After spending all summer dumping players, the Houston Astros didn’t stop there.
Brad Mills became the latest to go when the struggling Astros fired their manager and two members of his coaching staff Saturday night.
Mills was in his third season running the Astros, who have the worst record in the major leagues at 39-82. The team announced the moves in an email almost two hours after Houston lost 12-4 to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The club also fired hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham. First-year general manager Jeff Luhnow named Tony DeFrancesco, manager of Houston’s Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City, as the interim replacement.
Players were not told directly about the changes before they left the ballpark Saturday night. Two of them told The Associated Press they learned about Mills’ dismissal on Twitter.
Mills became the first big league manager to be fired this season. He was 76-86 in his first season with Houston and a franchise-worst 56-106 last year. He took over for Cecil Cooper, who was also fired during the season, as was his predecessor Phil Garner.
The Astros got off to a rough start again this year but really went into a tailspin during the summer after trading several high-priced veterans mostly for prospects. They have slashed almost $40 million from their opening-day roster and have a remaining payroll of just $21.3 million.
Francisco Cordero and Jed Lowrie, two of Houston’s three highest-paid players, are on the disabled list. That leaves Ben Francisco as the only active player making more than $750,000.
Luhnow traded Carlos Lee to Miami on July 4 as the Astros went all in on their rebuilding effort under new owner Jim Crane. They have gone 7-32 since that deal, including a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak.
Lee was only the first piece to be jettisoned, however. After that, Houston got rid of pitchers J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez before wrapping up a busy month by sending third baseman Chris Johnson to Arizona.
The trades left Mills in a compromised position with the youngest roster in the National League. He talked often about trying to get the inexperienced players to ”do the little things right.” He hoped that if they could start doing that it would lead to more wins.
But instead the losses continued to pile up, including a 4-34 slide during one stretch, and after Saturday night’s particularly embarrassing loss in which the Diamondbacks scored nine runs in the fifth inning alone, Astros executives decided it was time to move on.
Crane bought the team from Drayton McLane last fall for $615 million in a transaction that requires the club to move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013. Crane realized that things would probably get tougher after all the deals, but he wasn’t necessarily prepared for what transpired.
”We made a lot of trades and once we made that decision – Jeff started moving some of the talent – we knew we might slide back a little bit, but we didn’t think it would be this bad,” Crane said recently.
Mills was hired by the Astros after serving as Boston’s bench coach for the previous six seasons. Houston offered the job to Manny Acta first, but he turned it down to become Cleveland’s manager.
Mills managed in the minor leagues for 10 seasons before becoming Terry Francona’s first base coach with Philadelphia in 1997. The two played together in college and again with the Expos.
Though Mills remained positive as things got worse this season, he acknowledged recently that all the trades had made things even more difficult for him.
”When we first got here it was kind of a slow transition. Now all of a sudden with the new regime changes and things we decided: `Let’s do the whole thing now,”’ Mills said recently. ”It definitely puts things in a situation where wins are tougher because you’re dealing with a lot of inexperienced individuals.”