Speaking at the GM Meetings today in Orlando, Jeff Luhnow said that he was "Going to think twice" before making free agent commitments that involve draft picks and/or a lot of money for a long period of time.
Now call me crazy, but that sounds like exactly every single big-name free agent out there (and yes, the term "big name" allows for some wiggle room in its interpretation). More Luhnow:
Having said that, we're doing our own analysis on every free agent that's out there. There is a price at which we'd be interested in all of them.
He did say the Astros would sign players that would help the team, but signing one of the "top guys" is "probably a long shot."
So there are a number of ways to interpret these comments. I think we're all in agreement that spending money just to spend money is pretty stupid, and we have wondered aloud there would be an Astros Tax to sign one of those "top guys" (where they have to overpay significantly to get a player to sign in Houston). We also have known for a couple of years that there is a process at work, a blueprint, and the Astros will stick to it. Just because Crane says payroll could increase to $50-60m doesn't mean that it'll light a fire under Luhnow's tailpipe to give eleventy dillion dollars to Shin-Soo Choo.
It also indicates that the Astros are thinking trades at this point. Any team who offers a free agent a Qualifying Offer will receive a draft pick from the signing team. So that would include Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Kendrys Morales. If the Astros sign any of those players, they lose the pick they received from Baltimore in the Bud Norris trade. So how do you increase payroll, significantly help the club, and not lose a draft pick? Trade for that player. The process will be followed, whether we like it or not.