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A Payroll Update As The Trade Deadline Approaches

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in a couple of years, the Astros — if the organization intends to stay under the base tax threshold of $230 million — have the payroll space in place to the tune of $31 million to add some talent and not immediately concern themselves about triggering a tax penalty. Sure, Houston essentially rebuilt their bullpen at the deadline last season without incurring a tax penalty when the margin within their self-imposed budget was slimmer. Still, their improvements didn’t require shuffling large amounts of salary. James Click and his front office made those improvements by operating on the margins, which was assisted by the club’s overall depth. It also helps when the existing roster is strong and only requires fine-tuning on the edges.

The wealth of overall depth within the Astros is why we probably won’t see them reel in a big fish; instead, they will likely target improvements on the margin. Namely, a backup catcher and perhaps another arm or two? While they have the salary space on hand to make a bigger splash, this development is hampered by the current status of the farm system, which has been drained due to various promotions to the majors in addition to the sign-stealing penalties in 2020 and 2021.

But I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that a more prominent name is acquired, whether the general manager was Jeff Luhnow or, currently, Click. After all, when former Astros exec Kevin Goldstein was with FanGraphs, he indicated that he was convinced a trade for Bryce Harper would happen, but it fell apart. What I am getting at is that we shouldn’t outright ignore the possibility of a bigger splash, but we also shouldn’t expect one.

It is worth noting that the Astros are projected to shed additional salary this upcoming offseason and next. Based on current projections, before the next round of arbitration, Houston has about $125 million committed in salary next season. The following season that committed figure drops to $107 million. The only committed salaries on the books beyond 2024 belong to Yordan Alvarez and Lance McCullers Jr. at a combined $32.833 million. In short, there is a lot of future financial flexibility to account for, which could also impact how the Astros approach this trade deadline if the right opportunity presents itself for a player with multiple years of club control remaining. While some of those funds are earmarked for future extensions and other personnel decisions, Houston isn’t bogged down with multiple long-term contracts that would hamper spending in the future.