Just because a team has an enormously high payroll doesn’t necessarily mean the team will emerge from the regular season with enough wins to make it to the post-season playoffs.

Of course the opposite also is true that if a team is in the lower quadrant of the salary scale, it might not mean the team will be a doormat to the rest of the league. But it certainly has been true for the past three years with our beloved Houston Astros. Houston’s problem of not being very competitive has several additional factors hurting its case, like the dismantling and selling of the franchise and the new owner’s reluctance to obtain top-notch talent at the market value which amounts to big bucks.

But Houston Astros’ new owner Jim Crane is a sharp enough businessman to realize that it takes money to make money. And the only way his new franchise will reap him some nifty financial benefits is to start winning baseball games on regular basis. I’m not saying that 2014 will be the year things get back to normal in the win-loss column, but it also appears at this early stage of the season that the team may slowly be crawling out of those losing doldrums.

Crane has opened his tightly-sealed wallet slightly and picked up a couple of players from the free-agent marketplace that should bolster the Astros’ bottom line at some point in time.Perhaps his shrewdest purchase so far this season has been the acquisition of veteran pitcher Scott Feldman, who toiled for the rival Texas Rangers for the past few seasons. Thus far, in three starts for the Houston Astros, Feldman is 2-0 and sports a spiffy 0.44 Earned Run Average.

Perhaps Feldman’s career-best outing came Friday night in Arlington against his former team, the Texas Rangers, when he matched zeroes with Ranger’ ace Yu Darvish for seven innings. The Astros had only won two of 19 games against their American West rivals a year ago and Feldman was pitching only a couple of days after learning that his dad lost his long battle with cancer and died. He presently is on a bereavement leave to attend the funeral and take car of family business.

According to figures compiled by USA Today Sports, based on documents obtained from the Major League Baseball Players Association, club officials and agents and filed with MLB’s central office, Feldman signed a multi-year contract with the Houston Astros for $12 million per season.

It looks to me as if Crane really found a diamond-in-the-rough in Feldman, who is off to a magnificent start. According to figures posted in this week’s issue of USA Today Sports Weekly, the Astros’ current 25-man roster has a payroll of $44,985,800 which makes the average salary $1.6 million and the median salary $506,500. This figure still is near the bottom of the barrel as far as major league salaries are concerned, but is more than double what Crane was paying his teams that accumulated more than 100 losses the last three years. Actually, only the Miami Marlins have a lower payroll at $41,836,900.

Free agent acquisitions outfielder Dexter Fowler ($7.85 million) and pitchers Jesse Crain ($3.25 million) and Chad Qualls ($2.75 million) follow Feldman as the highest paid Astros this season.

Catcher Jason Castro ($2.45 million) and second baseman Jose Altuve ($1,437,500) are the top earners who were on the team last season. But there are 19 players on the 2014 Houston Astros’ roster who are making between $500,000 and $511,000 which is right at the MLB minimum.

So while the Astros are doing better financially than they did in the past three seasons, their salaries are really low compared to the rest of the MLB teams whose average salary for the players is between $3 million to $5 million.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have the MLB’s highest payroll with a whopping $241,128,402 with a median salary of $4.3 million per player, according to the latest issue of USA Today Sports Weekly, with the New York Yankees not far behind with $208,830,659 and a median of $3,684,426 per player.

Seattle Mariners’ newly-acquired second baseman Robinson Cano leads the parade with a 10-year contract for $240 million, although Dodgers’ pitcher Zack Greinke pulls down $28 million per year, followed by Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee and first baseman Ryan Howard who each make $25 million annually.

KWICKIES…It appears the chewing out Head Coach Jim Gilligan gave to his Lamar Cardinals baseball team a couple of weeks ago really sunk in as they’ve won six straight Southland Conference games since then, including a sweep of the three-game series last weekend against New Orleans. Saturday’s 6-1 win over UNO was a complete-game two-hitter by Orangefield grad Chase Angelle, who picked up his second mound victory of the year, struck out two and didn’t allow a walk. The Redbirds now stand at 8-7 in the SLC and 21-15 overall. The Big Red traveled to play at Rice yesterday and then goes to Huntsville for a three-game SLC series against the Sam Houston State Bearkats beginning tomorrow (Thurs.).

The Lamar Lady Cardinals softball team took two-of-three at Abilene Christian last weekend and moved back into sole possession of second place in the Southland Conference standings, one game behind McNeese State and one game ahead of Sam Houston State. The Lady Cards, 12-5 in SLC warfare and 19-16 overall, opens a seven-game home stand by hosting the University of Houston today in a non-conference doubleheader beginning at 3 p.m. They will swing back into SLC action with a doubleheader Friday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and a single game on Saturday. Bubba Watson won his second Masters title in three years by hitting big accurate drives and limiting mistakes on his short game. He fashioned a three-under-par 69 on Sunday’s final round to earn the symbolic green jacket and a check for $1.62 million.

Finishing three strokes behind was sensational 20-year old Jordan Spieth of Dallas, whose few mistakes cost him dearly, and another Masters rookie Jonas Blixt of Sweden.

The Masters win vaulted Watson to the top of the Ryder Cup standings. This marked the sixth time in the last eight Masters to be won by a left-handed golfer. And while on the subject of golf and much closer to home, 11-year-old Jack Burke continues to excel on the course and add to his rapidly-growing trophy case by winning the 2014 South Texas PGA Spring Series Golf Championship by knocking in a 12-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole at the invitation-only tourney held at Sugar Creek Country Club in Houston. The Little Cypress-Mauriceville fifth grader is mentored by his dad Aaron Burke.

JUST BETWEEN US…Although the Houston Astros appear to be improved this season, they still are having a heck of a time scoring runs. They played real well in a three-game series last weekend at Arlington but lost two 1-0 games to the Rangers and won once 6-5 in 10 innings. The Astros got only two hits in the 1-0 game that went 12 innings. The last time they were limited to two hits in 12 innings was way back in 1962.

It’s way too early to tell anything, but the pitching and defense appear to have improved immensely, along with the home run hitting. But the hitting with runners in scoring position needs to get better quickly.