Officials with Tampa Bay, San Diego and Oakland, among others languishing in small markets, probably don’t want to hear it, but the big-market Texas Rangers don’t have much money available this off-season.
The trusty folks at MLBTradeRumors.com estimated that the Rangers have $118 million in contractual obligations, including arbitration projections, after spending $133 million on players in 2014.
Those numbers are close enough, general manager Jon Daniels said. He said months ago that the Rangers’ payroll was not going to increase for 2015.
So, based on those close-enough numbers, the Rangers have $15 million to fill out their roster for next season. That won’t get Jon Lester or Max Scherzer or Nelson Cruz or Russell Martin into a Rangers uniform.
On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense that the Rangers don’t have more money to spend. Even when logic is applied, it still doesn’t seem quite right.
These are the Rangers, owned by oil tycoons and now in the first year of a lucrative 20-year TV rights deal with Fox Sports. Sure, attendance dipped in 2014 and will likely drop for 2015 until fans are convinced that the Rangers are must-see entertainment again, but from 2010 to 2013 attendance soared.
An explanation is needed, but owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson declined the opportunity. So, Daniels was left to do the explaining, and he has never felt comfortable shedding light upon the club’s finances.
But he tried before high-tailing it from the annual GM meetings, saying that the chief task is to get the players chewing up the $118 million to maximize their value and that the club can accomplish its off-season goals without trading Elvis Andrus and his $15 million-a-year contract.
“We have plenty of resources, and we’ve committed a lot of resources,” Daniels said. “That’s why I’ve been saying our No. 1 priority is we’ve got to get our best players performing the way they can.”
It’s no mystery that first baseman Prince Fielder, owed $144 million over the next six years, and Shin-Soo Choo, owed $114 over the next six years, have to produce. Detroit will pay the Rangers $30 million from 2016 to 2020 to help pay Fielder.
The TV contract is the big mystery. When it was negotiated by former CEO Chuck Greenberg, the word was that the contract could ultimately be worth $3 billion but would be less early on. But the Rangers believe the contract to be worth $1.5 billion, some of which was paid up front.
That still leaves the Rangers with $75 million more per season than they had under the deal that expired at the end of last season. That money, though, has already been applied to the payroll, which was around $60 million when Davis and Simpson led the ownership change in 2010.
They told Daniels to start spending the money, which they supplied from their personal hefty checking accounts while also making cash calls on the ownership group for upgrades to the ballpark and increasing their stakes in the club by buying out any minority owners who wanted out.
He also said that that the owners are not using the TV money to stuff their wallets.
“They have written checks every year,” Daniels said. “The idea that they’re pocketing the money simply isn’t right.”
Instead, the $75 million influx is being used across the franchise as it operates at a loss, which isn’t all that unusual.
The Rangers are trying to tighten up in other areas, as all corners of the franchise are being asked to cut expenses. Some departments have been reshuffled, and some positions have been eliminated.
Daniels called it a change in management style. It sounds like trimming the fat and cutting corners and bracing for a drop in season-ticket sales.
What it means is that the Rangers’ baseball-operations department will forge ahead this off-season with only $15 million to spread around. Daniels said that they have been asked about Andrus, but now might not be the wisest time to deal him.
To trade Andrus now, coming off arguably the worst year of his career, would be selling him at his lowest value and not getting as much as desired in return. But the Rangers traded a veteran piece in 2009, right-hander Kevin Millwood, to free $12 million as they dealt with the bankruptcy brought on by former owner Tom Hicks.
“We’re not pushing that,” Daniels said. “We’ve had a few conversations about our salaried players, but that’s not really our focus.”
Trades remain the Rangers’ preferred course toward acquiring roster upgrades, and they have a deep pool of a hot commodity in baseball — minor league talent. They will have to spend on lower-tier free agents to address some needs, and they have a protected first-round pick to use if one of the free agents who declined the qualifying offer is available on the cheap in February.
Those are the options in free agency for the Rangers, a team with a payroll just north of $130 million that is cash-strapped this off-season.
“We’ve said we’re not going to be in on the big boys,” Daniels said. “It is what it is. We’re not going to use it as an excuse.”