Returning to the city of brotherly love, Cliff Lee stunned his two most ardent pursuers, the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. Yankee GM Brian Cashman maintains that the Yankees will remain patient in their pursuit of talent to round out MLB’s most storied franchise.
For the Rangers however, today was an opportunity to reflect on what was an aggressive chase, but one they did not feel comfortable closing.
Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg laid it all out for reporters, “This was not a matter of Cliff making a decision not to come to Texas. He was willing to remain a Ranger but…it was on terms we felt went beyond the aggressive parameters we were already operating.”
In a conference called filled with polite comments about Cliff Lee and his time in Texas, the Rangers’ guiding principle is best described as discipline. Though eager to retain, Lee, the club was unwilling to push the envelope in a fashion that would hamper their future success.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels told the reporters, “We couldn’t find terms that worked for our situation. We knew what it would take for them to come here and we weren’t comfortable with that.”
“I don’t want to pretend that we’re happy or relieved. That’s not the case. We wanted to sign the player,” Daniels added.
Texas does have reason to be happy. Though retaining Lee would have benefited them at little cost beyond cash, they still have a young club with a steady supply of pitching talent. Their hitters aren’t shabby either. Their outfield of reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Julio Borbon and David Murphy has an average age of 28.5, with Hamilton and Cruz both still in their prime at age 30 in 2011. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus make a formidable and young middle infield combination.
Questions appear in the pitching staff and at first base entering 2011, though. Trading first base prospect Justin Smoak won them a rental of Lee and now two extra picks in June’s draft. Neither Mitch Moreland who played well down the stretch nor Chris Davis who played well in 2008 are sure things at first, and since both are 25 year old left handed hitters, they cannot easily be platooned for maximum production.
And with first basemen like Adam Dunn, Adrian Gonzalez and now even Lyle Overbay off the market, Texas has few immediate options to upgrade, short of swinging a deal. They have been linked to Adrian Bletre, but that would cost them their own first round draft choice, and provide a logjam at third base, while doing nothing to solve first. Few obvious solutions are to be found this late in the offseason.
Daniels, however, insists that the club didn’t pass up on likely acquisitions, “There’s no player that has gone off the board that we would have acquired that we missed out because we were waiting for Cliff. The biggest thing with the situation was the time it took. There were players we liked, but not necessarily at the dollars or the trade cost they came off the board at.”
The trade cost to which Daniels refers is best known as the stable of young pitchers Texas has been grooming. Neftali Feliz closed for the club last year en route to the AL Rookie of the Year award, but came up through their organization as a starter. He could shift back to starting in spring training.
The club also must hope that Scott Feldman can bounce back to provide quality innings in 2011. But a dynamic addition would require the kind of trade cost Daniels surrendered to pick up Lee – a top prospect like Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar or Tanner Scheppers. But Scheppers and Perez are both ticketed for the Rangers new AAA affiliate in Round Rock, and could conceivably contribute to the big-league club in 2011.
Those assets give Daniels confidence that even without a significant upgrade, his team should be able to compete in the AL West next year. So don’t expect a panic move to mark the end of the year.
“We’re not going to bounce back or rebound so to speak and overpay for something that we don’t think is worth it.” In the end, they deemed Cliff Lee’s requirements to remain a Ranger not worth the value he would have brought the club. Their prudent operation might surprise observers aware of how flush they are with additional resources, but reflects how well aware of the new ownership is of the consequences of free spending.
Greenberg underlined that point clearly, “We were very aggressive in our efforts. We were willing to step out in terms of some of the things that under different circumstances we would have been willing to do. We said all along that while we were going to be aggressive, we were going to be responsible and not risk placing this franchise back in the kind of mess that it was in for a number of years before our group acquired the franchise. We were aggressive as we were comfortable being.”
Joe Tetreault is Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball
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