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Astros are cheating their fans during "rebuilding" process

If this is the way Jeff Luhnow builds a team, I'm sure glad he was kept on a short leash when he was in the Cardinals front office.

Luhnow yesterday traded Houston's starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie, to the Athletics -- a team now in his own division -- for a collection of young players who aren't exactly setting the minor leagues on fire.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the swap subtracts about $2.4 million in payroll from the Astros roster and sinks the team's 2013 payroll obligations to about $15 million. It's nearly criminal to field a Class AAA payroll at a major league ballpark that charges its fans major league prices for tickets, concessions and parking.

That Jimmy Johnson/Jerry Jones blueprint which called for the Dallas Cowboys to trade the team's best players to stockpile draft picks and replenish the roster doesn't work in baseball. First, you can't trade draft picks. You can only trade works in progress. And, second, college and high school players are a lot farther away from major league ready in baseball than they are when they play football and they've got three years under their belt playing in the Southeastern Conference, The Big 10 or the Pac 10.

So giving away major league talent for prospects who may or may not make it to the majors and become productive players is a huge gamble. And, if it does succeed, it could take years to pay off.

I'd be scared to death if I was the owner of a tear down project like the Astros that the fans would leave and never come back.

Indeed, Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States but it ranked 28th last year in major league attendance. The Astros drew 1.6 million fans or an average of 19,800 a game. That's less than Oakland, Pittsburgh and Miami were able to draw. Yikes.

Two years ago the Astros were drawing 10,000 a game more. Five years ago they drew just under 2.8 million people a season and averaged just shy of 35,000 a game. It's devastating to alienate that much of the fan base. How can you sell advertising and television contracts when you can't sell tickets?

But, back to the subject at hand, Houston gained the following players in the Lowrie trade:

- First baseman and outfielder Chris Carter, 26. He's huge at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds with power potential. But Carter has struggled to make contract in auditions in parts of three major league seasons. He's got a .214 batting average with 19 homers and 124 strikeouts in 332 major league at bats.

- Pitcher Brad Peacock, 25. He was drafted by the Nationals and traded to Oakland, so this is his third organization. Peacock pitched 12 innings and allowed only one run on seven hits with Washington in 2011. He as considered at the time to be a hot prospect. But since then he's been back in the bushes. He took a big step backwards in 2012 with a 12-9 record and a 6.01 ERA last year for Class AAA Sacramento. He allowed 147 hits in 132 2/3 innings. But his strikeout numbers were good with more than one an inning at 139. He walked 66.

- Catcher Max Stassi, who will be 22 in March. He's never been out of the minors and has a .246 batting average with 30 homers spread over four seasons. Last year Stassi played in Advanced Class A ball and hit .268 with 15 homers. 

According to the Houston Chronicle, Carter is a "virtual lock" to make the Astros roster out of spring training, which can't be great news for former Cardinals top prospect Brett Wallace who also plays first base. Peacock has a chance to make the starting rotation of a destroyed club, potentially pitching as high as the number two spot. Houston apparently coveted him because Astros manager Bo Porter knew him and liked him when he was a coach with the Nationals.

Whether or not this individual trade works out, it's completely unfair to Astros fans to head to spring training completely devoid of any major league talent. There is no reason why Houston couldn't have spent a little bit of the fans' hard-earned money to add a few major league journeymen to at least keep things interesting while Luhnow tries to retool.