Hey, Astros Fans, It's Free Agency Time

Tonight's the night Astros fans. Tonight's the night the Astros can start snapping up free agents from throughout baseball. Tonight's the night Jim Crane, with all of the money he's saved by dumping the team's high-priced veterans last season and with all of the money's he's going to make off the team's regional sports network, breaks the bank and loads up on All-Stars.

That's right. Can't you see it? An outfield featuring Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton. A starting rotation featuring Zack Greinke and Edwin Jackson. Nick Swisher at first base and/or DH. That'll make a great team. Especially teamed with Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve and Jason Castro. Suck on that Rangers and Angels and A's.

But that's not going to happen. Jim Crane didn't get rich enough to buy the Astros (or leverage himself to the hilt to buy the Astros) by spending unwisely. And Jeff Luhnow and the stat gurus working under him have a plan in place that involves building the team from the bottom up, spending money on the draft and stocking the farm system with the cream of the crop rising up to the top of the club and playing in the majors as a unit for years to come.

It's a plan that's worked for Luhnow and his previous employer, the St. Louis Cardinals. It's how the Atlanta Braves have stayed relevant since the early-90s. The Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays have also built themselves through the drafting and wise trading.

It's a plan that also once worked for the Houston Astros. Then Drayton McLane decided he wanted to be like the New York Yankees and he started spending huge dollars on free agents. Sure Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte helped the Astros to make the World Series in 2005. But then McLane and his minions wasted dollars on Carlos Lee and Kaz Matsui and Woody Williams. They didn't spend money on the farm system. They sought players in the draft who they could sign cheaply instead of seeking players who would help the ballclub.

You've seen the result of McLane's stupidity. The two worst seasons in the history of the Houston Astros. And now free agency time is upon us, and believe it or not, there are fans out there begging for the Astros to spend big bucks and bring in a big name free agent.

But that's not going to happen. Jeff Luhnow says it's not going to happen. It doesn't fit with his plan, and hopefully, Crane will remain hands off and let Luhnow do what needs to be done.

Luhnow does say he's going to pick up some players in free agency. And truthfully, he's got to pick up some players because the Astros are a mess - thanks Drayton, Tal, and Ed. He's looking to pick up a DH and a corner infielder and a back-up catcher and another outfielder and some back of the rotation starters. In other words, he's looking to fill every position not manned by Lowrie, Altuve, and Castro.

I know the fans want the Astros to make a big splash. To sign that huge name. It's been a miserable past two years at Minute Maid Park, and the fans need something to get them excited about Astros baseball. But signing one big name player to a huge contract just won't do the job. If it did, the 2001 Texas Rangers would have been the greatest team in the history of baseball.

It's painful, but the Astros have got to continue focusing on two to three years down the road. The money's got to keep going into the draft and signing young guys who will form a nucleus for years to come, though maybe not this year. And if the Astros have to be awful for another year or two, well, that's what happens when a team allows it farm system to become barren of talent.

And if he's listening, and if he's going to sign a couple of free agents to fill some holes, then I'd like to make a couple of suggestions for Jeff Luhnow. See if Jim Thome's interested in being the DH. Look at David Ross as the backup catcher. And if you want a high risk player offering up a possible huge reward, then think about Grady Sizemore - if the guy can ever get healthy again, he'd look nice in the Astros outfield, and because of his injury history, he might come cheap if you load up the contract with incentives, and if he does injure himself, always a strong possibility, then you won't be out of a lot of money.

But hey, you're the GM, and it's Jim Crane's money. Do what you wish. No matter what, you can't do any worse than the last guy to have your office.

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