How the Astros pulled off the biggest tank in MLB history and built a World Series contender

Thanks to the Astros' narrow win over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Houston is back in the World Series for the first time since 2005.

The Astros' success began with an unprecedented tanking operation. The team's brain trust built two of the worst teams in MLB history in their first years on the job. The result was a bushel of high draft picks and a farm system that produced many of their current players.

What's more, while the Astros are known for hoarding their top prospects, they won't hesitate to pay a high price if it yields an impact player through trades.

Below, we take a look at how the team was assembled.

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How the Astros went from tanking to the World Series
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How the Astros went from tanking to the World Series
Jeff Luhnow, general manager

When acquired: Prior to the 2012 season

How acquired: Luhnow was hired by the Astros after he left his role working in scouting and player development with the St. Louis Cardinals.

2017 salary: Unknown

Contract: Unknown, but he did sign a contract extension sometime in 2014. Luhnow is now one of the top 10 longest-tenured general managers in baseball.

One thing to know: Luhnow worked as an engineer and management consultant for years before making the switch to baseball. With the Cardinals, he oversaw a farm system that drafted more MLB players than any other team between 2006 and 2012.

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
A.J. Hinch, manager

When acquired: Prior to the 2015 season

How acquired: Hinch was hired by the Astros after outgoing manager Bo Porter went 59-79 in less than two seasons in Houston.

2017 salary: Unknown

Contract: Unknown, but we do know that Hinch signed a significant extension prior to the 2016 season. He "will be here for a while," Astros owner Jim Crane said at the time.

One thing to know: At just 43 years old, Hinch has already been all around the game of baseball. The former catcher worked in professional scouting and player development before coming to terms with the Astros in September 2014.

(Photo by Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
Jose Altuve, second baseman

When acquired: 2007

How acquired: Amateur free agent

2017 salary: $4.5 million

Contract: 4 years, $12 million. The Astros also hold team options for 2018 and 2019, which they will almost certainly exercise.

One thing to know: At just five feet six inches, Altuve is small in stature but stands tall as one of the best players in the game. The Venezuelan just won his third batting title in the last four seasons, becoming the first player to accomplish that feat since countryman Miguel Cabrera.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Carlos Correa, shortstop

When acquired: 2012

How acquired: The first pick of the 2012 MLB Draft

2017 salary: $535,000

Contract: 1 year, $535,000. Correa will likely receive his first big raise in 2019 when he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. He is not eligible for free agency until 2022.

One thing to know: This slugger out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy was Luhnow's first draft pick after assuming the GM role. Correa wasted little time in vindicating his boss, taking the American League Rookie of the Year award as a 20 year old in 2015.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Dallas Keuchel, starting pitcher

When acquired: 2009

How acquired: The 221st pick of the 2009 MLB Draft

2017 salary: $9.15 million

Contract: 1 year, $9.15 million. Keuchel will be eligible for arbitration to determine his salary in 2018. He is eligible to be a free agent following the 2018 season.

One thing to know: Keuchel led the American League in wins, WHIP, and innings pitched in 2015, earning Cy Young honors. He was the first Astro to win the award since Roger Clemens in 2004.

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Alex Bregman, third baseman

When acquired: 2015

How acquired: The second pick of the 2015 MLB Draft

2017 salary: $539,400

Contract: 1 year, $539,400. Bregman will likely receive his first big raise in 2020 when he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. He is not eligible for free agency until 2023.

One thing to know: The Astros chose lefty Brady Aiken with the top pick of the 2014 draft, but they failed to sign him, receiving the second overall pick in the following year's draft as compensation. They used it to select Bregman, who's been nothing but impressive since making his MLB debut last summer. The LSU product has a 125 OPS+ through his first 204 games.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
George Springer, outfielder

When acquired: 2011

How acquired: The 11th pick of the 2011 MLB Draft

2017 salary: $3.9 million

Contract: 1 year, $3.9 million. Springer will be eligible for arbitration to determine his salary in 2018. He is eligible to be a free agent following the 2020 season.

One thing to know: The Astros reportedly offered Springer a seven-year, $23 million deal in September 2013, seven months before he made his MLB debut, but the Connecticut native turned it down. He was a first-time All-Star in 2017, putting himself in line for a much bigger payday in the relatively near future.

