Astros fire team president and GM

The Houston Astros announced early Monday morning that they have fired team president Tal Smith and general manager Ed Wade, confirming a Sunday night report.

The changes came less than one week after new owner Jim Crane took control of the franchise.

The Astros will be the seventh franchise to name a new general manager this offseason, marking a period of sweeping change within the industry. The Orioles, Red Sox, Twins, Angels, Cubs and Padres have named new GMs since the regular season ended.

George Postolos, the Astros’ president and CEO, said in a statement that the search for a new GM will begin immediately. Longtime assistant general manager Dave Gottfried will serve as the interim GM; Postolos said Gottfried isn’t a candidate for the permanent position.

Wade, the team’s GM since Sept. 20, 2007, was under contract through 2012. Smith has been with the Astros a total of 35 years, the last 17 as club president. Smith may now retire, sources say, following a baseball career that has spanned 54 years.

The future of Astros manager Brad Mills, who is under contract through 2012 with an option for ’13, was left uncertain. It appears his fate will be determined by the new GM. Crane and Postolos have planned one-on-one meetings with the team’s top executives beginning Monday, sources say.

The Astros, coming off the worst season in franchise history, aren’t expected to make many big-dollar moves this offseason. But Crane wants his long-term GM – and possibly his long-term manager – in place to evaluate the current players and shape of the organization moving forward. The Astros will move from the NL to the AL for the 2013 season.

Postolos said the team’s next general manager must have “a strong commitment to player development.” Crane could seek executives who have had success with some of baseball’s best “homegrown” clubs: Andrew Friedman or Gerry Hunsicker with the Rays; Thad Levine or A.J. Preller with the Rangers; or Dan Jennings with the Marlins. (Jennings, who has a contract through 2015 in Miami, was denied permission to interview for the Orioles’ GM vacancy by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.)

None of the other GM openings this offseason went to a minority candidate. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig told last week, “We need to do better” in the area of minority hiring.

Hunsicker, currently the Rays’ senior vice president of baseball operations, was the Houston GM from 1996 through 2004. The club reached the postseason in five of his nine seasons, and sources say he would embrace a return to Houston. Friedman’s enthusiasm for the Astros’ job is less certain.

If the Astros fire Mills, he will join his close friend Terry Francona among the ranks of managerial free agents. Mills was Francona’s trusted bench coach with the Red Sox from 2004 through 2009, a period that included two titles for Boston. If Francona and Mills are out of work at the same time, they will loom as a popular tandem to be brought in the next time a major league managerial spot opens.