MLB could help Astros get increased TV distribution

HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane said the team has been told by Major League Baseball it could have its games available this season to a larger portion of the Houston market even if it isn't able to work out a deal for wider television coverage.

The Astros have been negotiating for more than a year to get their games carried on providers other than Comcast, which is available in about only 40 percent of the market. The two sides have been in court for months, with the NBA's Houston Rockets -- who co-own Comcast SportsNet along with the Astros and Comcast -- now leading the negotiations for a deal.

Crane said Tuesday MLB has told him games could be produced by MLB Network and made available both on the television and online.

"Depending on what happens with the network and if that doesn't move forward, baseball and the MLB Network is willing to help us produce the games if necessary," Crane said. "We've got a backup plan for the backup plan, and the key is to get the games on for everybody to watch."

Last year, Comcast filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition on behalf of the regional sports partnership between the Rockets, Astros and Comcast. A bankruptcy judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter Feb. 4.

"Hopefully they bring something to the table by the fourth," Crane said. "If not, there will be some decisions made pretty quickly on whether this thing goes into bankruptcy or gets kicked out of bankruptcy. That's probably the first move. We feel comfortable something will get done and the fans are going to get to watch the games."

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.