Sunday update: Follow the money, the Astros are headed to $100 million

Jim Crane needs your butt in a seat at Minute Maid Park. Jeff Luhnow a bigger checkbook.

Yes, it is about the money and the Astros may not be far from a $100 million payroll. Houston had a $72.4 million payroll as of opening day. That has increased somewhat with the additions of Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez and a few others (Lance McCullers Jr., Vincent Velasquez, etc.).

But that’s not the problem. Remember that bottleneck I predicted two years ago? At the time, I projected it would arrive later this decade, perhaps during the 2018-19 seasons. Friends, the bottleneck is here, the bottleneck is now. It could be a painful off-season, if not this winter, then perhaps in 2016.

It won’t affect players like Dallas Keuchel or Carlos Correa, or even Jose Altuve, who may even get a re-worked deal before his team-friendly contract runs out in 2018. Those guys will get their money. But players like Tony Sipp, Chris Carter or even Jason Castro and others will get squeezed out because the budget is squeezed.


Colby Rasmus is playing for his QO.

Most scratched their heads at the Rasmus signing earlier this year. To be sure, some thought he should have been cut during spring training and the 29-year-old did struggle throughout the season. But he’s hit his stride down the stretch and finished with 25 HRs and 61 RBI despite a .238 average and 154 Ks. Here’s the call Luhnow has to make: Does he give Rasmus a qualifying offer? If he does, and Rasmus accepts, it’ll tie up $15.8 million of next year’s budget. If he makes the offer and Rasmus turns it down for a longer term deal elsewhere, Houston will get a compensation pick.

Here’s the important news you need to know: No player — read NO ONE — has ever accepted a QO. Everyone who has received an offer has rejected it and gone on for a longer, bigger payday, so history is on Luhnow’s side. But it is a risk for Luhnow, unless he and Rasmus has some sort of under-the-table, behind-the-scenes understanding.

THE CALL: Luhnow will make the offer, but may try to work out a longer-term deal first that saves the team money.

Keuchel is the real Money Man.

I’ve been a Keuchel man since his early days in the organization. I called him a sleeper in 2012. He’s no longer a sleeper, and he’s no longer a second-tier pitcher. He’s an elite pitcher who will likely be one of the next $100 million players. Yes, the two sides have discussed a long-term deal and Keuchel is one of the handful of players the organization wants to build around. The question for Luhnow is when to pull the trigger. Since Keuchel hits arbitration this winter (can you imagine what that number will be?) and he’s literally at the top of his game, Keuchel could virtually write his ticket.

The question, though, for Luhnow is this: How long and how much? Since he won’t be a free agent until after 2018, do you wait another season and simply give him his arb deal in 2016? He could likely hit a record number in arbitration, but it’s more likely Luhnow and the Astros’ ace will agree to a short-term two-to-three-year deal that buys out some or all of his arbitration years. That would be a team-friendly deal and set up a showdown later.

THE CALL: Three years and somewhere in the $30-$40 million range.

And, it doesn’t stop with Keuchel and Rasmus and Correa…

It doesn’t stop with Rasmus and Keuchel. Collin McHugh, George Springer, Will Harris, Evan Gattis and Josh Fields are all in the queue. And Carlos Gomez.  The bottleneck will make calls on players like Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter easier, but Marwin Gonzalez and Sipp may be examples of those who get the squeeze.

Gattis, Harris and Fields enter arbitration for the first time this winter. Gonzalez is in year 2 and Castro year 3. And we haven’t even mentioned Scott Kazmir, who isn’t eligible for a qualifying offer since he was traded in the middle of his contract.

The Astros could get a little space by getting rid of players like Jonathan Singleton ($2 million annually through 2018), Scott Feldman (if Houston can move his $8 million while he’s injured) and even Hank Conger, who heads into arb year 2.

The bottleneck is also the reason Luhnow didn’t flinch at moving players like Domingo Santana this summer. He has to clear the clog somehow. And it may get more painful sooner than later as Houston has to make the call on players earlier than they may like.

The end-of-season payroll may well end up above $80 million. The 2016 payroll could easily hit $100 million.

