As the Houston Astros ponder the immediate future, the managerial position may end up becoming vacant, and observers believe a longtime assistant could fill it.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — The Houston Astros have become a constant October presence since 2017, and despite seeing leadership and roster changes throughout that stretch, they’ve kept playing at the highest level.

Seven straight American League Championship Series appearances don’t happen randomly.

A person who has remained in the clubhouse as a guiding voice during six of those runs is 49-year-old Joe Espada, who was officially promoted from bench coach to manager on Nov. 13, 2023.

Before his promotion, Espada’s name had been in the conversation for prior managerial jobs. Still, in his introductory news conference, he said he prayed that his time as Houston’s manager would come eventually.

Espada succeeds Dusty Baker, 74, who wrapped up his 26th and final year managing Major League Baseball.

So, who is Espada? How did he get to Houston? And what’s his baseball background?

From the ‘Evil Empire’ to a dynasty in the making

Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada hits infield practice before a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, July 8, 2023, in Houston.

Espada’s journey to the Astros took place in the wake of the club’s first-ever World Series championship, which would later be marred in scandal.

The MLB assistant, though, was introduced to the opportunity to ride the wave of a high-tier ball club looking to repeat in 2018.

Espada was hired as the team’s bench coach, replacing Alex Cora, who took the managerial role in Boston.

Then-42 years old, Espada already had seven years of coaching experience in the majors, starting with the Miami Marlins in 2010 and then with the New York Yankees in 2014, both tenures included a third-base coaching role.

You’re reading correctly. Espada headed to Houston right after his Yankees were eliminated in the 2017 playoffs by the same Astros team that hired him.

At the time, former Astros manager AJ Hinch explained his deep history with Espada, who climbed the baseball ladder without ever seeing action in the majors as a player.

Hinch also indicated Espada’s potential for more down the line.

“He’s a tireless worker who will connect well with players,” Hinch said. “He’s inching towards being a managerial candidate down the road. He has all these qualities we feel like will (lead to) a seamless transition to come on this staff. I’m excited to have him.”

Espada’s expertise and presence in the dugout not only won him a job with one manager. They helped him carry over into Baker’s reign beginning in 2020.

Even though the Astros become Espada’s first managerial stint, he has prior experience coaching the Puerto Rican national team in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic tournaments.

Baseball roots and family

Espada is from Puerto Rico and had seen some time as an infielder in the minors.

MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported Espada was selected by Oakland in the 1996 draft, which was the same one Hinch was picked in.

Espada also has a familial connection with Brandon Hyde, the current Baltimore Orioles manager. Espada married the sister of Hyde’s wife in 2009.

McTaggart chronicled a rivalry of sorts this past September when the Orioles visited the Astros.

Espada has also opened up about being present for his youngest daughter, Viviana, who at 3 years old was diagnosed with autism.

“People talk about challenges in our lives, how you approach those when they present themselves,” Espada told McTaggart in 2019. “To watch her struggle communicating, going through her physical therapy, it’s tough. Seeing her not able to hang with kids her age, it opens your eyes to the importance of how hard it is sometimes to get someone to do certain things that we take for granted.”

Past management bids

Espada’s off-field challenges, translating to those on the field, have helped build a reputation in baseball circles to the point that ball clubs considered him for their managerial positions.

During Houston’s 2019 World Series run, he was in the conversation for jobs with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, who both went in different directions. By the way, the Giants went back on the managerial search this offseason after letting go of their 2019 hire.

Three years later, in the midst of the 2022 world championship season, he interviewed with the Chicago White Sox and the Miami Marlins.

Espada is no stranger to executing the manager job in recent years. He held the role in place of Hinch and Baker on multiple occasions, typically when the manager is on a medical leave or ejected during a game, with the most recent time coming toward the end of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series after the latter was ejected.

“Joe’s a very astute baseball man, very good worker,” Baker said last postseason about Espada’s chances at winning a job. “He does his homework. He’s prepared. … So you don’t know if you’re ready until you get there. But whatever happens, I mean you got to have your first at some point in time.”

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