Why the Rangers Front Office is more Dangerous Than Yours
By Eric Reining
Yesterday, the Rangers front office once again popped in under the stealthiest of fashions, inking 17 year-old Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras to a $4.5M signing bonus, a near record amount for an international player. I first caught the report in the late morning, and already by then I read of several reports of other front office executives crying foul, saying the Rangers pulled a fast one on everybody.
Because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which begins in July this year, teams will not be able to spend north of $2.9M, total, on international talent in a given year. This hamstrings the lower and middle market teams more than say, New York. Or Boston. Or Philadelphia. Or Los Angeles. You get it. The reason? Because those franchises can afford the more expensive free agents, which are generally from those smaller markets. You can’t fault an individual for wanting more money. Players that are good deserve good money. That’s the price of winning.
The Rangers must have known this type of constraint was coming in the new agreement. Last summer they inked Ronald Guzman ($3.5M) and Nomar Mazara ($5M) to huge deals. And neither of those guys are even a sniff from being able to legally taste that World Series champagne Texas will almost surely be heading towards in coming seasons. I’m trying to be open-minded heading into spring training, but if there’s a better 25-man roster out there, I’d truly love to see them play against against us this year. Perhaps in a series of, say, 7 games?
Let’s move past the conjecture and try to look at the reasons other front offices disapprove of the signing. For starters (and I tend to believe this is the biggest thing), the Rangers are damn good. If right now you understand the 17 year-old prospect debacle noted above, and why MLB was so quick to investigate the situation, I’m respectfully imploring you to not kid yourself. If this was Baltimore or Houston or scores of other floundering franchises, there wouldn’t be anywhere close to this much attention surrounding Jairo Beras. But I get it. The Rangers have kind of had their way in recent years. With everyone. Look:
2007: Rangers trades Mark Teixeira and Ron Mayhay to Atlanta for Jarrod Saltalamachhia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and minor league left-hander Beau Jones. Trade? More like a rip-off. Atlanta flipped Teixeira to the Angels the following year, netting only Casey Kotchman and a fledgling minor league reliever.
2007: The Rangers trade Eric Gagne to Boston for David Murphy, high-ceiling minor league prospect Engel Beltre (who’s since regressed), and Kason Gabbord (who was never really effective after throwing that high fastball to Richie Sexson, when Richie charged Gabbard and pathetically pegged him with his helmet).
2010: Daniels traded Justin Smoak, Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson for Cliff Lee. I’d probably argue we could have thrown in another top-level prospect and I’d still be happy with how that played out.
2010: Rangers beat Rays and Yankees and play in first ever World Series.
2011: Angels send Mike Napoli to Blue Jays for Vernon Wells. Four days later, Rangers send Toronto reliever Frank Francisco in exchange for Napoli, a player Texas coveted for years. We all see how that went.
2011: Rangers acquire Koji Uehara from Baltimore in exchange for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. On the same day, they acquire Mike Adams from San Diego in exchange for two AA pitchers, former second round draft pick Robbie Erlin and former 4th round selection Joe Wieland. Of course, Texas had the media believing they were actually targeting Heath Bell from the Padres.
2011: Rangers beat Rays and Tigers and make it to second straight World Series.
And of course, earlier in 2012, the Rangers were the winning bidders ($51.7M) for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish. If he pitches to the potential expected from him, his 6-year/$56M contract will give the Rangers a ton of surplus value.
I’m not saying other teams don’t have a point to their uneasiness about what Texas is doing, because these moves have been paramount to the success of the franchise. Other than the tepid moves aimed at depth towards their playoff run in 2010, such as acquiring Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman for mid-tier prospects, it’s tough to say the opposite team has made the better deal when trading with us over the last four seasons. The Rangers have an incredibly intellectual, elite-level front office fueled by a secret society of ninja wizards, and that’s why the team wins.
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It’s my objective belief that Texas carries into spring training the most talented 25 man roster in all of baseball. As a sports fan, I try my best to be overly realistic about my teams and the chances they have of fulfilling the expectations I set for them each year. But I’ve had too difficult a time arguing against myself in the shoes of another team, and that’s enough for me.
It was wise to shoot a lowball offer CJ Wilson’s way and let him walk to Anaheim for 5 years and $77.5M. This organization is too flush with cheaper, higher-ceiling prospects that can more than adequately compensate for the production Wilson would have given back over the life of that deal.
I’ve started to wonder if the potential Koji Uehara non-trade is just one big smoke screen to somehow satisfy a contingency of Rangers’ fans who want him ousted because of how terrible he was in the playoffs last year. In his first three years in the majors, he’s posted 188 strikeouts to just 26 walks in a tick over 175 innings. That’s a ratio of more than 7K’s per BB; over a strikeout an inning an just over one walk per nine innings pitched — exceptional for a reliever in the American League. For a mere $4M, he’s a complete bargain. It would’t make sense to move him to a team like Oakland, who would almost assuredly flip him by the July 31 trade deadline to a team Texas would be competing against on their way to a third consecutive World Series appearance. It did, however, make sense to have a deal in place with Toronto, a location where Koji possessed a no-trade clause. If it had already been agreed upon behind closed doors that he would exercise his no-trade to Toronto, it would give the Rangers plausible deniability towards that aforementioned contingency, as if they were saying: Well, we tried.
With a bullpen consisting of Uehara, along with Joe Nathan, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando, it essentially shortens the length of a game. I’m not doubting starters like Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, or Matt Harrison, to make it into the 5th or 6th inning on a given summer night. And, basically, that’s all you’re asking them to do with a bullpen as formidable in the back-end of a ballgame as the one listed above. If I know this, the Rangers front office knows this. And if you didn’t, now you do.
Finally, this may be the first time I’ve witnessed this much news amounting to positively nothing like it has with Roy Oswalt. It became evident last week that he wouldn’t be signing with anyone. At least not for now. The Red Sox were the first team that allegedly offered him a contract, which is around the same time Roy’s agent said Texas and St. Louis were the two teams most actively pursuing him. I suppose we won’t know definitely until some point later on if this was real interest the Rangers were giving, if it was simply a PR favor based off Nolan Ryan’s strong relationship with Oswalt in hopes of driving up his market, or if it was Oswalt himself making an attempt at creating his own market.
For now, it’s best Texas stands pat with their current roster intact. Already Jon Daniels has said the franchise is over budget, and that any major moves are likely not going to happen before the season starts. This contradicts signing an alleged 17 year-old for $4.5M, but it’s what we’ve generally come to expect from the deceptive nature of this front office. What can anyone say? They are good at what they do. They tell the media one thing, and still do what they want. The Rangers front office controls the franchise’s perception and has effectively created its reality.
There isn’t a GM better at that right now than Jon Daniels. And there doesn’t seem to be any end to that notion for the foreseeable future.