Garner signs one-year extension

Garner signs extension

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros extended manager Phil Garner's contract on Wednesday, adding an additional year that will keep him as the club's skipper through 2008.

The Astros also announced that pitching coach Jim Hickey will not be retained for the 2007 season. The other five coaches -- bullpen coach Mark Bailey, hitting coach Sean Berry, bench coach Cecil Cooper, first-base coach Jose Cruz Sr., and third-base coach Doug Mansolino -- all were invited back for next year.

Garner met with general manager Tim Purpura, club president Tal Smith and owner Drayton McLane on Tuesday, unaware that he was about to be offered a contract extension.

"We met to talk about the club, which we did," Garner said. "Then they offered an extension. I'm pleased and flattered. It was not something that I was expecting. We had a lot of other issues to discuss."

"This wasn't something Phil campaigned for," Purpura said. "We didn't even talk about it. We raised the issue with him, so it was never on my mind as far as Phil expecting this or wanting this. It was never even spoken about until we raised the issue with him.

"I think it's important to let everyone know who's going to be running our club as we progress into the offseason and start looking at free agents and trades and those types of things."

The extension offer did not prompt a negotiation process.

"I wouldn't have minded negotiating," Garner said. "But they made a nice offer, and I accepted."

Hickey said he was "stunned" and "totally blindsided" when Garner and Purpura informed him of his termination on a conference call.

"I didn't expect it at all," Hickey said.

Hickey, 44, spent parts of three seasons as the club's Major League pitching coach from 2004-06, assuming the post when Garner took over as interim manager on July 14, 2004. Prior to his promotion to the big leagues, Hickey spent 14 seasons in the organization's Minor League system as a pitching coach.

Purpura and Garner both said they had no problems with Hickey's performance, but they added that they anticipate the pitching staff looking much different next year and are seeking a fresh perspective from a coaching standpoint.

"I guess what I was looking for is a new voice, a different perspective on our pitching program," Purpura said. "We've got a lot of good young pitchers who either made their debuts this year or will come through from our system the next couple of years. Sometimes I think it's helpful for somebody in my role to hear new perspective and new ideas. I don't want to get complacent."

Added Garner: "I think [Hickey] worked hard. He did a good job. There were no major problems. Sometimes you get the feeling you want to do something different. It was a tough call."

The Astros finished with the second-lowest ERA in the league at 4.08, behind only the Padres (3.87). Astros pitchers had the third highest strikeout total the third lowest walk total.

Garner emphasized that he did not blame Hickey for the struggles of Brad Lidge or the younger pitchers who were called up over the course of the season.

"I don't think that's fair to lay blame," Garner said. "He had quite a few pitchers who did well. There is a sense that perhaps we'll have different pitchers on staff next year. We're going to give someone else a chance to start from square one."

Hickey has already received calls from other teams regarding job openings.

"I hope to get a Major League job, of course," he said. "But I would certainly be looking to stay in baseball in any capacity."

When he was promoted from Triple-A to the big leagues after pitching coach Burt Hooton was fired during the All-Star break in '04, Hickey knew there was a chance he would not return in '05.

"But then 2004 turned into the [National League Championship Series], and 2005 ended with the World Series," he said. "I've got 2 1/2 years of big-league time and have a good resume of success. This [dismissal] was just a change-of-direction-type philosophy, which is understandable.

"It happens all the time. It's just unfortunate when it happens to you."

The Astros will interview candidates to fill the vacant coaching spot in the coming weeks. They'll look at people both within and outside of the organization. Director of pitching development Dewey Robinson will not be a candidate but will be a consultant during the search.

"He'll help to make the transition," Purpura said.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.