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Astros have interest in buying Triple-A club

Team would relocate New Orleans Zephyrs to north Houston suburb

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HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com on Monday the team is looking at a number of opportunities to relocate a Triple-A franchise to the Houston area, including meeting with the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Crane said the Astros would like to move their Triple-A team near the city's northern suburbs of The Woodlands or Conroe, which would require building a stadium and relocating an existing franchise. The Astros' lease with Triple-A Oklahoma City runs through the 2014 season.

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"Once we can get municipalities up there to agree on funding and building a facility somewhere, which hasn't been done yet, we'd have to have a franchise to move in there," Crane said. "So all of this is going to take two or three years, and we're just trying to get ahead of it.

"These things go like musical chairs, and we're trying not to be the odd man out. We certainly don't want to disrupt our friends in Oklahoma City, but those guys are owned by a private equity… We're just looking at opportunities that if we get this deal done, which is not finished, where we might be able to go to buy a franchise and move it there."

Crane said the Astros have met with officials from the Zephyrs and will continue to keep the dialogue going. He said the entire process is in the early stages, but he wants the Astros to be prepared to move fast when the stadium situation is settled.

"Until we get a firm deal from the municipalities in The Woodlands or Conroe, we're not going to be able to put our money down to buy a franchise before we have somewhere to go with it," Crane said. "We probably have the cart before the horse, but that doesn't mean we can't keep our nose down and figure out which team that might be."

Crane also told MLB.com the team continues to try to work out a deal to move its Spring Training facility to the east coast of Florida, likely the Palm Beach County area. The Astros' lease with Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., doesn't expire until 2016, but Crane wants the Astros to build a new facility to share with another team.

He said the Astros are talking to several teams about sharing a new facility, including the Blue Jays, who presently train in Dunedin, Fla. The Astros are waiting on state and city funding for a new facility in Florida.

"There's a number of teams that have expressed interest, and the Blue Jays are one of them," Crane said. "Again, we're waiting on state approval and city approval, which isn't done yet. Once that's done, a two-team complex there would anchor that area with the Marlins and Cardinals, and Mets up the street. That would be a pretty good situation for everybody, and those teams are very supportive of somebody trying to get something done there."

When asked if the Astros would be able to leave their lease in Kissimmee early, Crane said he plans to honor the lease, for now.

"If the thing got done in time for us to move in, we may need the lease to run out," he said.

Crane also said Osceola County officials have been talking to other teams about moving to Kissimmee. The Astros have also talked with officials about moving to Arizona, but it's clear Crane's top priority is finding a suitable spring site near Palm Beach County.

"We're going to keep all the parts moving, but our best situation would be to go down there and team up with somebody. And that would be ideal because there's plenty of hotels, it's a nice area and the commute would be minimal, and you'd be able to leverage the facility off of two teams, which would be better for both teams," he said. "We're just trying to get the best possible situation for our players, and long term what's best for the team. Kissimmee's been good to us and it's a great spot, but it's hard for our players to get in and out."

Osceola County Stadium was renovated 10 years ago, but its location isn't ideal. Most of the players and the staff stay at least 10 miles from the facility, which can mean a 30-minute drive through congested traffic to get to the facility.

"We want to get in a situation where the guys can walk from the hotel," he said. "If we can get all those conditions right and get somebody to build it for us, that's what we're going to do. We have a little leverage down there, because we can anchor the east coast. If we don't do it, some of the teams have the option to get out of their lease and you could lose all the baseball in the east coast of Florida."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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