For the past year, the Houston Astros’ stance is looking to the future and cultivating young talent to compete for many years to come. However, some of their moves don’t seem in accordance with this policy. I’m not saying they aren’t trying to get younger or direct their resources more towards their farm system, but are they headed in that direction with enough energy and vigor to make a difference? I don’t know.
According to ESPN, the average salary for a major league baseball player has passed the $3 million mark for the first time ever. The sports news outlet has also released rankings of average salaries per player for every major league team. In 2010 the Houston Astros were 22nd on the list with an average salary of $1.93 million. In 2009, they ranked 11th. It’s nice to see Houston’s bottom line becoming more conservative but I have to question where that money went and where the intended future revenue created by an ever-shrinking payroll will find itself allocated. It certainly wasn’t in this past June’s draft.
Of the 30 MLB teams, the Houston Astros spent the second least on draft bonuses in June’s Rule IV First-year Player draft. The only team with a lower amount was the Atlanta Braves. Many in baseball circles would unquestionably counter this with the wise drafting the Braves have done in later rounds and their inability this past summer to sign 2 of their more expensive picks. Whatever the reason(s) for limited spending, fans of teams on the lower end of this draft payroll spectrum have to be discouraged. This past summer the Tampa Rays spent the most of any team with over $30 million allocated to draft pick bonuses while their expected payroll for 2011 is right around $56 million.
The Astros payroll will be somewhere between $77 and $89 million while they spent just over $10 million on draft bonuses. They’ve nearly spent that this offseason between Clint Barmes, Nelson Figueroa, Humberto Quintero, and Ryan Rowland-Smith.
The Rays are a model franchise of how building from the draft up can make a team of any market size among the league’s best performing. It’s still a mystery why more teams haven’t followed this model although the Pirates and Padres have been moving more and more toward the Rays thinking. My guess? Because it undoubtedly delays the gratification of winning.
The Houston Astros should be competitive in 2011. But being competitive isn’t the goal. Making the playoffs and competing for a World Series is. 2011 will show an Astros team with another year under the belts of a couple young and talented starters, a much improved bullpen, and a lineup with more experience than the band of rookies Houston ran out there last year. There’s no question the Astros’ minor league system is much better than it was 2, 3, or even 5 years ago but it still has a ways to go before it consistently provides helpful major leaguers. Having Carlos Lee’s contract off the books in 2012 will be a huge help as well. However, unless Houston starts spending more on young prospects to fill their farm system, and less on veteran non-difference-making free agents, they’ll never quite get there. And fans will be left to wonder if Houston really is indeed looking to the future.