It's not too terribly often that we end up looking prophetic, or at the very least end up looking like we're ahead of the curve, but it's now happened twice in the last 30-35 days or so -- first, there was Pras writing about the Adrian Beltre-to-Texas notion well before it picked up sufficient hot-stove steam (and in spite of the fact that it was difficult to fathom the Rangers doling out $80 million guaranteed to a third baseman as little as a month ago), and then there was my argument in favor of Texas signing Jim Thome a couple weeks back despite minimal mainstream attention being directed towards the idea, followed by ESPN.com's Buster Olney stating yesterday that the Rangers were "actively trying to lure" Thome to Texas. It's nice to hit the nail on the head every once in a while.
Most of what I wrote about Thome two weeks ago remain applicable in the present, but a couple of things have happened in that two-week window which complicate the picture somewhat: (a) the signing of Beltre, which chews up a large quantity of the available plate appearances at first base/designated hitter due to Michael Young actually needing a place to play, and (b) the revelation that Thome could be seeking as much as $8 million over one year, which -- without having all of the specific numbers readily available -- would easily vault the Rangers' payroll above and beyond the $90 million mark. The first is important because it impairs the likelihood of being able to use the DH spot as protection for the ballclub's highest-value assets, whereas the second is importantif signing Thome impairs the Rangers' financial maneuverability.
Just to be clear about this, I didn't think spending $8 million on Vladimir Guerrero would have been a good idea, and it's really not a good idea with Thome either, although I'm inclined to think that a properly deployed Thome -- which is to say not overexposed to left-handers -- inflicts more damage upon opposing pitchers than Guerrero would given similarly optimal usage. What prevents me from speaking in absolutes is the realization that we simply do not know the extent to which payroll can be expanded; if, for example, a quality, albeit well-paid pitcher were to hit the trade market in July, and signing Thome to a healthy sum had no impact on the Rangers' ability to add the entire remaining 2010 balance of that pitcher's salary, then paying Thome (or Guerrero, for that matter) becomes less important. You don't want to get ripped off, obviously, and what Thome is paid is still important in the grand scheme of the franchise, but the real key here is the preservation of those dreaded buzz words "financial flexibility." If you can't guarantee that with Thome on the payroll, then that's a significant obstacle.
Amazingly, the stickier issue here might be finding enough playing time to keep everyone happy. There are roughly 1,400 plate appearances to be allocated between first base and designated hitter, and giving 400 of those to Thome, and another 600-620 to Young (assuming he logs 20 or so games between second base, third base, and shortstop), leaves fewer than 400 plate appearances to go around between Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, Mitch Moreland, and whoever else, with that figure correspondingly shrinking if management unwisely decides to push Thome too much harder than that. If you prioritize rest for Cruz and Hamilton above everything else, and give them 120-130 plate appearances at DH collectively, Moreland effectively becomes a part-time/bench player... and maybe, just maybe, you can live with any related slowdown in his development given the high stakes in this win-now scenario.
The starting rotation may not be where any of us would really like to see it be three months from now, but I can't imagine a lineup comprising Kinsler-Young-Hamilton-Beltre-Thome-Cruz in the top six spots being anything less than a dream scenario come to life. Good pitching and defense and run prevention might be the core competencies of a great number of successful teams, and are often at the forefront of sabermetric discussion in this day and age, but there's something enthralling about the idea of that much unrelenting offensive firepower giving opposing pitchers fits. It may not be enthralling to the tune of another $8 million commitment, but this could really be something special.