Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is not just collecting and hording money; he’s in the middle of executing what should be a terrific rebuilding job of what currently is baseball’s most downtrodden franchise.
An article that appeared on Forbes.com yesterday criticizing Crane because he is on pace to make $99 million in operating income this season – more than any owner in baseball history – yet is paying his players the lowest combined payroll in the game.
Crane met with reporters later in the day to discuss what he felt were inaccuracies within the article, and to defend what he is doing to try to return Houston to baseball relevance.
It has been nearly two years now since Crane purchased the club, and he’s remained consistent in his desire to avoid purported “quick fixes” and to rebuild the franchise from the ground up. His plan: build through the draft and player development first, and then once a proper nucleus of home-grown talent has been established, add pieces through free agency spending.
The biggest criticism against Crane and his ownership group has been its lack of spending. The Astros have baseball’s lowest payroll at just $13 million – less than 64 different individual big league players are making in 2013 alone. But his approach, and his lack of spending now, is smart.
Crane is not looking for a flash-in-the-pan, one-off winner. He wants to build a team that is capable of challenging for a championship year in and year out. But in today’s baseball landscape, the only effective way to build a consistent winner is to grow from within. It’s a process that takes time, resolve and patience, all of which Crane is demonstrating in lieu of criticisms like those contained in the Forbes.com article.
The Astros have improved their farm system dramatically since Crane took the reins. Several of the team’s top prospects have already reached the big-league club and are gaining essential experience against Major League competition. All of the organization’s full-season minor league clubs are expected to make the postseason, a stark improvement from a few years ago when many considered Houston’s Minor League system among the worst in baseball.
I think the actions of Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has made many a baseball fan wary of their ownership’s true intent. Loria has become notorious from making lofty promises to his fan base before blowing up his own roster in order to slash payroll. I think this case with Crane and the Astros is much different.
For starters, Crane has never once promised fans that he would go on a spending spree to attract the biggest names in the game to Houston. The Astros were the worst team in baseball when he assumed ownership, and he has remained firm that he would first build up a nucleus from within, and once that was done would complement it through free agency.
I take Crane at his word that the Astros will soon become major players in the free agency market. The team has been building asset equity over the past few seasons with their low payroll figures. Houston is also expected to finalize a new TV deal at some point before the start of the 2014 season. With one of the nation’s largest TV markets, that will add a tremendous new revenue stream from which the club can operate (just look what new TV deals have done for the Dodgers and Angels, who have become the biggest free agency spenders on the market here lately).
Crane hinted that the team could begin spending money in free agency as early as next season, but that he isn’t going to give up on his overall rebuilding plan.
“We want to get there as fast as we can, but we can’t money whip it,” Crane said. “We have to stay focused on the plan. It’s a little frustrating, but it goes with the territory. We’re here for the long run. We’re not going anywhere.”
I take Crane at his word. But it’s going to take more time, more resolve and more patience on Crane’s part to prove it to others.