Astros expected to raise payroll in 2015

Houston looking to bolster bullpen, offense

Astros expected to raise payroll in 2015

HOUSTON -- The Astros took a 19-game step forward in 2014 when they won 70 games a year after winning only 51. While a similar leap next season would be welcome, just how much better the Astros will be in '15 depends on the offseason.

Astros owner Jim Crane said last week the payroll will likely rise by at least $20 million -- up from $45 million in '14 -- and it could increase even more now that the team's television stalemate with Comcast is nearing completion. The Astros were paid only half their television rights fees in '13 and none this year and have been in court trying to recoup some money as they work on a new TV deal.

"It has a big impact on what we'll be able to spend," Crane said. "We're still on plan. The intent is to go out and sign some free agents, and Jeff's [general manager Jeff Luhnow] working on that now, and continue to have a meeting in the middle with the farm system and the guys developing quickly."

No matter how much the payroll increases, the needs remain clear: bolstering the bullpen, adding a corner infielder and a corner outfielder with some thump. The Astros ranked 16th in baseball in OPS and fourth in homers, but were 21st in runs scored.

"We may not know what the team is going to be shaped like until well into the Winter Meetings or past the Winter Meetings," new manager A.J. Hinch said.

The payroll figures to rise quite a bit considering the Astros have nine arbitration-eligible players, a few of which -- reliever Anthony Bass and outfielder Alex Presley -- are non-tender candidates. Another, veteran center fielder Dexter Fowler, made $7.35 million this season and will be up for a big raise in the year before he hits free agency.

Luhnow invested in the bullpen last year with the signings of Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain, but only Qualls worked out because Albers and Crain were hurt. Houston picked up Jose Veras in the middle of the season, and he appears to be a good fit with the Astros.

Still, the Astros are going to need at least two proven, healthy arms to add to a bullpen that was last in the American League in ERA and first in blown saves with 25. Some money could be spent on the rotation, too, though Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are a solid trio.

With Fowler, Jake Marisnick, a healthy George Springer and Robbie Grossman, there are options in the outfield, but a power bat could provide some thump.

"It's a great foundation here. … and some of the veteran players like Fowler and Feldman and Qualls, guys that provide real stability," Hinch said. "What I learned in this process is how badly Jim wants to win, how badly Jeff wants to do it right, and these are tough decisions when it comes to players coming and going. I've got firsthand experience of that, so I do have an understanding.

"Whether that player is a brand-new player on the rise and he's 19 years old and he shoots through the Minor Leagues and he's on this team, once you walk into this clubhouse we're going to embrace every player and see how they can help us win, and if that guy's a 10- or 12- or a 15-year veteran that provides leadership for this group, all the better. We'll put it together. Jeff and his group will communicate strengths and weaknesses and why each player is in this organization, and we certainly feel like we can contribute on the field."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com 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.