For the Houston Astros, this offseason has been decidedly underwhelming. Despite really needing to overhaul their bullpen following some key free agent departures as well as being firmly in their competitive window, the team has done decidedly little to add to their roster this offseason despite fierce competition in the AL West.
It is easy to point fingers and create villains as to the cause of why this sort of offseason happens. Astros owner Jim Crane is a popular one given his distaste for spending anymore than he absolutely has to and, fair or not, general manager Dana Brown is going to be the face of every offseason and every transaction as long as he has the job.
However, it does appear as though there is another reason for the Astros' inactivity this offseason because it turns out the Astros haven't been as immune to the financial difficulties around TV rights as we may have thought.
The Astros lost a bunch of revenue with their new TV deal
While most of the press surrounding baseball TV rights and distribution has been on Diamond Sports, who own the rights to broadcast a bunch of teams, and their ongoing bankruptcy, Houston's own TV difficulties have flown under the radar. AT&T Sportsnet Southwest originally held the rights to broadcast Astros games, but that network imploded in the back half of 2023 and the Astros and Rockets teamed up to buy the network and form their own in September.
Normally, a team-owned (if partially) RSN would be a huge win in terms of revenue especially for a team that is as well-followed as the Astros. However, Houston was previously making $73 million a year from their deal with AT&T and now, with their new one, those annual payments have dropped to $50 million a year.
A loss of $23 million in revenue is a tough hit for any team to absorb. As fun as it is to say that Crane has more than enough money as things stand and that $23 million should mean nothing to him, baseball teams do need to be profitable at the end of the day. That $23 million could be the difference between Houston signing multiple impact relievers or trading for an impact player with a real salary attached and shopping in the bargain bin for the rest of the offseason.
For the moment, the state of the Astros' revenue and payroll is more a nuisance than anything else. However, with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, and Framber Valdez all set to become free agents over the next couple of years, the tightening of the purse strings could end up being far more painful than fans would like.