Mac Engel

With new stadium, will Texas Rangers go way of Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees?

Only by the grace of Jerry Jones are you unaware that the Texas Rangers’ season is ending, meaning we only have nine games remaining in the 24-year-old relic that is The Ballpark in Arlington.

When the Rangers start to build their 2020 roster, they will do so knowing they can use their new building as a point of sale to attract pitchers and hitters. They told Arlington tax payers they needed this new stadium to pursue these kinds of good players to build a winner.

So if the Rangers’ new house is a point of attraction for a free agent, and can be used to lure a player or two, they need to decide what kind of model they want to build their team.

Are they a team that pursues and spends money to sign Tier 1 free agents to build and enhance their roster, or are they a team that cycles out players and replaces them with young (inexpensive) talent?

The infatuation with analytics has changed the way rosters are built; clubs can justify slashing payroll by pointing to numbers and pages of data that says spending money on older players does not guarantee winning.

We have seen in this current playoff push multiple models work: Oakland and Tampa are perfect examples of franchises that replace their top talent with young players and still build contending teams despite significant payroll restrictions.

We also know the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and L.A. Dodgers can spend their way into contention.

The Rangers are a top-six market with a new stadium, so what are they?

ATTRACTING TOP FREE AGENTS

When the Rangers and the city of Arlington pitched the idea of building what now appears to be The Rangers Parks Mall to voters and tax payers, one of the reasons to justify the expense was to keep, or attract, good players.

That today’s player does not want to play 75 or so games on the equator when he can play in 72 degrees elsewhere.

The best free agents in baseball typically sign with the following team: The one that offers the most money.

The Rangers proved that when former team owner Tom Hicks signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million deal back in the winter of 2000.

When the Rangers recently hosted a town-hall meeting with current GM Jon Daniels, and the club’s previous GM’s Doug Melvin and Tom Grieve, they all said the same thing.

Alas, not everyone agrees.

“Absolutely it does influence a decision,” veteran Tampa Rays pitcher Charlie Morton told me this week. “With the season being so long, and the possibility of playing in 100 degree heat in May through September, it’s draining and exhausting.

“(A stadium) is not going to be the deciding factor but I would say it contributes. And I would not assume that players are going to just go to the team that pays the most, especially within a certain range or dollar amount. There is a certain percentage where a guy will say, ‘I will take this percent less to a place where I am playing under a roof.’ Or there is no state income tax.”

The Rangers will have both to offer.

The question for the Rangers is what path do they want to pursue, which can only be answered by owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson.

BUILDING A WINNER

Since buying the team in 2010, Davis and Simpson have been cheap in various areas of the franchise; paying players is not one of them.

They have approved big contracts from Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish and Shin Soo Choo, to Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder. In recent years, they have not tried to money whip any big name, but that appears to be more of a Daniels decision than his bosses telling their adopted son, “No.”

Only until the last year or so has the club opted out of the free agent game; that decision is more in line with a club that is rebuilding.

This season, the club’s payroll of $128 million ranks 15th in MLB. The Rays, Braves, Twins and Indians have all built contending teams with payrolls less than the Rangers.

A new stadium means increased revenue and the chance to bump payroll and pay the free agents that normally go to the largest market.

By media market size, DFW ranks 6th. That does not mean the team will spend to their size. The Rays are located in the 11th largest market in the U.S. and routinely rank among the bottom of MLB payroll.

Do Simpson and Davis want to spend their new money on players? Do they want to put it in scouting and development? Or do they want to pocket it, and increase their profit for when they inevitably sell this franchise?

Since buying the team, the pair followed Hicks’ path; they spent big early, and scaled it back when they saw the bottom line.

The Rangers will soon have new money from their new stadium, which has the roof and AC, and virtually no reason not to sign players.

The question is whether the owners want to act like a big-market team, or do they prefer the way of the Tampa Rays instead?

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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