 (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Josh Reddick, right fielder

When acquired: Prior to the 2017 season

How acquired: Free agent

2017 salary: $13 million

Contract: 4 years, $52 million

One thing to know: Reddick spent last summer with the Dodgers and didn't enjoy it, citing the poor reception he got from the home fans. The crowds at Minute Maid Park have been significantly more accommodating, especially in light of his .314/.363/.484 slash line in his first season with the team.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Charlie Morton, starting pitcher

When acquired: Prior to the 2017 season

How acquired: Free agent

2017 salary: $7 million

Contract: 2 years, $14 million

One thing to know: Morton was a low-risk offseason pickup, agreeing to a relatively cheap deal over multiple years after making just four starts for the Phillies in 2016. He made Luhnow and the front office look good by throwing nearly 150 innings of 3.62-run ball, good for his best season since 2011.

(Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Marwin Gonzalez, utility player

When acquired: Prior to the 2012 season

How acquired: The Boston Red Sox traded Gonzalez to the Astros in exchange for Marco Duarte.

2017 salary: $3.73 million

Contract: 1 year, $3.73 million. The Astros also hold a $5 million team option for 2018, which they will likely exercise.

One thing to know: The Astros made the most of Gonzalez's versatility in 2017, using him at six different positions: first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and right field. He did all of that while slugging .530, the highest mark of his career by 88 points.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Justin Verlander, starting pitcher

When acquired: During the 2017 season

How acquired: The Detroit Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros along with Juan Ramirez in exchange for Daz Cameron, Franklin Perez, and Jake Rogers.

2017 salary: $28 million

Contract: 6 years, $162 million

One thing to know: The Astros are normally reluctant to trade away top prospects, but Luhnow made an exception for Verlander, a former league MVP with over 50 Wins Above Replacement to his name. The gambit paid off, as the former Tiger went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA down the stretch.

 (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ken Giles, closer

When acquired: Prior to the 2016 season

How acquired: The Philadelphia Phillies traded Giles to the Astros along with Jonathan Arauz, in exchange for Mark Appel, Harold Arauz, Thomas Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer, and Vince Velasquez.

2017 salary: $550,100

Contract: 1 year, $550,100. Giles will likely receive his first big raise in 2018 when he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. He is not eligible for free agency until 2021.

One thing to know: The deal for Giles was another rare instance of Luhnow parting with prospects to acquire ready-made talent. It remains to be seen how this one will turn out — while Appel, Oberholtzer, and Velasquez have all struggled since the trade, Arauz and Eshelman could have MLB futures.

(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Lance McCullers, starting pitcher

When acquired: 2012

How acquired: The 41st pick of the 2012 MLB Draft

2017 salary: $548,000

Contract: 1 year, $548,000. McCullers will likely receive his first big raise in 2019 when he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. He is not eligible for free agency until 2022.

One thing to know: McCullers, a hard-throwing righty selected out of Tampa's Jesuit High School, has baseball in his blood. His father, Lance McCullers Sr., pitched over 500 MLB innings between 1985 and 1992, enjoying his best years with the San Diego Padres.

(Photo by Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
Brad Peacock, swingman

When acquired: Prior to the 2013 season

How acquired: The Oakland Athletics traded Peacock to the Astros along with Chris Carter and Max Stassi, in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez.

2017 salary: $541,500

Contract: 1 year, $541,500. Peacock will likely receive his first big raise in 2018 when he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. He is not eligible for free agency until 2021.

One thing to know: Peacock began 2017 as a reliever, moved to the rotation in May, and returned to the bullpen during the postseason, posting a 3.21 ERA across 137.1 total innings. Not bad for a guy who was taken in the 41st round of the 2006 MLB Draft.

 (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Joe Musgrove, relief pitcher

When acquired: During the 2012 season

How acquired: The Toronto Blue Jays traded Musgrove to the Astros along with Kevin Comer, Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Carlos Perez, David Rollins, and Asher Wojciechowski, in exchange for David Carpenter, J.A. Happ, and Brandon Lyon.

2017 salary: $543,400

Contract: 1 year, $543,400. Musgrove will likely receive his first big raise in 2020 when he will be eligible for arbitration for the first time. He is not eligible for free agency until 2023.

One thing to know: 2017 was a tale of two seasons for this righty, acquired as a 19-year-old prospect near the beginning of Luhnow's tenure. Musgrove was abysmal as a starter but excelled after a move to the bullpen, posting a 1.44 ERA over the final two months of the season.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Yuli Gurriel, first baseman

When acquired: During the 2016 season

How acquired: Free agent

2017 salary: $14.4 million

Contract: 5 years, $47.5 million

One thing to know: After years of plying his craft in the Cuban National Series, Gurriel joined the Astros as a 32-year-old rookie last season. With a slash line of .299/.332/.486 in 2017, he isn't the best player in the lineup, but he may have the most exciting hair.

(Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
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Now check out how the Dodgers built their roster

The Dodgers used $277 million and a series of smart trades to build one of the best teams ever

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