added 2/17/2011 by Bob Hulsey
I doubt it will mean much during the negotiations, but whomever winds up buying the Houston Astros may be walking into a great opportunity to find instant acceptance. There's little to take attention away from an Astros team that is rebuilding and yet could easily be contenders in the coming years if the new ownership has a midas touch.
Consider that Texas fared better than most of the country and has seen its population continue to grow as people from all over the continent come here looking for jobs.
Major League Baseball seems to be reasonably recession-proof, having survived what is likely the worst of the recent downturn without much of a scratch. The Astros are teaming with the Rockets and Comcast on a new television network that could bring new revenue streams.
Once Carlos Lee's hefty contract is off the books, ownership will have only two salaries of $10 million or more to work through. Both Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez seem affordable and tradeable, depending on just how much they deliver in the coming year. Nobody else seems ready to join them in that sort of payroll stratosphere, which means there ought to be room to bring in some top free agents to give the club both an economic and marketing boost.
The Giants proved how far you can go with a tremendous pitching staff and a lineup of cast-offs. Might the same formula work in Houston some day (some say it already has - see 2005)? It could happen again if some of our pitchers live up to their potential.
New ownership will also find a local sports market thirsting for a team to get behind. The Rockets can't keep their stars healthy and are now making do with a constellation of starless clutter. The Texans seemed to have exhausted everyone's patience except for Bob McNair's as they perfect the bend-and-then-break style of defense. Both franchises have teased more than pleased in recent years.
Amazingly, the nation's fourth largest city still does not have a National Hockey League team while hockey hotbeds like Phoenix and Tampa already do. You'd think with all the Yankees scurrying down here, there'd be more clamor for some sticks and pucks. However, there's no worries for an Astros owner that a hockey team will become the new sports darlings in town.
College sports are fun and niche markets like women's basketball and men's soccer can fill the boredom briefly but the City of Houston hasn't truly felt the buzz since Clyde, The Dream and Rudy T. made Houston proud a long 15 years ago.
So, the time is perfect for an aggressive owner to come in and take the city by storm. Take a young, appealing team, add in a few big names and you could see the Astros becoming the toast of the town in no time. The elements are all there. What's needed is a fledgling owner who wants to be the biggest fish in the pond and has the money to back it up.
I know it's more fantasy than probability but let's imagine for a moment that the Cardinals and Albert Pujols continue to bicker about money and he becomes a free agent. Then let's say Brett Wallace doesn't live up to expectations and a new Astros owner comes in and realizes he has not only a team to promote but a new tv network and signs Pujols to a record-breaking contract. You don't think that would turn some heads? Not likely, I know, but it could happen.
Just think of it, Mr. Deep Pockets. Houston could be putty in your hands. Just buy the Astros and then buy them a championship. Pretty simple formula, really. All it takes is a boatload of money and a few good baseball people. Houston fans are ready to be wooed and they'll shell out big time to be part of a winner again.