"Our challenge is going to be to keep this level of talent together and we know that. We’re going to step up and put some money in, ask the fans to support us and help us and see if we can’t deliver something like this every year. We want a great fan experience. We’re committed to sustaining this level of play." - Bob Simpson, 10/17
I come bearing unwelcome news this morning, but I feel I should be upfront in saying that it's hardly the end of the world, and it certainly isn't news that's going to end up smothering the Rangers' chances of collecting a divisional crown in 2012. It's certainly not the most unexpected news, either, considering the whispers from the local beats in recent days about the fading to non-existent likelihood of the Rangers making a serious play on Prince Fielder or Yu Darvish ... but I'm not sure it's even so much about that at this point as it is about the circumstances playing into that lack of a serious pursuit, and a new revelation about what's going down out in Anaheim.
Those latter items are gnawing far, far more on me at the moment.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal has a new column out this morning talking about where the Rangers are right now and where they're attempting to go from this point forward, and while there is some information included that we were well apprised of before today, there are some other disclosures here that we weren't quite so well apprised of:
● The Rangers, per major league sources, are more intent on trading for a starting pitcher than seriously pursuing Fielder (expected cost over $150 million) or Darvish (expected cost over $100 million), though there remains an outside possibility of ownership changing course and making a serious push for one of those names in response to the Angels' spending spree;
● However, sources indicate that the Rangers' payroll flexibility "is not as significant as many in the industry previously believed," leaving them to explore more cost-effective options such as Matt Garza, Gio Gonzalez, and Wade Davis (hint: Davis would probably be the Rangers' seventh-best starter, so let's go ahead and preempt any serious conversation about his name);
● Ownership is incurring other significant expenses at this time, including the team's $12 million Vandergriff Plaza renovation and -- this is news to me -- a $30 million payment due to Chuck Greenberg as part of Rangers Baseball Express's buyout of Greenberg's ownership stake earlier this year, with that $30 million payment coming due at right around the same time as the payment of Darvish's posting fee if the Rangers were to prevail in the silent auction;
● Though there were previous reports of the Rangers being willing to go as high as four years and $50 million on Mark Buerhle, those negotiations ended up playing out in the same manner as the C.J. Wilson negotiations, in the sense that Texas decided not to make an offer to either pitcher after sensing that they would be outbid;
● Contrary to previous indications, the Angels' new 20-year, $3 billion TV deal with FOX Sports West does not begin after the 2015 season. It actually begins next season. The Rangers' 20-year, $1.6 billion TV deal with FOX Sports Southwest does not begin until the outset of the 2015 season, by which point the Angels will have already raked in some $450 million (or more) in cash and equity.
And now for the totally bastardized, I'm-in-a-rush-who-has-time-to-read-five-bullet-points version: "The Rangers don't have enough money left to sign anyone good, so they're going to attempt and trade young talent for someone cheaper and good, and part of the reason why they don't have enough money is because they ran Chuck Greenberg out of town and are building some new concession stands out in center field. Oh, yeah, and the Angels just blew the Rangers' new TV deal out of the water three years in advance." There's probably more I could do with that, but I don't think I have the heart for it.
Now, before anyone goes pitching themselves off a tall freestanding object or into the middle of 635 at rush hour, it needs to be reiterated that Greenberg was, by all media accounts, poorly trained in the art of diplomacy and a problem that required dealing with. According to the reports that circulated at the time of his ouster (which became an inevitability once Nolan Ryan threw down an "it's me or him" edict), Greenberg clashed with Rangers personnel and ownership both personally and professionally, including reputed poor handling of Jon Daniels' contract extension and his unwelcome interference in both the Rangers' pursuit of Cliff Lee -- neither Ryan nor Daniels were on board with Greenberg's last-minute sales pitch to Lee -- and the Michael Young trade negotiations.
Assuming that these reports were true, and assuming that things behind the scenes had truly become as bad as they were said to have been, it's pretty hard to knock ownership's decision to buy Greenberg out and divest themselves of his reportedly meddlesome presence. If, however, you don't believe those things, or if you don't believe the situation was beyond salvation (though I'm not sure what basis you'd have for not believing that), then you're probably going to be pretty hacked off at the thought of an eight-digit payment to Greenberg materially undermining a potential run at Darvish or Fielder.
Of course, the problem from where I sit is that all of the available evidence seems to justify the Greenberg buyout, and yet I'm still not happy. I'm not happy at the thought of the Rangers being financially handicapped to any extent because of a dissolution of the Ryan/Greenberg partnership. You shouldn't be, either. It may have been an inevitability from Day 1, and it may be perfectly defensible, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about the impact that it's now going to have on my team.
I'm not happy about this revelation on the Angels' new TV deal, either. Money alone doesn't buy success and championships in this sport, but you're kidding yourself if you don't believe that money is a huge determinant in who stays home in October and who doesn't, and the thought of the Rangers' once-impressive TV deal being completely dwarfed some three years before it even kicks in is a sobering thought indeed. The Angels will now boast a revenue stream nearly twice as large as that of the Rangers on the broadcasting rights front (which, for the Angels, includes an ownership stake in FSW, something the Rangers didn't secure in their agreement with FSNSW), and, to make matters worse, they'll have access to that enlarged revenue stream three years before the Rangers.
You don't need to embrace desperation on this matter, but it is okay to be concerned -- particularly when you're reminded that the new collective bargaining agreement does, to some extent, emphasize near-term spending and deemphasize pouring resources into amateur talent acquisition. Put another way, the scales are being tipped further towards big spending on the open market at a time when the Angels are now going to be armed with more spending capital than ever before.
Now, with all of that said, the Rangers figure to rock a payroll of no less than $110 million in 2012, which would constitute a jump of some $15 million over last season's Opening Day payroll. They are spending more money. Texas figured to be in the $104-105 million range before the Joe Nathan signing, and you would be very much off base in accusing the Rangers of not wanting to spend the money needed to win. If they weren't interested in spending money to win, they'd start dumping expensive players like Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, and non-tender (or sign and trade) the likes of Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz. Since they couldn't trade Michael Young without having him waive his no-trade clause, I'm assuming they'd relegate him to towel boy in order to force that issue.
The problem, though, is in our perception of what's happening -- the Rangers are spending more money than ever before, but seem to be going backward instead of forward. They've already ceded substantial short-term ground to the Angels, and now, barring an unanticipated move by ownership to step out of its apparent comfort zone and bid aggressively on Darvish or Fielder, they're not going to be involved on the biggest remaining names that would afford them the best opportunity of quickly making up some of that lost ground. With the loss of Wilson and the likelihood of some statistical normalization, there's a decent chance that the Rangers are an altogether less talented team on Opening Day 2012 than they were at the end of the 2011 season.
Which, of course, could still very well be good enough to win the division. And I'm beginning to think that a trade for a Garza or a Danks or somebody else in that same pitching tier is likelier to happen than not -- a trade which, depending on the pitcher in question and the pieces relinquished to acquire him, could nudge the Rangers back ahead of the Angels in terms of projected 2012 wins. Texas is going to be a good team again next year, and is going to continue being a good team well into the foreseeable future, and it's difficult to spend too much time despairing about any of this when faced with that reality.
But even though this doesn't really suck, all things considered ... man, this sucks.