And that’s why Jim Crane needs your butt in the Minute Maid Park seat. Today.


92 comments on “Sunday update: Follow the money, the Astros are headed to $100 million

  1. Well, we’re doing our part as myself and our 2 boys will have our butts in the lower RF HR section on Monday. We want to help Mr. Crane improve the 2016 Astros while cheering on our favorite baseball team. Go Astros!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Are you thinking the best strategy for Crane is to have the AL win AS game, then get best record in AL, take ALDS in 5, ALCS in 7, and WS in 7 in 2016? I like the way you think…but would be happy with us sweeping each round and leaving three potential home games on the table.


  2. My understanding is you can no longer get in today, even standing room gone. Correct me if I’m wrong. Some of us, me for instance, can’t watch on TV either — but I’ll be thinking on it, that’s for sure. 🙂


  3. Getting to the heart of the matter, Gomez’s salary makes a Rasmus salary harder to handle.
    I don’t know why we would trade Feldman when he would make a fine #5 starter.
    When we signed Lowrie, Correa was in the minors. Now we have to decide what to do with Lowrie and his money. Duffy deserves a shot in the spring. so maybe you try to get the best deal you can for either Marwin, Jed or Luis V.
    This is education time for Luhnow. He now knows what to expect from Gattis, Rasmus, Valbuena, Carter, Marisnick, Marwin and Lowrie during the season and he will know what to expect from them in crunch/playoff time when the Astros are done this year. That should provide enough information to him to decide if he wants them on the team when he’s expecting a deep run into the playoffs next season.
    I need to look further into next year’s payroll situation.


  4. I predict the Astros are NOT headed to $100mil. Besides, they really need ~$120mil to compete in normal years when they don’t have a slew of underpaid superstars.

    The butts will be in the seats today, granted. But where was all the lard the first 155 games of the season?


    • The butts that are in the seats today and tomorrow are probably the butts that were in the seats opening day.
      If the Astros deliver the goods in the next two games, that will go a long way in getting more seats in the seats next year. Success breeds success.
      If Luhnow’s plan remains intact, I don’t see the payroll at $100 mil next year either. But if he is making major philosophical changes on the fly, who knows where we’re headed.
      I know one thing. His supposed changes in player development areas has to include producing big league caliber relievers, something that absolutely has not been happening.
      Also, he has to figure out where the system failed in evaluating the catching of Hank Conger. Something in the system broke down there. He can’t fix Conger, but he has to make sure the scouting failure that brought about that trade does not happen again! Somehow, pitch framing stats totally blacked out the normal scouting procedures in evaluating Conger.
      It also follows that the Astros have a big problem in evaluating and developing catchers, if Heineman and Stassi are sitting out, while Conger fails and Perez starts for the Angels.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for not making me do a “Bopert” reply. I think the decision on Rasmus is predicated on how much faith JL has in Tucker. No need to keep both. I can actually see the payroll going down next year provided no long term deals are done on the “stars.” But the wise move would be to offer decent contracts to those you want to keep for years. If you keep Gattis, no reason to waste money on Carter. Dump Kasmir and Qualls, and save more money for LMJ, Harris & Fields. And so it goes. You have to pay Castro because you traded two catching prospects – one for Conger and won’t play the 3rd.

      Not advocating this be done, just saying that it could be a course taken very easily and actually not do any damage to the long term plans for the team.


      • Agree with you on Tucker. Look at the starters that are locks to pencil in for next year and you have almost all RH batters: Gomez, Springer, Altuve, Correa. I’t’s all the lefties that give you .200 batting averages with their defense, Castro, Valbuena or lefties who give you not enough defense with their offense: Tucker.
        How do you evaluate Lowie for next year? He was fabulous for two weeks, injured for four months and lousy for the last month except for two mighty swings of the bat. How in the world can you count on him at third base next year with his injury history?
        What about Valbuena? He hits homers and plays decent defense but doesn’t walk and is a bad RBI guy. He doesn’t hit in the clutch. He cannot hit lefties or good righties. He only hits mistakes. He doesn’t make many base running mistakes because he doesn’t get on base and he is a slow runner. You don’t notice his slowness much because he’s either trotting around the bases or walking back to the dugout. He is good manning the left side of the infield in the shift, though he absolutely cannot hit to the left side to beat a shift put on him.
        Luhnow has a ton of work to do to put a good team on the field next season. Expectations will be so much higher.


