While the Astros payroll continues to shrink at the major league level, and Drayton McLane holds the team for sale at an outrageous price, there is one sign of hope for the Astros: international spending. Ariel Ovando was given one of the biggest signing bonuses of the year for an international player, and according to Baseball America's estimated numbers, the Astros spent the third-most dollars in baseball chasing overseas talent last year.
Whether they hit the right players or not, the international spending is an important thing for the Astros. When a team is going to mediocre-to-bad on the major league level, it should absolutely decrease spending in the bigs and increase it on the farm system. The Astros managed to sign quite a few high picks in last season's draft, and have chased that by doing a whole lot internationally, including a new Dominican facility.
When the Astros were churning out great young talent in the mid-to-late 90's, a lot of it came from their Venezuelan pipeline: Bobby Abreu, Richard Hidalgo, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia. Not a lot of their career value wound up with the Astros, mostly because Houston was stacked at this point, but it goes to show the importance of a good farm system in developing a winning team. I'm not going to sit here and say Houston's farm system is on it's way to greatness; it has just two Top 100 prospects according to Baseball America. Every dollar spent overseas or on the farm is going to yield a lot more return for the Astros than another $2 million to an ex-Phillie will, though.â†µ