Texas Rangers must adapt as MLB limits big Latin signings

Posted Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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Compared to where baseball was in 1994, days such as Tuesday are worth celebrating.

Compared to the NBA, NHL and NFL, days such as Tuesday make Major League Baseball's owners and players' union look like they have the magic potion to ward off labor strife.

And there, before the cameras, were Commissioner Bud Selig and a bunch of lawyers patting themselves on the back for their work on ensuring five more years of lockout-free baseball.

That was the scene in New York. In baseball's other burgs and hamlets, though, not everyone was turning cartwheels.

A new collective bargaining agreement has been hammered out, but it has its flaws. Topping the list, by a long shot, are the changes to the First-Year Player Draft and the way international talent is acquired.

Teams that feel like the best way for them to be relevant is to devote piles of cash to 16-year-old studs in Latin America or to huge-upside amateurs stateside need to find a new business model.

That includes the Texas Rangers, winners of the past two American League pennants. But it also includes small-market Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, among others, who can't generate huge revenue and don't have owners with deep pockets.

So, it's doubtful that the Pirates, Royals and Rays, among others, will invite the Rangers to the club for the flat broke and busted. The Rangers, though, will have to adapt, too.

Teams will have a signing pool for the first 10 rounds of the draft, and a value will be determined for each pick. Teams will be taxed for spending as little as 1 percent more than their allotment. The loss of draft picks is the penalty for more egregious violations.

It's not the hard-slotting system Selig has always wanted, but it's a step toward it.

A similar plan is in place for international free agents. Teams will have $2.9 million to add talent, and be taxed and possibly stripped of future opportunities if they overspend.

The CBA's effect on the draft won't badly hamper the Rangers, who seek value and have been relatively tame spenders of late.

But never were they more aggressive internationally than in May, when they committed $15 million on a big-league deal to Cuban defector Leonys Martin, and in July as they committed $5 million to Nomar Mazara and $3.5 million to Ronald Guzman, two 16-year-old outfielders from the Dominican Republic.

Those days, for at least five years, are gone.

The good news is that the rules are the same for all 30 teams. The Rangers also believe that their scouts have helped establish a strong foothold in Latin America, where players from five countries have been signed as non-drafted free agents since the Rangers began to reinvent themselves in 2007 by building from within.

The Rangers' top three prospects are from Venezuela (Martin Perez), Cuba (Martin) and Curacao (Jurickson Profar). Their active roster in 2011 at one time included 11 players from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

The Rangers aren't the Red Sox or Dodgers, but kids in Latin America are more aware of them and the successful team they have become. That will have value over the next five years with spending limits in place.

Even though the Rangers likely are among the teams against the CBA's new restrictions on amateur spending, they aren't as severely affected as the small-market clubs. But their business model needs to be retouched because of an agreement that is done but has its flaws.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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