HOUSTON -- Cecil Cooper was speculated to be on the hot seat this season, considering the Astros started slowly and he entered the final year of his contract without an extension. That speculation, however, was put to rest on Saturday when the club announced it had picked up the manager's contract option through 2010.
"We wanted to eliminate any confusion or lack of focus on the baseball team," club owner Drayton McLane said. "[General manager] Ed [Wade] and [president] Tal [Smith] approached me several days ago, and I said, 'Absolutely.'"
Confusion often arises when a manager enters the final year of his contract without an invitation of an extension, and because the Astros missed the playoffs for a third year in a row in 2008, posted a poor Spring Training record and were 3-7 in the first 10 games of the regular season, speculation ran rampant that Cooper might be shown the door.
Dismissing their manager was never an option, Wade insisted. In fact, according to the GM, he and Cooper discussed the skipper's contract status during Spring Training.
"I went in his office one day and I said, 'We want to get to your contract here at some point,'" Wade said. "And he said, 'I'm not worried about it. I know when the club plays well, you get rewarded for it.'
"It just never got to a point where Tal and Drayton were there [in Kissimmee, Fla.] at the same time, although they were there at different times. We were playing lousy, and you try to hit the right opportunity to make an announcement like this. But to me, this was a foregone conclusion all along. There was no magic to it. [Saturday is a] home game, and we took advantage of everyone being here."
Wade, Smith and assistant GM Dave Gottfried delivered the news to Cooper after Friday's loss to the Reds.
"Tal, Dave and I came downstairs, and we were gong to talk about [Felipe] Paulino [being called up]," Wade said. "I walked into his office with Tal and David and I said, 'I had my two pals come down just to let you know we're going to pick your option up.' It caught him off guard and he was very appreciative of that."
Cooper, 59, took over the interim managerial reins for the Astros in August 2007, when McLane dismissed then-manager Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura. Soon after McLane hired Wade to take over as GM, Cooper was named the permanent skipper, and he is now in his second full season as manager of the Astros.
"I do appreciate their confidence in me, and I do believe we are better and will continue to get better," Cooper said. "We have a good group of terrific young players coming. I'm excited to be here and be a part of all that. I just know we're going to continue to strive to be a champion.
"Nobody's going to work any harder. Nobody's going to give it any more than I do. I prepare every day, I come to work every day, and I know how to roll my sleeves up and get dirty. We'll continue to do that."
Picking up the option was, according to Wade, a "formality."
"He's done a terrific job for us," Wade said. "Anyone who has followed our club a year ago knows all about the ups and downs we encountered over the course of the season, and one of the reasons we were able to get ourselves righted and have the best record in the second half of the season is because of the leadership that Coop and the coaches exhibited on a daily basis."
Despite the Astros missing the playoffs last year, they finished with 86 wins, a 13-game improvement from the previous year and the second-largest turnaround in franchise history. That team also had the best record in the National League in the second half at 42-22, a half-game short of the best mark in the Major Leagues post-All-Star break.
The 2009 season marks Cooper's fifth with the Astros. He served as the bench coach from 2005 until he was named interim manager in '07. When Garner was dismissed, he recommended Cooper as his replacement.
"It is comforting to know that you're going to be with an organization for a while," Cooper said. "When I came over here in '05 ... they really made me feel welcome. It's a great organization -- they treat people well. I'm tickled to be associated with them, and I'm glad we're going forward."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.