Rangers could make offseason splash
It is a new world for the Rangers, all right.
The defending American League champions, major-league sources say, are in strong enough financial position to add not one but two top free agents -- left-hander Cliff Lee and catcher Victor Martinez.
The Rangers are pursuing Lee and Martinez, who were teammates with the Indians from 2002 to ’09. To sign both, the team likely would need to push its payroll beyond $90 million -- a plan that the team’s new ownership has approved, sources say.
Both Lee and Martinez are in heavy demand. It is possible that the Rangers will end up with neither player. Club officials, mindful of how the team previously was hamstrung by Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract, might prefer to retain greater flexibility rather than commit say, $23 million per season to Lee and $12 million per season to Martinez.
Still, the Rangers clearly are prepared to wield greater financial muscle -- muscle created by a perfect storm of new ownership, increased home attendance, a new TV contract with FOX Sports Southwest and postseason revenues.
The Rangers began last season with a $55 million payroll, the fourth lowest in the majors, under previous owner Tom Hicks. They filed for bankruptcy in late May, then were sold in August to a group headed by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan.
A $90 million-plus payroll for 2011 would represent a major increase, but still would put the Rangers behind the Angels, their leading rival in the AL West. The Angels are expected to spend heavily this offseason and reportedly could increase their payroll to about $135 million.
One advantage for the Rangers, however, is their lack of financial commitments going forward.
The team, according to financial data from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, has $32.85 million committed to five players for next season, not including buyouts. The Yankees, by contrast, already have more than $140 million committed, the Angels more than $93 million.
The Rangers’ seven players eligible for salary arbitration include MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, left-hander C.J. Wilson and right fielder Nelson Cruz. But even accounting for liberal increases to all of those players, the team’s current commitments probably amount to no more than $60 million.
That would leave enough for Lee and Martinez -- or any other combination of high-priced talent the Rangers might want to consider acquiring, be it in free agency for an outfielder such as Carl Crawford or in trade for a pitcher such as Royals right-hander Zack Greinke.
Greenberg, upon taking over in August, spoke of “much more aggressive” payroll projections than in his original model. During the bankruptcy process, it was revealed that management had suggested a payroll of $77 million for 2011, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The difference now is not simply that the new ownership is better funded. The Rangers’ average home attendance increased to 30,928 last season from 27,641 in 2009. Lee alone provided a major boost -- the average after the team acquired him on July 9 was 38,135. Attendance generally jumps the year after a team make the playoffs, and the Rangers in ’11 will be coming off their first World Series appearance.
The team’s new 20-year television contract, meanwhile, reportedly will be worth about $75 million to $80 million a year. The agreement does not begin until 2015, but sources say it includes an upfront “benefit” -- a signing bonus worth tens of millions.
Put it all together, and the Rangers are in an enviable position. A position that, if everything fell into place, could help them reunite Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee.