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Astros are prepared to increase payroll

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's been nearly four years since Jim Crane and his group purchased the Astros, and in that time the club has made the postseason for the first time in a decade, the Minor League system has been replenished, the Astros hammered out a new television deal and on Monday they broke ground on a new Spring Training complex.

The Astros' success on the field, which led to a heightened interest at the box office, and their TV deal mean increased revenues, and Crane, speaking Monday at the groundbreaking of the Spring Training facility the team will share with the Nationals in 2017, said there's room to add payroll, if needed.

"Again, we'll focus on spending money wisely and adding a dimension or two that we might need," he said. "What's really nice is what we set out to do is starting to work. You've got a great farm system to draw from and you've got a lot of guys coming up, too, that could be Major League ready."

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The Astros' payroll was a little more than $70 million to start last season and will take a leap considering there are nine players eligible for arbitration, including first-timers Dallas Keuchel and Evan Gattis and catcher Jason Castro, who's eligible for the last time. Still, there appears to be enough flexibility for the Astros to add the power bullpen arm, the contact bat and the middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher they desire.

"We're going to try to make some improvements with the team," Crane said. "We've got a good Minor League system now in place, which is what we set out to do. ... We're going to try to fill a few holes. Those are fairly obvious, and we'll go from there. We'll continue to give [general manager] Jeff [Luhnow] the resources to do that."

Luhnow left the groundbreaking ceremony and headed about 30 miles south for the start of the General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton. Luhnow, who's attending the Meetings with director of player personnel Quinton McCracken, director of pro scouting Kevin Goldstein and director of baseball operations Brandon Taubman, said he doesn't expect the Astros to make any deals this early in the offseason. The Astros are still waiting to hear whether Colby Rasmus will accept their $15.8 million qualifying offer, which could help shape the direction of their offseason. Luhnow said on Monday they want Rasmus back.

Luhnow said the work done this week will lay the groundwork for a lot of the stuff they'll be talking about extensively over the next month or two.

"I don't think there's any one particular thing we feel we have to accomplish right now," Luhnow said. "We're going to look at how we can improve the team, and sometimes that changes if you start thinking about a trade vs. the free-agent market. We're going to really keep an open mind about ways to improve the team. Fortunately, we have most of our young core coming back, so we don't necessarily need an overhaul. We need to continue to improve on what we did last offseason."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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