It may be the middle of winter, but things are really starting to heat up in Texas. I, of course, mean that figuratively, as in the rumor mill is heating up… not the weather. Wait, what? It is going to be 76 degrees in Dallas this Friday? Wow, awesome. That intro sentence totally works on two levels now.
Where was I? Oh, right. The Rangers are currently the center of the baseball off-season universe right now as they simultaneously try and get Yu Darvish signed before the fast-approaching deadline while also courting premier free agent Prince Fielder. That would be one whopper of a week if Texas GM Jon Daniels managed to pull off signing both players. That is, assuming that they actually can afford to acquire both of those high-priced additions.
Yes, that ever so tiny wrinkle looms large as Ranger fans salivate over the prospect of adding a potential young ace to their talented rotation and an elite slugger to their already frightening lineup. Some have speculated that the recent meetings Texas held with Fielder and super agent Scott Boras are nothing more than an effort to put pressure on Yu Darvish to sign with the Rangers before they decide to spend their money elsewhere, but Texas insists that isn’t the case. We can spend all the time in the world trying to figure out if Daniels is telling the truth or not, but that seems like a waste of time when we can just do the math.
Last year, the Rangers carried a payroll of just over $92 million. This year, they already have committed to $74 million in salary before even looking at their arbitration-eligible players. That latter group stands to push that number all the way up to the $110 million range. That is a pretty big jump in salary. It isn’t necessarily too big of a jump for the Rangers though. They, like their big-spending divisional rival Angels, have a fat new TV contract that can essentially underwrite much of the increased payroll. They also are coming off two consecutive World Series appearances and all the increased attendance that comes with that kind of success. Suffice it to say, a $20 million increase in payroll is within their financial limits. The question though is how much higher can they take it?
Their top priority right now is adding Darvish, seeing how they lose his rights if they don’t get him signed by 5 PM ET on Wednesday. The two sides appear to be close enough to getting a deal done with the hang up being more about contract length than money. The contract they have been modeling their negotiations after all along is that of fellow Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka. That contract is a six-year pact worth $52 million and the assumption is that Darvish will get slightly more than that since his posting bid was slightly more than Dice-K’s (that and Darvish is younger and probably better). So let’s assume it is a six-year, $55 million contract. Whatever the grand total is doesn’t really matter though for the purposes of 2012, what matters is how much Darvish gets paid this year. Like Matsuzaka, expect his contract to start at a low number and work its way up. If we continue to just follow the structure of Matsuzaka’s contract, that put Darvish on course to earn $6 million this year, which puts the potential Ranger payrol at $116 million.
Oh, right! I almost forgot. There is that small matter of paying Darvish’s $51.7 million posting bid. While that hefty sum won’t technically count towards Texas’ payroll, they still have to pay it. And it is a one-time lump sum payment of straight cash (homie). If we factor that into their budget, suddenly they are doling out $168 million this year, which would have been the third highest payroll in all of baseball last year. Now, I don’t pretend to know about the Rangers’ finances, but there is a pretty good bet that they didn’t just have $51.7 million in cash lying around, meaning that their posting bid payment was at least partially financed. Whatever the case may be, Texas most certainly is spending several million dollars this year for Darvish’s rights, a factor that will play heavily into their other off-season spending decision, like signing Prince Fielder, for example.
Yes, now that elephant in the room (pun not intended). All off-season long the Rangers and Fielder have been making eyes at each other from across the room, but nobody has made a move. Now though, the two sides finally seem to be getting at least semi-serious about Fielder coming to Texas. Prince has held out on signing for a long-time now in hopes of finding someone to pay his lofty asking price of what is rumored to be at least $22 million per year over as many as eight seasons. Texas, like every other team in the league, has been reluctant to offer him that much money and that many years. But let’s assume for a second that Fielder lowers his demands so that he can play for a contender like the Rangers and signs for $100 million over five years. That is a VERY generous assumption given that his agent is Scott Boras, a man not known for backing down from his demands. Team-friendly as that deal might be, can the Rangers really afford it?
At this point they’ve already added over $25 million in payroll (without accounting for the Darvish posting bid) and are looking at adding another $14 million in 2012, assuming they backload Fielder’s contract. New TV contracts are great and all, but a nearly $40 million payroll increase is a MASSIVE increase. Add in the full Darvish posting bid and the Rangers would be forking out an additional $92 million total in 2012, the exact same amount they are paid all of last season. Not even the mighty Yankees have the ability to double payroll from one season to the next.
The problems don’t end there though. Looking at this for just one season is short-sighted. Doling out big contracts to Prince and Darvish affects Texas in the long-term as well. After this season, the Rangers will have to deal with Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli hitting free agency. Both are players the Rangers have expressed an interest in re-signing and both will require big paydays, paydays the team might not be able to afford if Fielder and Darvish are clogging up their salary space. Add to that Ian Kinsler becoming a free agent the next off-season, Matt Harrison, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus advancing further into his arbitration years and key young players like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland becoming arbitration eligible after the 2012 season and the championship-caliber roster the Rangers have built is going to get very expensive to maintain, a statement that holds true even if Texas adds only Darvish.
So, can the Rangers afford both Darvish and Fielder? Probably not. Doing so would mandate Texas carrying a payroll of at least $130 million and possibly as much as $150 million for the next five years, at least. For a team that has only twice breached the $100-million plateau in their entire history, that is a pretty tall order. As tempting as it might be for them to answer back to the Angels’ addition of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson by adding a slugger-ace combo of their own, the Rangers are probably only able to afford just one of the two. In this case, Prince Fielder is looking literally like a luxury that they just cannot afford.