Inside Pitch: Search is on for Astros GM

Inside Pitch: Astros search for GM

As usually happens when a baseball job opens, names were already swirling regarding the Houston general manager vacancy.

The fact is, however, that the Astros hadn't put together a list as of Monday afternoon, when they let Tim Purpura go.

But you can put a line through Randy Smith's name.

"I'm glad you asked that question," Astros president Tal Smith told Monday, when asked if his son Randy would be interviewed for the Houston general manager vacancy.

The Astros dismissed Purpura and manager Phil Garner on Monday. While Cecil Cooper will take Garner's place on an interim basis, Smith will serve as interim GM until Purpura's successor is named. With son Randy a former baseball GM of the Padres (1993-95) and Tigers (1996-2001), it was logical to assume the younger Smith might at least get an interview.

"I want to be set the record straight and be completely clear on this, because there's been some erroneous reporting," Tal Smith said. "Randy is not a candidate. [Astros chairman] Drayton [McLane] and I talked about it and we agreed that it wouldn't be appropriate."

So where do the Astros go to find their next GM? And what are the prerequisites?

The Astros haven't set the parameters yet, but one thing is certain: Neither Smith will be the next Houston GM. Tal has more than half a century of experience and his excellent track record in the industry is unquestioned. But he's not looking to get back into the role.

"This is interim, this is temporary," Tal Smith said. "I've got a good job, and I'm not looking for another one."

Smith said the Astros will try to complete the search as quickly as possible.

"I don't think there's a precise timetable," he said. "Obviously, you'd like to start making 2008 decisions, but whether this takes through the regular season or into November or beyond we'll just have to wait and see."

In-house candidates include Ricky Bennett, Astros assistant GM and director of player development and David Gottfried, assistant GM of baseball operations. At this point the Astros are considering a variety of candidates, not necessarily just those with experience as a Major League general manager.

Smith will be key in the process and will make recommendations.

"Ultimately, it's Drayton's decision," Smith said. "I'm sure a number of us will be involved. I'll sit down and review candidates and make suggestions. I'm sure he'll get input from a number of people. It's Drayton's ultimate decision, but he's pretty good about getting input from his key people."

McLane said the GM search will follow the guidelines set by Commissioner Bud Selig.

Pearls from the diamond ...

Smith and McLane said the fact that Cecil Cooper would be the first African American manager in franchise history had no bearing on their decision to offer Cooper the job of interim manager.

"It wasn't [a factor]," McLane said. "He was here, we didn't have to go out and search for somebody and I have gotten to know Cecil and Tal highly recommended him. He was the bench coach and he was the one that really worked closely with Phil Garner and he was the logical choice. We didn't debate it two minutes."

Said Smith: "Cecil was the obvious candidate, he's well qualified he's got a great background. Good baseball man, he was the logical choice. Other considerations, frankly, I don't pay any attention to."

• Cooper hasn't had the job long enough to think about changes, but did offer one hint: "I think from a lineup standpoint there may be some changes."

• Several industry insiders believe the Reds will drop the interim tag from manager Pete Mackanin's name sometime after the season, regardless of what happens in September.

The Reds, 6 1/2 games behind first-place Chicago in the National League Central, were 17 games back when Mackanin took over for the fired Jerry Narron. Cincinnati is 29-19 since then, the best record in the National League.

• An official from an opposing team believes Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander's velocity is "way down." Verlander is 14-5 with a 3.77 ERA is 4-2 with a 5.06 ERA since the All-Star break.

"That's typical for anybody that pitches a whole season, throws in the playoffs and throws in the World Series," the official said. "It's a long time to pitch and it catches up with you the next year."

Garner, fired as manager of the Astros on Monday, is of the opinion that offenses are better in this era than they were when he played.

"Almost everybody carries 12 pithers now, we specialize," Garner said. "I don't care what they say about how pitching is diluted, the offense is better. It's just better than any time when I played. So I think that the whole game has improved a little bit.

"I think the schedule is tougher, the travel [is tougher]. There's more scrutiny on every game you play, which means there's more attention and more pressure. So I think it's harder to [pitch today]. But I also think we've built in this quality start, which is a bunch of baloney. The only quality start is to win the game. We gear guys toward this idea that six innings is a good start. Six innings, three runs -- but your team only scored one run -- is not good enough."

• Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki has hit 18 home runs in 122 games this season, the sixth most by a rookie shortstop who has played at least 100 games at the position. According to the Elias Sports Bureau Nomar Garciaparra had the most, with 30 in 1997, followed by Baltimore's Ron Hansen (22), Oakland's Bobby Crosby (22), Tom Tresh (20) and Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (19).

• A look at Mark Teixeira's numbers since Atlanta acquired him (.312, 10 homers, 30 RBIs in 24 games) should make it clear why they wanted him. Prior to Teixeira's arrival Braves first basemen were last in the Major Leagues in batting average, on-base percentage and RBIs.

"You would think not knowing any of these pitchers, that there would be some adjustment," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "But he's pretty locked in at the plate."

• If you're counting at home, Cole Hamels became the 18th Philadelphia player to go on the disabled list this season when an elbow strain sidelined him last week.

Alfonso Soriano will be activated in time to play in the opener Tuesday of the three-game series against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field.

Soriano, who has been out since Aug. 5 with a right quad strain, will be activated and bat leadoff for the series opener.

"He's going to play unless he slips coming off the airplane," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "He's ready to go. He's worked hard, and we could wait another week, but he's not going to get any better than he is."

• The Indians are taking a long look at Asdrubal Cabrera, who was obtained from Seattle last year for Eduardo Perez, at second base. Josh Barfield is hitting just .185 (17-for-92) with one homer and 11 RBI since the break and has been benched. Cabrera's natural position is shortstop.

Jim Molony is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.