Are The Astros Worth What Drayton Is Asking?

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So Drayton McLane has made it known that he's really, really willing to sell the Houston Astros. And as his price, he's asking for $650 million.

I'm sure the potential buyers are putting every aspect of Drayton's baseball empire under the microscope, but I thought I would provide a little assistance. For a quick reference, the Chicago Cubs -- in a deal that included the Cubs, ownership of Wrigley Field, and a 25-percent take in Comcast SportsNet -- were sold last year for $850 million. So it kind of looks like the Astros might be a bit of a bargain.

Then again, Drayton is selling just a baseball team and the remainder of a 30-year lease that gives the owner the right to use and run Minute Maid Park. So maybe that $650 million isn't the bargain it appears. Then there's the fact that the San Diego Padres -- roughly comparable to the Astros -- were sold for just a little more than $500 million last year, and Tom Hicks is supposedly asking a bit over $500 million for the Texas Rangers.

But what about the actual team that is being purchased?

Drayton McLane purchased the Astros for $117 million from John McMullen in 1992. McLane purchased a team that had been gutted of stars and high-priced talent and mostly purged of aging ballplayers. But he inherited a major league roster that included the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year, Jeff Bagwell. Craig Biggio was at second base. A pre-steroids Ken Caminiti was at third -- being pre-steroids, Caminiti wasn't a great hitter, but he was a human vacuum cleaner at third. Luis Gonzalez, in his second year, was in left field, and Steve Finley was anchoring center field at a level not seen in the Dome since the early days of Cesar Cedeno.

Then there was Eric Anthony holding his own in right field (Anthony would later be traded for Mike Hampton). And the pitching staff counted among its members Darryl Kile, Pete Harnisch, and Shane Reynolds.

The farm system was stocked with talent, so stocked that not only would it fill the Astros roster for years to come, but would be used to stock the rosters of other ball clubs. Bobby Abreu, Richard Hidalgo, and Todd Jones were among the stars of the farm system. The farm system was so loaded that Kenny Lofton was deemed expendable. The team had a pipeline to talent from Venezuela.

Bill Wood and Bob Watson made for a respected front office that had pulled off major trades to acquire Bagwell, Harnisch, Finley, and Curt Schilling -- who was traded before McLane brought the team.

This is what Drayton McLane purchased. But what's he selling?

The Astros have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Baseball America ranks the Astros system as number 30 out of 30 major league teams.

The major league roster's not much better. Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are youngsters with immense talent. That's about it. The team has the aging, possibly past his prime Lance Berkman at first base. Then there's the injury-prone, never had a prime Kaz Matsui at second. There's no real talent at third and shortstop. Carlos Lee and his no-trade contract are still anchoring down left field.

The starting rotation is aging, and is once again a rotation built on hope: the hope that Roy Oswalt can return to the form of his prime; the hope that 2009 wasn't a fluke season for Wandy Rodriguez; the hope that Bud Norris lives up to the hype; the hope that Brett Myers stays healthy and doesn't attack anybody.

And the Ed Wade/Tal Smith front office isn't exactly respected. It's for this that McLane is asking $650 million. Forbes currently values the franchise at $445 million. And looking at the roster and the farm system, you can't help but think that $445 million is too much.

Then again, maybe Drayton's figuring that the value of Tal's Hill, the choo-choo train, and the giant pumpkins in the back of the choo-choo train are huge assets that add to the value of the club.

Here's hoping that McLane gets this team sold, and gets it sold quickly. But here's hoping that the group that buys this team isn't as a big a sucker as the fans and media who keep falling for McLane's bull season after season after season.

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