This article is Part 1 of a two part series grading the Rangers offseason. Part 1 evaluates the transactions the Rangers completed, and Part 2 will look at transactions which the Rangers were rumored to be involved, but ultimately did not complete.
The 2012 offseason was remarkably active for many teams across the league. Some ballclubs, such as the Oakland Athletics, decided to punt the next couple seasons and acquire prospects to build towards a golden future, while others, such as the Reds, decided to go “all-in” on the 2012 season and traded away the farm for elite major league pitching, like Mat Latos and Sean Marshall. Other teams, like the Angels and the Tigers, decided to make huge financial investments to supplement an already capable team, in order to make a playoff push in the near future. Still other teams such as the New York Yankees chose a middle ground, trading a blocked prospect in Jesus Montero for the elite Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda, and purchasing the less-hyped starter Hiroki Kuroda.
The Rangers opted for the “huge financial investment” route, spending $126 million on Japanese superstar Yu Darvish, and former dominant closer Joe Nathan. The total outlay pales in comparison to the $214 million the Tigers spent on Prince Fielder, or the nearly $330 million the Angels spent on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, but its a significant investment nonetheless. The Rangers also made some peripheral financial investment moves, signing Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus to extensions. With that, let’s look at each of these transactions individually.
Yu Darvish -Signed for 6 yr/$60 million, with $51 million posting fee.
This transaction is very hard to evaluate at present, since Darvish has no MLB experience. However, a variety of projection systems expect him to be pretty great, as illustrated in the table below, taken from this Fangraphs article.
Even if Darvish performs along the line of his ZiPS projection, his performance would be somewhere between Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando last season, which is not superstar-worthy, but certainly serviceable. While the total outlay might have been considered by some to be overmuch for an unproven pitcher, Darvish has every chance of meeting or even exceeding his price. Just as a quick back of the envelope calculation, if he produces just 4 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) per season over the next 6 seasons, he will have produced 24 WAR. At today’s price of roughly $5 million per WAR, he will have earned the Rangers $120 million in value, without any adjustment for inflation in player salaries. Considering Darvish is just 25 years old, I doubt there will be any horrendous decline in his numbers over the years, unless the league “figures him out” or something like that. Basically, your opinion of this transaction without knowing how he’ll perform yet should be based largely on your opinion of the Rangers scouting team.
Joe Nathan – Signed for 2 yr/$14 million.
Projected 2012 performance – ERA K/9 BB/9
ZiPS (Dan Szymborski) 3.80 9.51 3.04
Steamer (found here) 3.51 8.1 3.1
The projections I listed above suggest he is unlikely to earn his money in 2012. If he pitches 62 innings at a 3.57 FIP the way Neftali Feliz did last season, he will have earned about 1.0 WAR, or $5 million in value. On the other hand, Nathan might well be victimized by the fact that his Tommy John surgery and subsequent stint on the DL substantively affected his effectiveness.
Looking at the kinds of deals other relievers got this offseason puts the Nathan deal in perspective. Heath Bell, whose strikeout rate collapsed from 11.06 to 7.32 K/9 between 2010 and 2011 got a 3 yr/27 mil deal. Frank Francisco, also showing signs of decline, got 2 yr/ 12 mil. Ryan Madson essentially decided he’d have better luck next year, but still managed a yearlong contract for over $8 million. Finally, Jonathan Papelbon, who admittedly distinguishes himself from his somewhat less exemplary company by actually being good, earned a colossal 4 yr/$50 million contract. It isn’t hard to convince yourself Joe Nathan’s contract is inspired by market forces.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Rangers seemed to really love the guy, especially Ron Washington. Baseball traditionalists are often criticized by the analytic community for overvaluing closers and the saves they earn, but Ron Washington has often reiterated his view that a proven closer is a necessary ingredient of a championship team. When asked about the Nathan signing, Jeff Kaplan of ESPNDallas reports that Washington stated “He’s been in the fire before, so I don’t think there could be anything that could happen at the end of a ballgame that he hasn’t already experienced”.
I’m willing to give the Rangers some leeway for what appears to be a good fit, even though Nathan is unlikely to generate enough value to justify his salary.
Extensions for Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz
Elvis Andrus received a 3 yr, $14.4 million extension, while Nelson Cruz received a 2 yr, $16 million deal. Both deals buy out the remaining arbitration years for each player. While on the face of it these may not seem like significant transactions, I hope they can send a signal to the younger Rangers players that the organization is willing to take care of you if you step up the way Cruz and Andrus have. The deals also may prove to be fiscally wise for the Rangers, if Elvis Andrus develops a power stroke or Nelson Cruz has an injury-free, titanic year. Of course, the Rangers are also taking the chance that either player gets severely injured. Its a gamble, but I expect coming seasons to show that the Rangers made the right call here.
Transitioning Feliz to the starting rotation
This wasn’t a transaction per se, but I think it may prove to be the best addition of the entire offseason. Simply put, Feliz’s minor league stats as a starter were incredible: he posted 2.88 FIP in AAA, 3.07 FIP in AA, and a 2.18 FIP in High-A coming up through the Rangers system. Although he earned accolades and recognition as an elite closer, Feliz was clearly more valuable in the rotation. I expect Feliz to benefit from the comfort of returning back to the role he was developed in, and be lights out this coming season.
This Rangers offseason featured several positive moves, all of which will contribute to the major league roster, and none of which should harm financial flexibility of the Rangers in the long-term. The Rangers were also able to keep their highly-ranked farm system intact. Of course, a definitive evaluation will have to wait. Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz, and Joe Nathan are all unknown quantities. Nevertheless, I think we are going to look back on this offseason as one of the franchise’s best.
But could it have been better? I examine what the Rangers elected not to do in Part 2.