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Opinion: Astros are still talented, but they are leaderless and flawed

The Houston Astros, the best staff in baseball the previous 3 years, awoke Tuesday morning, regarded within the replicate, and gasped on the sight.

The make-up has come off, their hair is now grey and balding, their six-pack has become a lager intestine, and their face is pockmarked with zits.

The Astros, winners of 311 video games, a Global Sequence and two American League pennants, the closing 3 years, are reporting to spring coaching in 4 weeks because the most vulnerable team in the game.

They must find a new GM to replace Jeff Luhnow, a new manager to replace A.J. Hinch, and leadership to recover from the greatest cheating scandal since the BlackSox in 1919.

Astros owner Jim Crane, infuriated by Major League Baseball’s findings, made sure that Luhnow and Hinch will never be back, firing them atop their one-year suspensions by MLB, and now is scouring the baseball earth for instant help.

Astros outfielder George Springer is part of the young core in Houston.

The easiest transition would be to simply promote bench coach Joe Espada, who was the runner-up for the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants openings this winter, but officials with direct knowledge told USA TODAY Sports the Astros instead plan to open an outside search.

Espada was with the New York Yankees in 2017 when the Astros were cheating throughout the season and playoffs, but he also was Hinch’s bench coach when the Astros were also cheating during part of the 2018 season, according to commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation.

So how can you fire Hinch, and then hire someone who was also aware, if not directly involved, when the cheating scheme continued into the 2018 season?

Bruce Bochy, the three-time World Series champion manager who was drafted and played three years for the Astros in his playing career, would be the natural choice, but he told USA TODAY that he plans to hit the “pause button,’’ and continue his plans to sit out the 2020 season.

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