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Jim Crane: Astros to increase payroll by $20 million in 2015

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Roger Clemens wants them to get an ace pitcher with that money.

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

While at a charity golf event Monday, Astros owner Jim Crane discussed the team's plans for 2015, saying that the Astros could add $20 million to the 2014 payroll.

There were plenty of factors Crane brought up, but the impending resolution to the regional sports network bankruptcy case plays a large role:

"It's pretty simple," Crane said. "A couple years ago we only got paid half of our rights fees. This year we didn't get paid anything and this year hopefully we go back and get something paid for our coverage and it'll have a big impact on what we'll be able to spend on the team."

Where would a $20 million increase put the Astros? Houston spent $50 million on its Opening Day payroll last season, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Naturally, there will be some increases and decreases in how much money players are owed. Let's run through those quickly.

First off, Houston will no longer have an obligation for Wandy Rodriguez' contract, so strike $5 million off the books. Scott Feldman's deal is also set to lose $2 million over 2014 while Jesse Crain's $3 million also comes off the books.

Dexter Fowler's two-year extension has run its course, leaving the center fielder in the third year of arbitration. That means he's due a raise, which could be as much as $2 million.

Jason Castro will also be entering arbitration and could get another $2 million over what he earned in 2014. Jose Altuve's deal goes up by a million while Tony Sipp should be due a slight raise in arbitration as well.

Matt Albers could see his contract bought out for next season and Jesus Guzman could also be gone, leaving the Astros with about $43 million in payroll obligations.

Add that $7 million to the $20 and Houston suddenly has a little bit of breathing room to maybe add three starting-caliber players on the free agent market. They could add Chase Headley, plus another starting pitcher and a bullpen piece pretty easily with that much cash.

Don't expect a ton of focus on that rotation, however. Roger Clemens was also at the charity event, saying the Astros needed to add pitching:

"Now, we might need an arm or two, and I say that, and I feel like I'm belittling maybe a No. 4 or 5 starter, but that's what they are in the rotation," Clemens said. "They're not a No. 1 or No. 2, but they can be ... if you want to be that guy, if you can handle that and you can handle everybody critiquing you.

The problem with that is it misunderstands the current baseball climate. It's easy to find pitchers (or, easier than it was 14 years ago). As recently as 2009, the league scored over 22,000 runs as a whole. This past season, baseball scored 19,700, a drop of over 3,000 runs.

Average that out over 30 teams and that means teams are scoring about 100 runs less per season than they were a year ago. That makes pitching better and hitting more scarce.

It also means that the traditional notion of getting that "ace" pitcher may not be as important in this current environment. Instead, offense will be at a premium.

That's why it's a good bet that if Houston spends this winter, it'll be on a regular starter at some position on the diamond, not for an ace starting pitcher.

Finally, we have the usual caveat that if this money hasn't been spent yet, it doesn't mean Jim Crane will actually do it. Those of you who are convinced he's cheap and will never spend money can continue to think so, until the payroll ducks over $100 million.

Until we see the actual increases, it's all just talk, however encouraging it may be.