With foundation set, Astros look to boost payroll
Crane says club's spending will be need-based with farm system replenished
HOUSTON -- One day after the Astros finished their first season in the American League by losing 111 games, including 15 in a row to end the year, owner Jim Crane said Monday the team will be in position to increase its payroll next season.
The Astros finished the 2013 season with a payroll of about $13 million after trading away veterans Bud Norris and Jose Veras in July and cutting ties with first baseman Carlos Pena. Crane wouldn't say how much the payroll could increase, but that it would be based on need.
"We don't know yet, but I think very strongly that with the [Minor League] system rebuilt and a lot of good prospects that will continually come in waves, that we'll start working on the spots we need," he said. "We need some power, we need some back-end pitching, and we've got a few holes. We'll look at what's available and we'll spend the money wisely."
Crane said the Astros could have fared much better had they not blown so many leads, and it's no secret back-end bullpen help will be a huge priority this winter. He was pleased with the improvements of the young starting pitchers and remains committed to the rebuilding plan set in place when he bought the club nearly two years ago.
The Astros have improved their farm system dramatically the past few years and are starting to see some of that talent hit Houston. More is on the way, led by dynamic outfielder George Springer, who should start in center next year after a terrific year split at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"We accomplished what we set out to do when we bought the team two years ago," Crane said. "We told people we were going to build the farm system, which was ranked 30th when we bought the team. I think you'll see that come in ranked very high this year, and we've got it really stocked. We've spent a lot of money in signing the Draft picks.
"We signed almost all of our Draft picks last year and this year we do have some depth in the system and some big-time Draft picks in there that will come up in waves. This year we established some guys that could play in the big leagues and we've got a nucleus, and now we'll start adding to that as the offseason comes on and start spending a little money.
"We're not happy with the record, but we're happy with the progress of the ballclub."
Crane said he was pleased with how first-year manager Bo Porter remained upbeat through a difficult season.
"I went in to talk to him yesterday and I said, 'You've been miraculous in how you handled this,'" Crane said. "He's very professional and didn't blow his cool often. I think he only got kicked out of one or two games, and that's pretty good. I think he's done a nice job with the young guys.
"He's somebody that will not give up. He's been through some adversity and we both sat and talked yesterday and he said, 'Jim, I know what I signed up for and we've got a nucleus and now let's go.'"
Reid Ryan, the Astros' president of business operations, said he also met with Porter following Sunday's game and discussed the season.
"I think we all know had we kept a couple of back-end-of-the-bullpen guys, we probably would have won a few more games," he said. "When you bring guys up that have to learn on the job, you're going to have failures and they're going to have to learn from it.
"Going into next year, if we spend a little money this offseason and can bring in a couple of key pieces, and if we let the Matt Dominguezes, Jonathan Villars and Robbie Grossmans of the world come in with another year of experience, I think we could see a really nice increase in wins next year."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow says he remains bullish on the future and that fans have plenty to anticipate.
"It's definitely disappointing to lose as many games as we did at the big league level, but overall we had a very successful year as an organization and pushed forward our goals," he said. "We're in a much better position today than we were 12 months ago or 24 months ago."
Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, who's a special assistant to Luhnow, said the Astros are a land of opportunity for young players.
"If you are in the Minor Leagues with the Houston Astros, you have a great opportunity, and I suggest that you get after it starting in about 30 days and get yourself ready for Spring Training," he said. "You have an opportunity to secure a job and make a little money for yourself."