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Big League Stew

The Houston Astros are the worst team in baseball, but they’re making the most money … EVER

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

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(AP / BLS Illustration)

By now, we all know the ballad of the 2013 Houston Astros: Save money, lose, save more money, keep on losing, point toward the future and hope.

Houston's 43-86 record is the worst in baseball and mathematic proof that the Astros are twice as bad as they are good. The team's .333 winning percentage is more than 50 points lower than even its partners in major league misery, the Miami Marlins.

Turns out, though, the Astros are No. 1 in something — making money. According to Forbes, who knows a thing or two about the almighty dollar, the 2013 Astros, owners of baseball's lowest payroll, are also the most profitable team in MLB. Not just this season, but in baseball history.

The Astros, under the watch of owner Jim Crane — a Texas businessman who has a background in insurance, gas, energy and freight — are on pace for $99 million in profits this season, Crane's second as owner. Writes Forbes' Dan Alexander:

That is nearly as much as the estimated operating income of the previous six World Series championship teams — combined ... Of the 270 Major League Baseball teams who have taken the field since 2005, none have finished with a worse winning percentage than Houston’s.

They have become so profitable thanks to slashed payroll expenses and soaring television revenues. Since becoming the Astros’ owner in 2011, Crane has gutted the team of its most expensive players while building up the farm system. Over the course of this season, the team will pay its players an estimated $21 million in salary and bonuses. That is down $56 million from 2011, when Crane bought the team.

And that $21 million is couch-cushion money compared to some of baseball's most bloated payrolls. Consider this: The Yankees have nine players who make more than the Astros entire roster makes. Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest-paid player, is supposed to make $28 million this season. The highest paid Astro? That's Eric Bedard, who is making $1.15 million.

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Pitcher Eric Bedard is the highest paid Astros at $1.15 million (Getty Images)

A big chunk of the Astros' profits come from their TV deal, booming sources of income for pro sports teams these days. The Astros' deal pays them $80 million this season. Combine that with the very low payroll and an attendance that's not the absolute worst in baseball, and you've got a formula to count money.

Astros attendance averages 19,905, which is 28th out of 30 teams, but it's better than the Tampa Bay Rays, who have 31 more wins than the Astros but the worst average attendance in the league, 18,927.

All this cost-cutting in Houston comes with the promise of better days ahead. Crane and his Astros braintrust have been building up the farm system — including the last two No. 1 overall picks, shortstop Carlos Correa and pitcher Mark Appel — and have said they'll spend money when the time is right. Of course, promises can only quiet a fan base for so long, especially one that sees the profits rising and the losses mounting just as high.

Crane's has clung to his rebuilding strategy, even saying this preseason that fans could "write a check for 10 million bucks" if they wanted a better team on the field. In that same interview, Crane told the Wall Street Journal:

"I didn't make $100 million by making a lot of dumb mistakes. We're not going to get everything right, but we're going to get a lot right."

Now here he is, his team close to making $100 million this season. Whether the Astros are getting things right in the long-term, well, that remains to be seen.

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Follow @MikeOz and @bigleaguestew, on Twitter, along with the BLS Facebook page.

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