Prince deal likely first course on Texas' hot stove
Expect Rangers to be big players this offseason beyond acquisition of Fielder
So much for the Texas Rangers quietly allowing their window of opportunity to close.
After an uncharacteristically quiet offseason a year ago, when general manager Jon Daniels couldn't pull off an effective counter-punch after the soap opera that ended with Josh Hamilton in Anaheim, the Rangers are determined to show Hamilton and everyone else that Dallas-Fort Worth can be a baseball town.
This is an ultra-aggressive front office backed by an ownership that is equally unhappy after going two years without a playoff win. The acquisition of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler on Wednesday night is expected to be only one of many moves by Daniels & Co.
The Rangers' front office is back in the pedal-to-the-metal mode that landed Vladimir Guerrero, Cliff Lee, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, Joe Nathan and Yu Darvish in a three-year period, sending the payroll climbing from $68 million to $121 million.
It was about $125 million on Opening Day 2013, and nobody knows how high it could go this time around, with additional national broadcast revenues putting $150 million into play, according to some theories.
With Fielder aboard, the Rangers have roughly $110 million committed for 2014, including projections for five arbitration-eligible players, none of whom are non-tender candidates. That means Daniels could be a player for any free agent still on the market, Robinson Cano included, and he could acquire even more flexibility by trading Elvis Andrus, which would allow the 20-year-old Jurickson Profar to play shortstop, maximizing his potential.
Because Andrus has a salary commitment that falls somewhere between Fielder and Kinsler (he's owed $126,475,000 over nine years), it's a long shot that he would dealt. But moving Profar could open the door to another major trade -- one bringing the Rangers somebody like David Price, Matt Wieters or one of the Cardinals' young guns, from the non- Michael Wacha division (that is, Carlos Martinez or Shelby Miller ).
Dealing Profar would open second base for Cano, who could give the Rangers' lineup that Nintendo feeling it had when Hamilton, Napoli, Beltre, Kinsler and Nelson Cruz all hit 25-plus home runs in 2011, when Texas won 96 games and the second of its back-to-back pennants. But are Daniels and the team's two co-chairmen, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, ambitious enough to do a mega-deal with Jay-Z?
Don't count it out.
Shortly after the Rangers lost to the Rays in a one-game tiebreaker for a Wild Card spot, Daniels said that the 2014 payroll would be "a little below'' the 2013 figure because attendance had dropped almost 4,000 per game from the record total the previous season. That apparently has changed, which Daniels acknowledged by saying "ownership stepped up'' when Dave Dombrowski called offering Fielder.
It would be foolish to think these guys only had one big move in mind. Davis and Simpson are proud Texans who are determined to stage the first World Series parade in Texas, and Nolan Ryan's recent resignation has put the organization in a tough position with fans who only recently learned you can tailgate before a baseball game. Mix in the additional national television money, along with the freedom gained when Hamilton and Zack Greinke turned down big contracts last year, and it's a highly fluid dynamic.
On the free-agent front, don't be surprised if the Rangers move off Brian McCann and become more serious about an outfielder from a group that includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson (Cruz is also still under consideration but seemingly as a fallback more than a priority). The play of 20-year-old top prospect Jorge Alfaro in the Arizona Fall League signals that the rocket-armed Colombian is coming fast, and Dioner Navarro is among the free agents who could platoon with Geovany Soto in a catching platoon.
Should Masahiro Tanaka reach the market, the Rangers could invest heavily to get him, as they did with Darvish two years ago. You'd be foolish to rule them out on the available free-agent starters like Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. Daniels wouldn't give up a first-round pick happily, but the Rangers would get one back if Cruz finds a taker.
No matter what happens next, the only really crazy possibility is Daniels stopping with Fielder. These guys are in for the full ride.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.