  5. As to kiesters in seats, Houston is a football town. Even with Texans losing, the tailgaters are out there. Not only that, a friend reported to me that on Friday, with the Astros playing a LIVE (and meaningful) playoff game, peeps in one office were watching a REPLAY of the Texans loss the night before. Say what? As I’ve said before, somewhere along the way the Astros brass has lost Houston, not once but many times. It’s nice they’re sold out today, but IMHO they’re lucky to have that. I’m not ragging on the players, still telling front office they got a LONG way to go to catch up and make right. Many reasons, which this is not the time to go into.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diane, it is true that the Astros have lost a lot of fan interest and attendance. These things go in cycles though, and I have been a big follower of the Texans for the last 15 years. This year, they lost me. Tired of the Bill O’Brien worship and getting nothing back. Love Watt, but the rest of the junk just makes it all not worth it.
      I’m thinking I am not the only one. Besides, the Texan’s minor league teams are almost non-existent, too. I don’t see much help down on their farm, TeeHee.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Astros (9)
    •Luis Valbuena (5.148) – $5.8MM
    •Jason Castro (5.104) – $4.6MM
    •Hank Conger (4.051) – $1.8MM
    •Chris Carter (3.159) – $5.6MM
    •Marwin Gonzalez (3.133) – $1.9MM
    •Samuel Deduno (3.096) – $700K
    •Dallas Keuchel (3.089) – $6.4MM
    •Josh Fields (3.000) – $800K
    •Evan Gattis (3.000) – $3.4MM
    MLBTR list of Astros subject to arbitration with yrs of service in parentheses and estimated 2016 arbitrated salary.


  7. Sorry, this topic is right in my wheelhouse, but I’m going to concentrate on the 2015 Houston Astros that are still playing (and positioned well) in the ALDS.

    I’ll gladly complain about likely roster moves and dangled players the first week of November.


  8. Concerning Rasmus and signing a QO. He has had a tough time fitting in to the clubhousender in the few teams he has played for. Rasmus has said more than once, that he loves playing here, and he has been left alone in his quirky habits, and choice of clothes. I have no idea what (or if) Luhnow plans to do with a contract offer for him. I think Preston Tucker needs to go play winter ball somewhere and establish himself in left next year, ready to play. Right now he’s over matched in left, and Hinch hesitateS playing him there. Shore up the bullpen, with guys that can get outs… Qualls, Perez, Thatcher. I would think that Luhnow will try to pry Kimbrel away from the Padres over the winter… least I hope so. These is no secret that Lowrie is not real happy getting left off the playoff roster. Do you keep him next year in case Moran fails with the big club next year? Simple answer is yes. Valbuena is gone next year, as well as Carter and hopefully Conger too. So you’re left with an over paid 1st baseman, who just can not hit MLB pitchers to add to the mix.
    Keuchel: PAY THE MAN
    Castro: Astros will Winn the arb hearing
    Springer: sign him to a REAL contract….non of this “here’s a few bucks kid”
    Collin McHugh: same as Keuchel….show him some money. As Hinch said 19 wins don’t just sneak up on you, you earn every single one of them.
    My opinion only is…the payroll will reach at least $100 million, maybe more like $120 million if you go after a *real* closer.
    As far as getting more people in the seats, you HAVE to have more advertising, and more of the dollar hot dog games. I have a friend whose in the front office, and we have gone back and forth about the ticket prices. It cost more to bring a family of 4 to a game, than most people spend on groceries in a WEEK!! It’s just too expensive for most middle class families. The Texans draw mainly adults (2) because of that same thing….it cost too much for an entire family to go see a game. The more you offer, the more people you will get to the park. Secondly…..the “premium” games like the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers are EXORBITANT!! One ticket can cost $175.00!!!!
    WHO can afford that? Right now Jamie Hildreth is trying to find another clear channel to carry the team, but since 790am is a ” I Heart Radio” in Houston, it appears we are stuck with them. When they play at night, especially in the West coast….forget getting them at all.
    I have my orange Springer shirt on today, and I hope it brings them good luck!
    If you can stand to listen to Steve Sparks….the game is on 790am.
    Good luck guys, and GO ‘STROS!!!!


