Hello Mr. Crane, it's a pleasure to have you owning one of Houston's three "major" sports franchises. We are all impressed with your impeccable credentials such as a) not being Drayton McLane, b) kinda-sorta having the NAACP be okay with you now and c) not being Drayton McLane.
One of the most enduring tropes in the history of television is that of the Haunted House. You enter the threshold and the wind blows the door shut behind you, knocking out the lights of the three candles across the hall. At night, the ceiling starts leaking blood all over the fancy canopy bed. How did you get into this mess? Why, your rich uncle left you the house in his will, on the condition that you had to stay there at least one night before it was yours! Rather than coming in with a plan of action, the inheritor inevitably knows nothing about the house or it's history, lets himself be intimidated, and wins a moral victory by outlasting the psychological horrors of the house, which wants him to kill his wife because...well, we never do really get a good reason. Maybe the house had daddy issues.
Either way, the Astros are much like that haunted house at this point. It's a little too quiet in Minute Maid, mainly because fans don't actually show up anymore. Hunter Pence looks exactly like that gangly butler who was paid through greeting you, only to spookily warn you, Mr. Crane, that he wouldn't wander into the kitchen alone at night if he were you. After all, Carlos Lee may mistake you for a burglar. Or worse, a burger. (Checks "make obvious Carlos Lee fat joke" off list.)
We never get to the part of the movie where the house actually gets fixed, usually because the new owner of the house never anticipates that there is anything wrong with the house, then immediately turns around and sells the house for way below market value, thus setting up the sequel. However, in this case, you know exactly what you are getting into. Drayton has already laughed himself to the bank with your hundreds of millions in loans. In advance of showing up at your new place, you already know that things need fixing. If this were the horror movie, you'd pack garlic, crosses, those Popsicles that you could throw at people for some reason in Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and other essential ghost-busting tools. Thankfully, it's much easier to fix a baseball team than a haunted house. In fact, you can pretty much copy the rules from a rather famous recent horror flick to do it:
5) No Attachments
Listen, I know that Pence is a lifelong Astro that epitomizes the fanbase. I know that Michael Bourn is a native Houstonian, who went to college here, and is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. I know that Wandy Rodriguez is the last link to the 2005 World Series team that is actually good. It's fun for fans to root for players they know and identify with.
You know what else is fun? Winning. Be absolutely ruthless in your pursuit of that. Dealing Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt last year was a white flag referendum on the entire near future of the Astros. Accept that and move forward. Get what you can for anyone on the current roster that has value and makes money.
2) The Double Tap
Chris Johnson has become a popular target for Astros fans lately. With good reason, I might add, because when he hits .214, he isn't really helping the Astros win games.
But always remember that one bad season does not a career make. The Astros need to specialize in reclamation projects while they are down. That includes giving Johnson playing time in the hopes that he can resurrect his value, letting J.R. Towles get a legitimate 500 at-bats to see if his production in the high minors can translate into wins in the majors. Ed Wade has found some pretty good project candidates at times, like when he picked up Brett Myers. Only instead of trading him while his value was high, Wade re-signed him to a contract that looks more untradeable with every start. When in doubt, see Rule 5. Be ruthless.
7) Travel Light
While you're treading water here, trying to round the farm system into shape, feel free to keep reducing payroll. Give it back to the fans for a bit with smooth marketing, but also pour that money into places where it could better help the future Astros. International free agents. Over slot bonuses in the draft. Hoarding to get the team over the top when they are ready to compete again and that $10 million addition will make the difference between second place and the playoffs.
And most importantly...
The fat do tend to be the ones to go first. For instance, a certain $18.5 million a year left fielder who hasn't hit for a year-and-a-half and has the fielding range of a Texans safety.
Just release him. Immediate goodwill for you and your new crew.