Crane provides updates on Astros at charity event

RICHMOND, Texas -- Astros owner Jim Crane headed to the suburbs on Monday morning for a very special round of golf.

The golf was for a good cause as the Astros held their Astros Foundation annual golf classic at Shadow Hawk Golf Club to benefit the Urban Youth Academy, with Crane joining former Astros legends Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, and president of business operations Reid Ryan and other former players and sponsors.

Coming off a season in which the Astros improved by 19 games and finished 70-92 and in fourth place in the American League West, Crane takes satisfaction that two of his biggest off-the-field issues appear to be close to coming to a close.

The Astros will learn Oct. 21 whether their proposed two-team Spring Training facility to be shared with the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach, Fla., will be reality when they go back before the county commissioners, who last month rejected a financing request, but vowed to keep negotiating with the teams.

The Palm Beach County commissioners have agreed to commit $90 million in bed tax money to help finance a new stadium, which is short of the $145 million the clubs had requested. The two sides have been working to make up the difference.

"We're actually paying a lot more than most teams have paid in the past and we want to try to make it happen," Crane said. "It's a good deal for the city, West Palm and the state. It gets two more teams down there."

Meanwhile, bankruptcy judge Marvin Isgur began hearing a case Monday before deciding whether to accept a proposal to reorganize the Astros' regional sports network partnership with the Rockets into a new partnership owned by DirecTV and AT&T, which would dissolve Comcast SportsNet Houston and, most importantly, put Astros games on the air next year to a majority of the market.

"A couple of years ago we only got paid half of our rights fees and this year we didn't get paid anything, and hopefully we can go back and get something paid for our coverage," Crane said. "It has a big impact on what we're able to spend on the team."

Crane said the payroll could increase by at least $20 million next year, a number that will be influenced by a new TV deal. The Astros had a $45 million payroll last year and have nine arbitration eligible players, though some won't be tendered a contract. Regardless, the payroll will go up incrementally.

"We're not going to spend it to spend it," Crane said. "We're going to spend it effectively. If we need to stretch it a little, we'll stretch it a little. If there's not a good reason to do that, we won't do that."

Crane said the Astros will try to fill some more holes this year in free agency and said general manager Jeff Luhnow is already working to that end. Free agency won't begin until five days following the end of the World Series.

"I think the intent is…to meet in the middle with the farm system and get the guys developing quickly," he said. "As you saw last year, we had some good improvement from a lot of players and we need to see a little bit more of that and some more cornerstones on this team."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.