Here’s some bad news: the Houston Astros are 43-86.
The good news? The Astros won’t lose 120 games as some people predicted back in April. Oh, the other really good news (if you happen to be owner Jim Crane) is the team is set to make a MLB-high profit of $99 million according to Forbes.
The Astros are on pace to rake in an estimated $99 million in operating income this season. That is nearly as much as the estimated operating income of the previous six World Series championship teams — combined.
There are two forces at work here to create that huge profit. When Crane bought the team in 2011 he quickly handed the reigns over to Jeff Luhnow who promptly went about trading almost all the veteran assets the club had in order to stockpile minor-league talent. It left Houston with a payroll that started the season at $26 million but is now down to $13 million after getting rid of cheap veterans like Carlos Pena and Rick Ankiel. Erik Bedard is the only player left on the roster making more than $1 million.
At the same time, Comcast SportsNet Houston launched and paid the Astros $80 million a year to broadcast their games. The team owns the largest share in the network, too. That said, SportsNet is losing millions of dollars as it tries to get added onto cable systems.
Either way, the Astros, even with a massive debt when Crane bought the club, are making money. One question will be how long this model works, especially as Houston calls up its top prospects and eventually has to go into arbitration and eventually free agency with these players. Another question: going forward would you rather have the Astros’ roster flexibility or be the Angels, saddled with paying Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton around $50 million combined from 2015-17?
Fans in Houston can probably buy into tearing the whole team down and pressing the reset button for a couple seasons — at best. If the Astros don’t start showing signs of progress there will be fewer and fewer eyeballs at both the stadium and on television. There’s probably a statute of limitations for how long baseball fans in Houston are willing to accept massive loss totals coupled with Crane fattening up his bottom line.