Could Astros be facing another 100-loss season?

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Houston’s payroll would increase slightly if veterans such as Erik Bedard and Rick Ankiel, who signed minor league contracts, are put on the big league roster.

Trading away most of the veterans and slashing the payroll has helped replenish a farm system that was ranked among the worst in baseball as recently as last spring. But the moves have done little so far to improve the product on the big league team.

Luhnow countered questions about Houston’s low payroll by discussing other areas where the team is spending money.

“We’re making a huge investment in our pipeline,” he said. “We’re going to spend close to $20 million acquiring prospects through the draft and through the international process. We’re investing in teachers at the minor league level, we’re investing in our capabilities to develop talent and we’re staying consistent with our strategy, which is to develop the best young talent in baseball and be as consistent and competitive as soon as possible.”

Houston continued shedding veterans on Monday when it traded one of its most proven position players in shortstop Jed Lowrie and his $2.4 million salary to Oakland for three young players. Luhnow said he’s open to making more moves before opening day but won’t change course from the team’s plan.

Porter is encouraged by the talent and potential of many of his new players. Still, he knows that those playing in the majors for the first time will experience setbacks no matter how talented they are.

“With young players come growing pains,” he said. “Some of these guys may be dealing with failure for the first time. I think one of the biggest challenges for us as a staff is to be able to give them the confidence that’s needed to go out and continue to fight even though there may be some adversity that comes their way because they’re playing at the highest level.”

Luhnow was encouraged the Astros went 15-15 at the end of last season, beating some clubs still in the postseason hunt. He hopes players who made their big league debuts last year will use that experience to help make this year’s squad better.

“The way we ended last season was a step in the right direction, and I’d like to pick up where we left off and begin the year surprising people, winning some series that we’re not supposed to win and being competitive,” he said. “I’d also like to see some players take a step forward.”

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