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The Astros, Nolan Ryan and Cliff Lee

How are they all related? 

Well, they're not, at least not right away. 

It all started on the same day as the Cliff Lee trade. That's when I read this Richard Justice blog post about Nolan Ryan buying the Astros. It struck me that rarely have the Astros and Rangers been so closely linked by things that have nothing to do with trades.

For instance, the Rangers seemed like a great landing spot for Roy Oswalt before Lee arrived last Friday. As we discussed copiously since then, the Lee deal was all about the money. They were giving up the future for a shot at making a run this season, but more importantly, it was a shot they were taking with house money. Lee only has one more year left on his contract and then he's a free agent. That means the Rangers aren't on the hook for more than absolutely necessary.

The Rangers also helped and hurt the Roy Oswalt trade market with this move. They immediately moved him to the head of the pack as far as available pitchers are concerned. They eliminated one potential landing spot in themselves, but kept a guy like Javier Vazquez off the market to avoid more competition for Oswalt. So, it's really a wash as far as his value goes. We also discussed some whether the Yankees make sense as a potential trade partner. The other interesting wrinkle is the revelation that a few more teams were in on Cliff Lee than expected. Teams like Cincinnati may now be players for Oswalt, increasing his demand and the potential package the Astros will receive.

Because of the ownership shift, the Rangers cannot take on payroll right now. I mean, they technically can, but with Major League Baseball essentially running the team as they work through bankruptcy court, it's highly unlikely they'll approve a major salary addition. It doesn't totally exclude it, as was noted on Twitter that MLB approved the Bartolo Colon deal with Le Expo back before they moved to Washington. If you remember, the Expos lost Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips in that deal. So, it's sometimes a good thing to be balked in these kinds of moves.

That ownership situation is the last thing that can affect the Astros. As I said, this whole process came together when I read Justice's blog post on Nolan Ryan buying the Astros. Most people assume it's a foregone conclusion that the Greenberg/Ryan group will be the new owners of the Rangers at some point this season. Ryan didn't sound so sure, though, in a recent interview that clack found. Everything I had read said the next few weeks would basically be rubber-stamping Greenberg's bid. The auction, if it comes to pass, would have to be won by a group with some serious money and then be approved by Major League Baseball. That probably rules out Jim Crane, as Selig and Co. are still angry with him backing out on Drayton McLane last year. 

If Ryan somehow doesn't buy the Rangers, would his group now make a good fit with the Astros? Forbes valued the Astros at 453 million in April 2010. The prospective price of the Rangers was 550 million, so the Greenberg group could easily bid a similar figure for the Astros and conceivably convince Drayton to sell. The Rangers, for comparison, were valued at 451 million by Forbes. Of course, they have a huge debt service, which is part of the problem with this current sale. The Astros are not in the same situation, with a debt/value ratio of 12 percent. Compare that to the Rangers 105 percent debt/value ratio and you can see why there are problems with the sale.

So, if they were interested, Greenberg and Ryan could certainly make a good enough offer to buy the Astros. One of the sneakier reasons I'd like this move? It would basically ensure that Round Rock and Corpus Christi stay Astros affiliates as long as Nolan owns a stake in the Astros. That's good news, boys and girls. What I'm unsure of is how it would affect the current management. We know that Nolan and Chuck Greenberg have had success running minor league franchises. It stands to reason they can have similar success in the pros, but what kinds of changes would they make? As Justice says, I wouldn't expect any hasty decisions on Mills, Wade or Heck, but might Tal Smith retire with the move? I could certainly see Nolan installing himself as president. Would that affect how the Astros negotiate in arbitration? Could they reach an mutually beneficial agreement with Smith so his consulting team could still be used on those cases? It would make for some interesting plot lines.