Almost a week ago, Joey Matchulat of Baseball Time in Arlington wrote a comprehensive article accounting for every Ranger’s salary in 2013. This includes each player under contract, every arbitration case, and the individuals who stand to make the league minimum. After factoring in all aspects, the total dollar figure finals out at around $110M. Being the revenue spike from the impending TV deal won’t start pumping in until 2015, the Rangers figure to maintain their current payroll of roughly $130M over the next two years, so the front office basically has to tie up all its loose ends this offseason operating with about $20M of wiggle room. I’m abridging in this initial stanza, so I highly recommend reading the piece for yourself for the complete details.
As referenced numerous times since the start of this relative dead period, the Rangers have needs at several key positions. Namely, a starting pitcher, a middle-of-the-order bat, at least one catcher (depending on whether or not Geovany Soto is retained) and a couple bullpen arms. $20M isn’t exactly a ton of money to shore up that many holes.
One thing the Rangers front office has at their disposal is a countless stream of avenues and tributaries (in a sense) to travel through; there truly are a million different directions they could lead us, but let’s focus on a few of the obvious.
For starters, they could choose to focus squarely on one impact name. In this instance, the most prevalent candidates would be the two biggest free agents on the market, those being Zach Greinke and Josh Hamilton. If either is signed, based on preliminary estimations, it will effectively shut down any other pursuits of prime upgrades at the other positions, as each player is sure to command over $20M per year AAV on the open market. It will push payroll beyond the loose $130M limit.
So if it was Greinke who was signed, the lineup would closely resemble that of 2012 (minus Hamilton and Napoli); if Hamilton was signed, the 5th spot in the rotation would be a competition led by Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and Robbie Ross.
Secondly, rather than going after one marquee name vis a vis the free agent market, the team could look to evenly disperse funds amongst each position. In this scenario, you might look at Kelly Shoppach as a $4M-$5M catching option, a cheap replacement-level innings-eater to insert into the backend of the rotation, then use the remaining capital to sign a couple relievers on one-year deals at around $3M-$4M apiece.
The problem with this is the $20M wouldn’t be spent to take the club to any level of new heights, but rather to protect the club from digging too deep utilizing below-replacement players from their minor league system. Conflate that with the fact that the team would still be without a viable power-hitting replacement for Josh Hamilton, and you’re looking at a lineup focused more on manufacturing runs than slugging.
This brings us to our third option: Trades. Lots of trades.
One primary advantage the Rangers have on just about every other team in baseball is a loaded farm system. In an offseason such as this one where we’re looking to strengthen the club without an endless supply of money, the talent spread out through the Minor Leagues comes in handy.
If you operate under the assumption that something has to be done with our middle infield situation, then one of Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler or Jurickson Profar could find them self a new home in 2013. For pragmatic purposes, let’s take Profar’s name out of the equation since he’s controllable for the next 6 years, making the league minimum for the first three. Then you’re left with Elvis Andrus (making a little over $11M the next two years) and Ian Kinsler (whose 5-year, $70M extension kicks in next season).
If you’re unconditionally unwavering to move Elvis Andrus because of how much you adore him, I understand. But remember, if you trade Ian Kinsler now, then you’re looking at Jurickson Profar as the Rangers’ lone middle infielder after the 2014 season. This, if you’re expecting the Rangers to look elsewhere when Elvis Andrus commands something in the $150M range when he hits free agency. Sure, maybe Leury Garcia or Luis Sardinas are ready by that time, but is that something you’re willing to bank on?
It can be so easy for some fans to look only at the here and now. Big business demands extremely critical forward thinking. Yes, it would be nice to shed the $13M and $16M owed to Kinsler over the next two years, respectively, however, coming off his worst season to date, how much value to you really expect Ian to carry with him from another team’s perspective? The move would act as a salary dump, and that’s not the best way of going about improving the club in 2013. The Rangers window of opportunity remains wide open.
If you look to package Andrus now, with two cheap years of team control left on his contract, you may be able to recoup a middle-of-the-order bat the team starves for, and, depending how affordable the player in return is, still have enough money to ascertain a better starting pitcher and catcher. I’ve harped on the “trade Elvis Andrus” topic for so long that I don’t need to keep going on and on about it. You get the point.
It’s funny that we’re heading into 2013 with the Rangers as one of the biggest baseball markets in baseball, yet we’re still talking about something of a financial strain. It keeps things interesting, and the less we know about what the Rangers desire this offseason, the more anything seems possible. That’s the best part of mystery, I suppose, and it’s why Texas is linked to just about every name on the market, from Greinke to Hamilton to Michael Bourn to Nick Swisher to both Upton brothers and beyond.
We don’t know what we’re going to get, but we know we’re going to get something. And even when we don’t know where the destination will be, we know it’s somewhere out there.