    • Lowrie wasn’t left off the playoff roster(s) yet. He even struck out as a pinch hitter on Friday. Did you mean he was unhappy be left out of the starting lineup? I can sympathize, but he’s not consistently better on offense than Valbuena of late…and defensively hasn’t been as good at 3B as he was at SS.


  9. Oh and….Chase Utley can say he’s sorry all he wants, but he still broke Tejada’S leg with that play at 2nd last night. I hope he is fined, and banned from playing anymore post season games this year. Sorry doesn’t buy you ANYTHING.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. One thing I’ll give credit to Crane about: he’s been out of the spotlight. He’s very wise to keep a low profile as the Astros enjoy some long-awaited success.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. If you want more fannies in the stands the first thing to address is ticket prices. As Becky noted the prices for premium games is gross. One should be able to buy a ticket for $5 every game of the year. It was a long time ago but in the dome you could sit in the center field bleachers for $4 and your kids for $1, no matter who the opponent was. I should not confess to this but unless the game is a sellout I buy the cheapest seat I can find and then move down into the lower levels where this year there were almost always LOTS of empty seats. The parking fees also tick up for the premium games. To my way of thinking more bodies in the stands even if the admission fee is small is better than an empty seat. Empty seats don’t buy dogs, beer, caps, etc.


    • I had a good laugh with my friend Brandon whose in the FO, because he’s from New York……I told him I wouldn’t cross the street to watch the Yankees play! He teases me about that! Last year I went with a friend of mine to the Red Sox game, but she forgot to tell me we were on the Sox side! DANG…. the Red Sox fans are gross!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Back when you could buy $5 tickets, the best pitcher on the team broke the $1 million barrier. Today, that’s what Hank Conger makes. How in the world are they supposed to meet an $80million payroll with $5 tickets. Let’s be realistic.
      Thousands of people stand in line to pay $150 for a ticket to a concert to hear somebody rap for 2 hours the same stuff they have on their IPOD or whatever they call them these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Op….a concert is ONE time every year or so, not for 15-20 games a year at Minute maid. They are going to HAVE to do more to bring folks to games! I’m not saying a $5 dollar ticket, but lower the prices $5-$10 for an everyday game. We go to the afternoon games, because we live 30 miles from the park, and downtown is a creepy place after dark. Our tickets for the “business man’s lunch” games run around $65 a ticket…..and THATS in the afternoon. Much more if it’s a premium game. I don’t know the answer really….but they have to do more to market this team.


      • When I go to a game it’s to see the Astros. I could never understand why anyone would pay premium prices to see the Yankees, Red Sox, etc. They aren’t royalty.
        All regular season tickets should cost the same.


  12. Man, I hope stassi gets a shot in the spring, cause I’m so sick of Castro taking called strikes. Gives me Morgan Ensberg flashbacks.


  13. Man going to be tough to win with only 6 batters, auto outs Castro, Gattis and Val No Buena. I wonder if Tucker would have been a better shot at DH


  14. At the rate Volquez is getting these guys out, a one run lead probably won’t be enough. PLUS….the back end of their bullpen, is a SHUT DOWN PEN. Keuchel has thrown a ton of pitches…..who do you put in if his pitches get too high??? I would think they are saving Fries for tomorrow, in case McCullers can’t get through 5.


  15. OMG, I am just worthless. I can hardly make myself watch the last three outs. Sometimes I think I’m getting old and everyone I know pretty much tells me I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Had to go outside…..took my earpiece out!! NOW……LET’S GET THAT THIRD WIN!!
    I’m not moving from my house tomorrow….not even cooking supper!!


  17. I sure hope the park is full tomorrow too….the guys fed off the noise today!!!
    NOW…..I want the idiots in Arlington to lose tonight!!!


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