A Tentative Breakdown of the Projected Payroll Next Year

Below are the Texas Rangers guaranteed financial obligations in 2016, not counting arb-eligible or pre-arb players:

  1. Cole Hamels - $23.5 million 
  2. Shin-Soo Choo - $20 million
  3. Prince Fielder - $18 million ($6 million being paid by Detroit)
  4. Adrian Beltre - $18 million
  5. Elvis Andrus - $15.25 million
  6. Yu Darvish - $10 million
  7. Derek Holland - $10 million
  8. Martin Perez - $3.15 million

That's roughly $118 million tied up in 8 players and it does not include Josh Hamilton, who will be playing free of charge to the Rangers next season, per Ken Rosenthal. That contradicts something Evan Grant wrote back in July -- un-ironically on the same topic I'm writing about now -- basically saying Texas was going to pay the former MVP ~$2 million/year from the money already owed to him from LAA, but with the caveat that "How much the Rangers are paying him on a year-to-year basis... is not entirely clear." So, perhaps, receiving a $28.5 million credit from the Angels instead of a $26.5 million credit is part of that fog. 

Either way, that $2 million is inessential towards the conversation. Along with the aforementioned Rangers, here are the 13 (!) who are arbitration eligible: 

  1. Kyle Blanks
  2. Leonys Martin
  3. Mitch Moreland
  4. Carlos Corporan
  5. Chris Gimenez
  6. Anthony Bass
  7. Bobby Wilson
  8. Jake Diekman
  9. Shawn Tolleson
  10. Robinson Chirinos
  11. Tanner Scheppers
  12. Jurickson Profar
  13. Nick Tepesch

Okay, so you figure Moreland, Diekman, Tolleson, Chirinos, Profar and Tepesch are all locks to return, and you figure Gimenez, Bass and Wilson are all good bets to get non-tendered. That leaves us with 4 guys whose returns I'd consider up in the air. 

1) Kyle Blanks was really good in the short time he played for the Rangers, and he is only projected to earn $1.3 million in '16 according to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors. Assuming health (why, I don't know), I would lean towards Blanks returning as Moreland's platoon partner, but maybe the eventual 40-man roster crunch forces Texas to use the roster spot on Mike Napoli instead. 

2) I feel similarly about Carlos Corporan, expected to earn $1.2 million. What we saw from him in 2015 was such a tiny, fragmented sample that it's pointless to even break it down. Could this be the offseason the Rangers go after a legit catcher via trade -- Jonathan Lucroy, maybe? -- because if not then the options aren't so deep behind Chirinos and Corporan. 

3/4) The cases for Leonys Martin and Tanner Scheppers require more finesse, and the fact is I couldn't possibly know how the Rangers view this duo internally. Beyond the obvious physical gifts and prior major league success, there are soft factors here to consider. Such as Leonys's refusal of assignment during the recent playoff stretch, and Tanner Scheppers well... there's a real chance his best days pitching are already behind him. 

But let's say, for argument's sake, the Rangers reach agreements with the 6 locks, plus Blanks and Corporan. Per Dierkes, that's going to cost Texas an additional $14.1 million to the arb-eligible Rangers, with 40% of that being owed to Moreland (projected $5.6 million in his walk year). Again, these are only projections, but it gives you a pretty good idea. 

Between guaranteed money and expected arbitration figures, that drives the Rangers payroll up to $132 million without any free agency activity. It's hard to say where the club will eventually cap out at on Opening Day, but I imagine it won't be too far over $145-150 million. Remember, Rangers ownership has been operating at a deficit for the better part of the last four years, and the lucrative 20-year, $3 billion TV contract they have with FSSW (worth a staggering $150 million AAV) didn't kick in until 2015. It's reasonable to assume Texas will re-up with Colby Lewis, and and sign a right-handed bat of some kind (Mike Napoli, maybe), but beyond that the roster doesn't have any obvious holes.

It was only a couple months ago when Ken Rosenthal wrote that "the team is expected to trade right fielder Shin Soo-Choo this off-season," and from the date of the article through the end of regular season Choo slashed .338/.459/.544 (174 wRC+, 74% better than league average) with 10 HRs, 1 3B and 15 2Bs in just shy of 300 plate appearances. I, like I'm sure many of you, kept thinking the better Shin-Soo played down the stretch, the less money Jon Daniels would have to eat of the remaining $102 million of Choo's contract. Considered a salary dump as early as the end of July, now the only way Texas trades its right fielder this winter is in a straight value-for-value swap.

On the other end of the sphere, the real project this winter could be trying to find a new home for Prince Fielder, who is due $90 million from TEX over the next 5 years, and $120 million if we include the annual $6 million subsidy being paid by Detroit between 2016-'20. If Prince was a free agent right now, do you think he would he get anywhere close to 5/120? Of course not. What JD is gauging from other teams is just how close to 5/90 Prince is worth in a trade, and how much money he would have to eat strictly to get Fielder off the roster. 

This isn't to say the Rangers are hamstrung going into 2016 with Fielder as the club's $18 million DH. But given the natural decline with age -- that tends to be more precipitous with player's of Prince's body type -- and the fact that he's no longer worth middle-of-the-order money, it makes sense for Texas to deal him this offseason, rather than risking another year passing where he might not be movable anymore. 

Prince's BABIP-friendly first half of 2015 was brilliant (.339/.403/.521, 145 wRC+), and his second half left much to be desired (.264/.348/.394, 98 wRC+), and I'll admit there's some recency bias in play. On the whole, he generated +1.6 fWAR on the campaign, and if a team expects him to produce something like +2 WAR/season through 2020 -- an ambitious projection at this stage of his career -- that makes Fielder a $60 million player over the next 5 years (if each WAR is valued at $6 million). 

Should the Rangers be able to move him, I expect they would have to eat something in the range of $30-40 million, an average of $6-8 million annually. Again, it just makes too much sense. It gives Texas more financial flexibility and, with the next wave of minor league talent likely to emerge next summer, more roster flexibility. 

Independent of these outcomes, with a projected $132 million in commitments the Rangers figure to be spending roughly $20 million this offseason, which would push the team's Opening Day payroll up to about $150 million. The team's needs this winter are fairly minimal, as an eventual Darvish/Hamels/Holland/Perez-led rotation is formidable, and a Dyson/Tolleson/Kela/Diekman bullpen is already on overkill level. The most obvious place for Texas to make up some wins is finding a #1 catcher, but with the scarcity of those around MLB they would certainly have to pay a premium. 

I just want the playoffs to be over already.