"[The] Rangers now have to be right up against the point where they cannot -- or will not -- commit any further dollars and/or years to [Cliff] Lee, the point where Plan 'B' kicks in, and if that plan could somehow comprise Adrian Beltre and a mid-rotation starter, I would consider that to be a pretty sturdy off-season haul, even if it's not the off-season haul that some idealized fresh off a World Series appearance." -- December 9th, 2010
You can probably argue that Brandon Webb is not reliable enough -- or that the downside risk is too great -- for Webb to be considered a true No. 2-3, "mid-rotation" starter (which, by the way, apparently won't be Matt Garza, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports early this morning that the Cubs are on the verge of acquiring the right-hander from Tampa Bay), and you can definitely argue that the Rangers just went out and committed too much in terms of both years and dollars to Beltre, but to some measurable extent, Plan 'B' has finally materialized. The winter of our discontent is beginning to fade away.
I'll reiterate that the Beltre signing is strikingly similar to the Rangers' hypothetical, but not-quite-actualized signing of Lee in one key respect: risk. In both instances, the clear and present danger of the later years constituting major overpayment for declining/underperforming players in their late-30s was traded off for immediate value, designed to maximize the Rangers' chances of winning lots of games in the next couple of years and collecting more pennants (an approach which many of us, including Jason Parks, support). Beltre's deal could conceivably look horrendous some number of years down the line, but there will be few regrets if the Rangers make a return trip or two to the World Series.
It occurred to me late last night that Beltre, despite standing out as a questionable buy on the dollars-per-win scale (a two- to three-win upgrade at $16 million per year isn't exactly good bang for the buck on paper), begins to look more favorable if you juxtapose his signing not against the roster in its present, unfinished state, but rather what the team likely would have done had they not signed Beltre; it's probably safe to assume that Texas would have gone out and signed Vladimir Guerrero to something in the vicinity of a one-year, $7 million pact. Here's a very rough approximation of the Rangers' projected total value at both third base and designated hitter in both scenarios:
Scenario No. 1: Michael Young (2.5 WAR at 3B; approx. $13 million in 2011), Vladimir Guerrero (2.0 WAR at DH; approx. $7 million in 2011) = 4.5 WAR at $20 million = $4.4 million per win above replacement
Scenario No. 2: Adrian Beltre (4.0 WAR at 3B; approx. $16 million in 2011), Michael Young (2.0 WAR at DH; approx. $13 million in 2011) = 6.0 WAR at $29 million = $4.8 million per win above replacement
Obviously these numbers are subject to manipulation as you see fit, but this educated guess leaves Texas paying $9 million extra for an additional 1.5 wins above replacement, or $6 million per win; of course, this still doesn't look particularly favorable, but what if we account for the prospect of deferred money (as I already did with Young's conspicuously reduced $13 million salary figure, which better reflects reality) and/or escalating salaries? We don't have Beltre's final contract figures in hand yet, but it's entirely possible, if not likely, that $2-3 million of his $16 million average annual value is deferred until after his contract expires in 2016, or that his base salary is only $13-14 million outright, which would place the added expense at a far more palatable $4.5 million per win -- right around market value, particularly in this winter's climate of inflated spending.
Now, it's also possible that I'm engaging in some form of rationalization in looking at the Beltre deal, because assuming full health and at least marginal production in 2014-15 (by which I mean Beltre not devolving into a pile of replacement-level waste), this will be a six-year, $96 million deal, and that isn't a good contract -- not even for a vaunted upper-tier "two-way" third baseman. He's a very good player bordering on elite right, but this is a dangerous gambit because of the long-range implications, and it's entirely possible that Texas is locked into paying at least $13-14 million (and then deferred money after the fact, which contributed to the previous ownership regime's fiscal problems) to an average player for the entirety of the 2014-16 seasons. The most likely outcome is somewhat brighter than that, but it does exist within the realm of possibility.
Many can't (or won't) be bothered to gaze that far down the road, and I have a strange sort of admiration for those people. For the thousands of casual fans, tomorrow is best worried about when tomorrow actually arrives and not before, and today is cause for celebration, because today the Rangers are a better, deeper, more dangerous team, and the Angels, by virtue of their idleness, are falling further and further behind. I can appreciate that viewpoint, but I can also recognize that today's cause for celebration could also be tomorrow's payroll-smothering albatross.