Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
The pitching market has been slow to develop this offseason. Position players have been traded and signed at what seems like an incredible rate this offseason, such that few big pieces remain. Naming the best remaining free agent position player is not an easy task, most of the top free agents have signed. Additionally, there is little realistic chatter around any position players. The pitching market, on the other hand, still has Mashiro Tanaka, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and others still waiting to sign, as well as players like David Price who may be traded.
The Rangers have had a superb offseason, spending big money and landing high caliber players at positions of need. The Rangers have shown they are willing to let players walk over the last three offseasons but this is the first offseason Texas has opted to bring in multiple big name position players to replace the players they are losing. No offense to A.J. Pierzynski, his tenure in Texas was pleasant if not particularly productive, but he was not a big time signing last year and would not have been one this year.
Jon Daniels always underplays Texas’s potential activity in acquiring players regardless of through what channel the player(s) may be acquired. The Rangers have added significant payroll thus far this winter and conventional wisdom would have you believe that Texas would not add more long term payroll before the 2014 season begins. Most, if not all, mainstream baseball analysts are on record saying that Texas is maxed out for payroll after adding Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. This analysis is based on Jon Daniels’s stated target of having a similar budget this year as last year; roughly $125 million in salary. Texas is near that target amount now.
In my opinion, this means next to nothing. Jon Daniels is the craftiest of all general managers in baseball. Both of his major acquisitions this offseason have been big time surprises. The Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade was a completely unanticipated move and Choo’s signing followed much rhetoric to the contrary from Daniels. Sometimes Jon Daniels tells us exactly what he intends to do, after all Daniels did exactly as expected after the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He attempted to sign C. J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke among others. He ultimately failed to sign any of them as other teams were willing to pay more for each player than Texas was. Not over paying these players was a good decision. Texas was undoubtedly wise to avoid those large contracts.
Once you throw out Jon Daniels’s bogus target budget number, it becomes clear that Texas can easily afford to take on more payroll before the season starts. Clearly Texas can easily sustain the $125 million they are currently at: they did so last year. This coming offseason Texas has another $105 million in TV contracts coming, $25 million from the MLB contract and $80 million from their own deal with Fox Sports Southwest. None of this even includes potential gate sales. Texas fans have been out in force over the past three years, three million each year, and are poised to do so again. The Texas fan base is expanding and becoming better every year. This year will be superior to previous years as the hype surrounding the team will excite even more interest in the team.
All of this leads me to ask why Texas would be limited to the $125 million figure this year? Texas can easily afford to transfer some of that big time money into this offseason and let ownership recover the money in seasons. Jon Daniels can land Mashiro Tanaka without blinking an eye. He can go get Ervin Santana or Matt Garza at 4 years and 80 million if he so chooses. Any of these moves would greatly improve Texas for 2014. The lineup and bullpen appear mostly set, leaving the rotation as the last potential weak spot. The rotation could use one more good piece. The rotation has at least one question mark. Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis are returning from major injury and the fifth spot in the rotation is far from settled. It is not hard to imagine both Harrison and Lewis struggling following their injuries. That would force Alexi Ogando and Nick Tepesch into the rotation. It is clear that one more rotation piece, even a middle of the rotation pitcher, could solidify the rotation and protect the Rangers from one of their most consistent weaknesses; starting pitching injuries.
Will Texas add a piece this offseason? They certainly could. Daniels and the Rangers can afford to but I believe they will not do so. The potentially available free agent starting pitchers in the 2015 offseason is overwhelming. The starting pitching market will likely heat up following Tanaka’s signing but Texas may well sit it out. Why sign Garza with pitchers like Clayton Kershaw available after the season? Consider some of the potentially available starting pitchers next offseason; Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo, Jake Peavy, Johnny Cueto, Gavin Floyd, Homer Bailey, Justin Masterson, James Shields, and Max Scherzer. Many of these players will be extended and not make it to free agency. The best four; Scherzer, Kershaw, Lester and Shields, however, seem likely to test free agency. Any of those four are Cy Young caliber pitchers and many of the other possible free agent pitchers would be excellent consolation prizes. I would rather have any of the 2015 free agents I have mentioned here over Garza, Santana or Tanaka. Perhaps Floyd and Bailey are not much better than These three but they are roughly the same level of pitcher at least.
Jon Daniels may prove the pundits right this offseason by not making anymore big additions but it will not be because of his phantom target budget. Texas fans should be hoping that Jon Daniels stays relatively quiet for the rest of the offseason. It could mean that Daniels plans to land a franchise altering, superstar, starting pitcher next offseason.