Along the way, they drafted relatively well, made some adept trades and started filling in the missing pieces by spending money on free agents. They are now positioned to be a threat to win the World Series for at least the next few years, beginning this season.
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Perhaps the most important development is that the Astros have put themselves in position to contend without gutting their Minor League system, which is still considered a strength. It's been a long process for general manager Jeff Luhnow, who took over prior to the 2012 season.
• Veteran additions bolster balanced lineup
"We've come a long way since 2012," Luhnow said. "It took us 10 years to get back to the playoffs and we did it with some pretty exciting young players and some great performances, but we've got to build around that young core. The fact that we were able to make the investments in the free agents and through the trades without giving up a lot of our farm system is a position a lot of general managers wish they could be in."
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The Astros have young impact players who have team-friendly deals in All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, former American League Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, third baseman Alex Bregman, outfielder George Springer and pitchers Lance McCullers and Ken Giles, among others. They began opening the wallet last year by signing Yulieski Gurriel (five years, $47.5 million) midseason and this offseason added pitcher Charlie Morton (two years, $14 million) and outfielders Carlos Beltran (one year, $16 million) and Josh Reddick (four years, $52 million), as well as trading for veteran catcher Brian McCann. The payroll will be around $120 million in 2017, which would be their highest Opening Day payroll in history but still puts them in the middle of the pack.
Despite the Astros' additions, they were able to keep most of the their Top 30 prospects in the organization, though their reluctance to deal No. 1 prospect Francis Martes and No. 2 prospect Kyle Tucker impeded their ability to land another impact starting pitcher this offseason. They will continue to monitor the starting pitching trade market into the season.
• Altuve stands tall among Astros' stars
What's more, the Astros spent heavily on the international side of things last year and had to pay a 100 percent tax on the overage after flying past their allotted bonus pool. This year, they'll have five of the first 91 picks in the Draft after being awarded the Cardinals' first two picks last week as a result of the illegal breach of the Astros' baseball operations database by a former baseball operations employee of the Cardinals, Christopher Correa. That's a luxury for a team in contention.
"Right now, we're in a good spot," Luhnow said. "We're probably going to have a league-average payroll for the first time in a while, and I think that's going to increase [in the coming years], and that helps. You need fuel to fuel the fire, and we've got plenty of resources right now."