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Gazzolo Column: Another step in right direction for Astros

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:55 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

For the Astros, it was another step in the right direction.

It was a baby step, but at least it was headed forward, not backward.

Forget about being swept in Kansas City last weekend just when things started to look good on the field. This is a franchise that must look long-term, think out of the box.

For a franchise in the situation Houston’s in right now, moves off the field mean so much more than the action on it.

The Astros know if you can’t out spend them, then you better out draft them. Houston at least looks like it knows what it’s doing now.

Yes, the Astros still have the lowest payroll in all of baseball at just under $30 million. Miami is second-to-last and the Marlins still spend $10 million more than Houston. The Dodgers, with the largest payroll in history, shell out nearly $200 million more.

You are not going to win many games with that disparity and the Astros are proving it.

But, now they show they are at least willing to think about spending in the future.

Last week, with the first pick in the draft, they took the best player on the board in Stanford ace Mark Appel.

They took him even though he has baggage.

Appel refused to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates despite being the seventh-overall pick in the 2012 draft. Big money was waiting, but the Pirates didn’t open the vault and Appel went back to college.

That might scare some teams away from the big, hard-throwing righty who is close to being major-league ready.

Add that his advisor is Scott Boras, a tough-as-nails agent who does what is best for his clients and not the team at all costs, and you have more than one red flag waving.

You get the feeling the old guard of the Astros would had just as soon let Appel go than deal with Boras.

Many teams have done exactly that.

But under new owner Jim Crane, the Astros appear willing to think about the future in terms of becoming a contender.

Last week we said before the draft the blueprint was there for Houston to follow in the name of the Washington Nationals. Seems they like that blueprint as well.

The Nationals used the draft to get better, then drafted the ace of their staff, a tall, hard-throwing righty out of college named Stephen Strasburg. Now Washington is considered a title contender, though the club has struggled out of the gate this season after making the playoffs last fall.

Still, the Nationals, who were cheap before, decided to spend when it came to Strasburg.

Oh yes, he is also a member of Boras’ camp.

It might be scary, but if you want to compete with the big boys on the field, you will at some times have to deal with the big boy (Boras) at the negotiating table.

He holds a lot of pieces to many teams’ championship puzzle.

Boras is also an advisor to Kris Bryant, the second pick in last week’s draft.

So if the Astros wanted either one of the top two picks on the board, they were going to have to deal with Boras as some time. So take the guy you want and start cutting deals.

An added bonus to drafting Appel is he grew up in Houston, moving away at the age of 12. The Astros can sell the folks on a local hero returning home.

This is a club in desperate need of a face to build the franchise around. Appel could become that guy and could become that guy by the end of this summer.

At 22-years-old, he is not your average rookie. If he can be signed, and put together a few good starts in the minors, a September call-up is possible. Probably would come at a high bonus check or two, but clearly the Astros have the money.

If they were tinkering with bringing Roger Clemens back a year ago for a few “bonus” starts to draw a crowd, why not Appel?

After years of going cheap, the Astros look like they might be willing to spend if they can get the right return.

At least it’s a start.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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