x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

MLB 2013: No shining stars and haughty predictions from Houston Astros

The Astros are cheap in the extreme and concede their first season in the American League will not be a competitive success.

Houston Astros third base coach Dave Trembley talks to the players during a spring training session. David Phillip / AP Photo
Houston Astros third base coach Dave Trembley talks to the players during a spring training session. David Phillip / AP Photo

Texans would have you believe they do everything bigger in the Lone Star State. That makes the Houston Astros a monumental exception.

The team's victory total has been the tiniest in baseball the past two years (56 and 55). Now Houston's player wage bill has shrunk to the smallest in Major League Baseball, to roughly US$30 million (Dh110.2m) - or about as much as the New York Yankees will pay the ageing and injured Alex Rodriguez this year.

The Astros have a plan: fielding their best young (and least expensive) prospects, allowing them grow into a decent team, and only then spending on veterans to fill key spots when they are play-off contenders.

In the meantime, the Astros are cheap in the extreme. The Miami Marlins are the next up the salary rung, at approximately $45m. On the top end, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yankees are over $200m.

The MLB average, per team, is about $100m.

The Astros concede their first season in the American League (moving, after 51 years in the National League, to balance the leagues at 15 teams each) will not be a competitive success.

"We're not going to do something to improve a few games in 2013 that comes at the expense of our ability to compete over the long haul," Jeff Luhnow, the general manager, told MLB.com. "We're investing in our capabilities to develop young talent and we're staying consistent with our strategy."

MLB 2013: American League team checklist

For one day, at least, the Astros will be in the spotlight; they and the Texas Rangers play the first game of the season-opener.

It figures to be another grim year, in Houston. The Astros last had a winning record in 2008, and could easily suffer more than 100 defeats for a third consecutive season, matching the expansion New York Mets 50 years ago.

If the "strategy" has angered fans and invited media criticism, Jim Crane, the owner, who bought the Astros in 2011, is not apologising.

"This is a private company, even if it's got a public flair," Crane told the Wall Street Journal. "If [critics] want to write a check for $10 million, give me a call."

Just do not make it a collect call.