HOUSTON (AP) - The Houston Astros have a grand total of five players with more than two years of major league experience on the 40-man roster, a first-year manager and a move to the American League to deal with, too.
They also have a payroll projected to be the lowest in baseball since the Florida Marlins spent just under $22 million in 2008.
So why are they so optimistic they can avoid becoming the first team in a half-century to lose 106 games in three consecutive seasons?
General manager Jeff Luhnow doesn’t see youth as a detriment and believes he’s assembled a talented group of players.
“For me youth is a good thing,” he said. “I’m optimistic. I think we’re going to have a much better year than people think, and I don’t think it has anything to do with payroll. I think it has to do with the coaching staff that we have and the young players that have a tremendous amount of upside.”
Houston hired Nationals third base coach Bo Porter to lead the rebuilding effort. He’s heard the predictions that his new team could be historically bad, but won’t let that change his approach.
“We will stress to our players (not to) get caught up in the end result, be more concerned about the process which is what we do every day to prepare ourselves and put us in position to win every ball game,” he said.
Several players already have spent time with Porter during the offseason and are looking forward to working with him this year.
“You can see that he’s passionate and all in, and I think we’re all feeding of that and we’re excited to be the team that turns this around,” first baseman Brett Wallace said.
It certainly won’t be easy for a team which could join the 1962-65 New York Mets as the only teams with 106 or more losses in three consecutive seasons, according to STATS. Houston lost 106 games in 2011 and a franchise-worst 107 last year.
Another dreadful season would put them in line to be the first franchise to have the No. 1 overall draft pick for three straight years.
The Astros are expected to have just five players on their roster who will make more than $500,000 this season. Only one of them, newly acquired veteran slugger Carlos Pena, is a position player.
Pena, a 34-year-old first baseman signed as a free agent for $2.9 million, is among three players on Houston’s 40-man roster who is 30 or older. The Astros are counting on him to immediately step in as a leader.
“We were very adamant about getting some of the right veterans in here,” Porter said. “I think they’re going to speed up the learning curve for a lot of our young players.”
Twenty-seven-year-old starting pitcher Bud Norris projects be to the highest-paid Houston player after agreeing to a $3 million contract that avoided arbitration but he also could be dealt. Following Norris and Pena on the payroll are relievers Jose Veras ($1.85 million) and Wesley Wright ($1,025,000), and pitcher Phil Humber ($800,000), claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox less than a year after he pitched a perfect game against Seattle.