MLB: Houston eye future benefits after clearing out veterans

The Houston Astros have been able to restock their depleted minor league system thanks to a series of trades which also helped bring their payroll down.

Fernando Martinez and Brian Bogusevic celebrate for Houston Astros
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HOUSTON // The Houston Astros knew they were not going to win much this baseball season, so with an eye toward the future they cast off their few high-priced veterans before the trade deadline, slashing payroll and restocking their depleted farm system.

The Astros have shed almost US$40 million (Dh147m) from their opening day roster and have a payroll of just US$21.3m as of last week. Nine players on other teams will make more than that by themselves this season.

It was not a blueprint to win now.

Still, the new owner Jim Crane did not think it would be this bad - Houston has had the worst record in baseball for most of the season.

Things have devolved rapidly since their rebuilding effort began in earnest when the general manager Jeff Luhnow traded Carlos Lee on July 4. They are 6-36 since then.

"We made a lot of trades and once we made that decision — Jeff started moving some of the talent — we knew we might slide back a little bit, but we didn't think it would be this bad," Crane said.

After Lee, Houston shed the pitchers JS Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez before wrapping up a busy month by sending the third baseman Chris Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Some of them, had they gone beyond the trade deadline, we wouldn't have gotten much of anything," Crane said. "I think [Luhnow] got as much as he possibly could. [He] traded hard, and we did pick up a lot of great prospects."

Houston received 15 players in the recent trades, talent that has improved a minor league system many believed was among the worst in baseball heading into the season. "Our objective is to be competitive consistently as soon as possible," Luhnow said. "And being able to infuse as many prospects into our system as we were able to at the [Class] A and Double-A level, you don't have an opportunity to do that in the draft. You get a lot of new prospects in the draft, but they're usually at the rookie-ball level."

Of course, Houston's focus on the future did not just begin this season. Stars such as Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn all have been dealt in the last two seasons. Of Houston's top 20 minor league prospects, 10 are a product of this year's deals along with the Bourn and Pence trades.

"Next year, with a lot of those salaries gone, we'll have some room to fill in some players when we see what we ended up with," Crane said. "You'll see some more players coming up at the end of the year, and we will continue to see who can play at the big league level."