Maybe we’re looking at this all wrong.
Joe Sheehan put together a data-driven and insightful look at the problem of committing so much of a team’s resources to “one position”, especially at the ages of Adrian Beltre and Michael Young. The Rangers have over $120 million committed to two players in their thirties, who will both be in their mid-thirties and likely deep into decline at the end of their contracts, and who create an apparent surplus at 3B.
There’s no question that $120 million is a lot of money. I’d gladly take the agents fee or even the rounding errors on that kind of cake. That’s actually part of the problem. We see a number that’s bigger than the payroll of some teams and think that it’s a burden. The Rangers are in a unique position, given their point in the success cycle, the slight decline of other area franchises, new ownership, and a gigantic new TV contract that has provided a big stack of money so that they can do this kind of thing without it becoming a burden.
The real issue for teams is not the size of the payroll, but the opportunity cost. Like any business, decisions have to be made. If we have this, we can’t get that. The Yankees have always been like this, able to spend like a Kardashian with no apparent consequences. The Rangers are, at least for a short period of time, going to be able to do just that as well. There’s no reason to believe that signing Belte and keeping Young would prevent another acquisition of force a trade, either of Young or some other piece of payroll.
There’s also no reason to believe that this is going to be a long-term issue with the payroll. It’s hard to define this at this stage, but the Rangers do have some outstanding issues that will cross with the 2013 season, the last where Young is contracted. Assuming Young stays through the end, the Rangers will also be dealing with likely arbitration increases for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and others. Those, plus Josh Hamilton, might need long term contracts in addition to the money the team already has committed to Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Young. Even with some CBA uncertainty, these are costs that can be predicted and perhaps even contained. Jon Daniels and his team took a hard look at their future payroll and said “we can afford Beltre.”
If there’s no opportunity cost, there is an economic risk. Chuck Greenberg and his ownership is taking on the risk that they could “lose money” on the deal, which cuts into their profits, but not the operating budget. There is opportunity cost, as the recent ‘miss’ on Cliff Lee shows, but don’t mistake Beltre as a Cliff Lee makeup-deal. If the Rangers need to go make another deal or signing, this deal has cost them no flexibility at all when it comes to budget. They still retain an open checkbook and one of the biggest stashes of baseball’s other currency, cheap talent at the minor league level.
That opens the question as to whether this deal does cost them flexibility on the field. Assuming the Rangers shift Young off third, the smart play, they get an immediate defensive upgrade, while putting Young in the DH slot, replacing (for now) Vladimir Guerrero or could spot in at 1B, where Mitch Moreland is still likely to be given first shot at a job no one’s held onto since Mark Teixeira left town. Young would in essence become a DH who could also plausibly fill it at every infield position or even a corner OF position in a pinch. I don’t know how anyone could argue that this is inflexible. (There’s late word that the Rangers have interest in Jim Thome, meaning Young would be a platoon DH, making his positional flexibility a needed asset rather than some anchor.)
The Rangers are clearly playing to strengths here. Michael Young is a team leader by all accounts, one who made a shift for the good of the team (and that was needed, frankly) previously and is likely to take the next shift the same way. At worst, the Rangers can head into the 2011-12 offseason with a shorter commitment to Young as they try to deal him, meaning they’d need to eat a bit less contract to move him. This series of transactions involves nothing but money, something that baseball fans and Rangers fans in particular, are going to have to come to grips with. The Rangers, in this sense, at least, might just be the new Yankees.
Actually, this reminds me of something else. Let’s see … new ownership, renovated stadium, solid leadership, stacked minor league system, new money to spend. The Rangers look to be the Angels of 2003 and a similar seven year run of success isn’t a longshot at this stage. If Nolan Ryan makes this team the Texas Rangers of Dallas, we’ll know what’s up. Still, what we have is a team positioned to do what the Yankees and Angels did before them - win.
Will Carroll is a member of the PFWA. He writes about fantasy football at SI.com and resides near Indianapolis. You can follow him at @injuryexpert on Twitter.
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