 Astros’ guaranteed star power is already on display at Minute Maid Park this weekend.
Add in 2017 World Series MVP George Springer, co-ace Gerrit Cole and free agent pickup Michael Brantley (not to mention the promise of super prospects Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley) and the Astros are certain to be one of baseball’s most entertaining teams again.
“We really like this team we have right now,” Luhnow says. “And that’s the main message.”
Of course, on a night when Crane kept another one of his promises — raising money for New Hope Housing, an organization that helps the homeless that used to be headquartered across the street from Minute Maid but now has a new facility thanks to efforts like this fundraising gala from the Astros — the possibility of more still danced in the air.
You could even say those chances held more sway than even Earth, Wind & Fire’s strong “September” opening.
After all, someone sure seems to be looking for more.
“We’re never done,” Jim Crane says, before heading down the stairs, toward the field.