That counter-punch to the Los Angeles Angels that many expect from the Texas Rangers probably is not coming.
The Rangers are more focused on trading for a starting pitcher than signing free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder or even pursuing Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, according to major league sources.
The team’s payroll flexibility, sources say, is not as significant as many in the industry previously believed. Thus, the Rangers are exploring more cost-effective moves for pitchers such as Cubs right-hander Matt Garza, Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez and Rays righty Wade Davis.
None would be nearly as expensive as Fielder, who is likely to command a free-agent deal of at least $150 million, or Darvish, whose price likely will exceed $100 million when combining his posting fee and contract.
The Rangers could shift direction and mount a strong pursuit of Fielder or Darvish if ownership suddenly chooses to increase payroll in response to the Angels’ investment of a combined $331.5 million in free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson.
But simply keeping the two-time defending American League champions intact will require an exorbitant sum.
Once the Rangers add the salaries of their nine players who are eligible for arbitration, their payroll likely will surpass $105 million, according to projections by Cot’s Baseball Contracts and MLBTradeRumors.com. Their Opening Day payroll last season was $92.3 million.
The owners also are incurring other expenses, including a $30 million payment to former CEO Chuck Greenberg and $12 million in stadium improvements, according to The Dallas Morning News. The payment to Greenberg is due around the same time the Rangers would need to pay Darvish’s posting fee if they had the high bid for his negotiating rights, a source said.
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ reported new 20-year, $1.6 billion TV contract with FOX Sports Southwest does not start until 2015. The Angels’ reported new 20-year, $3 billion contract with FOX Sports West begins next season.
The Rangers have made one major move this offseason, signing free-agent closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract. They spoke with both the agents for Wilson and free-agent lefty Mark Buehrle, but ultimately did not make either pitcher an offer, sensing they would be outbid, sources said. Wilson signed for $77.5 million over five years with the Angels, Buehrle for $58 million over four years with the Marlins.
Garza would be the most expensive of the pitchers the Rangers are pursuing in trade — he projects to earn nearly $9 million in arbitration, and then will have one more year of arbitration remaining before becoming a free agent.
Gonzalez projects to earn more than $4 million in the first of his four arbitration years. Davis is the most affordable of the three — he is under club control for the next six seasons and is guaranteed a mere $9.1 million over the next three.