MLB-worst Astros in line for league-record profits

Bob Levey

Houston is estimated to make nearly as much money this year as the previous six World Series winners combined.

The Houston Astros are on pace to make an estimated league-record $99 million in operating income this year, nearly as much estimated operating income as the previous six World Series winners combined, reports Dan Alexander of Forbes.com.

Houston enters Monday with a 43-86 record, the worst mark in the major leagues. The Astros started  the season with a league-low $26 million active payroll, and have since cut it to $13 million, according to Randy Harvey of the Houston Chronicle.

Only one player currently on the team, starting pitcher Erik Bedard, is currently making over $1 million. The most expensive payment on the Astros' books is for former Astros pitcher and current Pirate Wandy Rodriguez, who was owed $5 million from Houston this year. The team started the season with five players making over $1 million, but traded or released four of those players.

Sixty-four current major leaguers make more money individually than the Astros do as a team, according to Hernandez. The Yankees alone have nine players that make more money than the entire Astros team.

Houston has been slashing costs while building up the farm system since current owner Jim Crane took over the team in 2011. Crane told Molly Knight of ESPN in July that "Once our minor league system is filled in, we'll move up into the top five or 10 in payroll."

The club has rapidly improved their farm system; John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated the Astros farm system as the 25th best in the majors entering the 2012 season, but they jumped to the 10th best farm system before the 2013 season. Houston also had the No. 1 pick in the most recent Amateur Draft, and are on pace for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft.

If Houston uses their current profits to pay for future players, the $99 million could make a huge difference in fielding a competitive team, though, it could also be used to take care of some of the debt Crane took on and inherited when purchasing the Astros. Other teams, most notably the Miami Marlins, have made similar promises to invest, but have chosen to keep their payroll low.

UPDATE:

The Astros disputed Forbes report:

The Astros disputed the figures in a press release released Monday:We are very disappointed that, earlier today, Forbes released an article that includes significant inaccuracies relating to the Astros' finances. The Astros do not disclose financial information. However, as MLB will confirm, the information reported in the Forbes article relating to the Astros' revenues, the Astros media rights fee from CSN Houston, and CSN Houston's per subscriber rate are all significantly inaccurate. As a result, the conclusion about the Astros operational profit is significantly inaccurate.

The Astros will continue to operate the team in a fiscally responsible manner that will make the City of Houston proud. We are very excited about our accomplishments and we remain steadfast in our commitment to this rebuilding process. We have established a basis of young talent on our MLB roster that will continue to improve. And our minor league system is now one of the best in MLB. As our young prospects develop, we will move them up to the Major League roster and increase our payroll to a level that will allow the Astros to compete for World Championships. The success of CSN Houston is a vital piece of that process and we continue to work toward establishing full distribution.

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