Owner committed to rebuilding plan, calls Forbes.com article 'not accurate'
CHICAGO -- Astros owner Jim Crane met with reporters Monday at U.S. Cellular Field to express inaccuracies with an article that appeared on Forbes.com earlier in the day that suggested the team was on pace to make $99 million in operating income this year.
Crane, who was in the Windy City to watch the Astros play the White Sox, said the article was "not even close to being accurate," and said it failed to take into account several factors, including the team's TV deal that has yet to be finalized.
The owner said the team, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, doesn't divulge its profit-loss margins, but added the article worked off some assumptions that were inaccurate.
"We notified them the story is way off," Crane said. "I don't think they did their homework and made some assumptions that were totally wrong. I was in town and going to the game. I wasn't planning on doing a media press conference, but we felt it was important to let our fans know that's not accurate and we're going to build a good product for Houston."
The Astros have baseball's lowest payroll at about $13 million. Crane has made it clear since he purchased the club nearly two years ago that he plans to rebuild through the Draft and player development before starting to spend some money in free agency.
Several of the team's top prospects have hit Houston this year, and the Astros' Minor League system is one of the most improved in baseball and could have all of its full-season clubs make the playoffs. Crane said the rebuilding plan is proceeding accordingly.
"When we took over the team, as you guys know, we were the worst big [league] team and had the worst Minor League system, and we've improved our Minor League system, so hopefully [we're] one or two by the end of this year and that's going to give us a nucleus," Crane said. "They're trying to sensationalize the situation, and it's totally inaccurate and we're sticking with our plan, and our plan is to develop the players.
"Once we have a nucleus of players we're starting to see develop, we'll step in with the right resources to make it happen. Our TV deal is still hanging in the wind. We have to get full coverage on that soon. That's really the story."
Crane cited the team's unresolved television deal as having a huge impact on the Astros' bottom line. Last year, the Astros and the NBA's Houston Rockets launched a Regional Sports Network with Comcast called CSN Houston that was supposed to begin airing Astros games this season. But negotiations between the network and satellite and cable providers have been slow, leaving more than half of the Houston TV market without access to Astros games on TV.
The Forbes article stated the network had trouble signing deals with local satellite and cable providers who don't want to pay a subscriber rate that is $3.03 -- 38 cents above the average for a regional sports network' according to the article. The team released a statement saying the Astros' media rights fee from CSN Houston and CSN Houston's per subscriber rate referenced in the article were significantly inaccurate.
"Everyone knows the subscribers aren't what we want from the other networks, and until we get that, that thing is not going to do well," Crane said. "We're focused on getting it completed. We hoped we had it completed by now.
"Something will happen before next season for us. Hopefully it will happen for the Rockets here soon. We don't know where our bottom line is going to end up, and that's what makes that article very ridiculous. If you just looked at the numbers they referenced on TV, they're just totally inaccurate, totally inaccurate. Not even close."
Crane said he bought the team to try to bring Houston a championship and isn't happy with the how the team has performed, despite being in a rebuilding mode. He wanted to remind fans how much the Minor League system has been improved and that brighter days are ahead.
"We're not happy where we're at. We want to win," he said. I bought the team not to try to mislead the fans. The fans are extremely important and we want to make sure we have a good product on the field. We felt very strongly the only way to do that is get one of the best Minor League systems built. Once we have that built, we'll complement that very quickly.
"Nobody likes losing these games the way we've been losing them late, but that's quickly remedied as we move into next year. ... While I'm on point, you'll never see this Minor League system slip to the worst. It will never happen."
Crane hinted the team could begin to increase spending in free agency next year.
"We want to get there as fast as we can, but we can't money whip it," he said. "We have to stay focused on the plan. It's a little frustrating, but it goes with the territory. We're here for the long run. We're not going anywhere."