I don’t know how many of you read the Newberg Report, but Jamey’s site is something you should be checking out. In his newsletter, he has a co-writer who mostly handles minor league game updates. That’s Mike Hindman. Recently, Mike wrote (what I consider to be) a brilliant essay on the state of the Rangers’ payroll. It’s most excellent, I suggest reading it.
It’s rather long, so you’ll need to click on the “Read More” link below to check it out. Again, I wanted to point out this is not my writing, it’s by Mike Hindman. He was kind enough to give me permission to copy it here. I wanted to make sure my site visitors read this, too.
I think it’s a great stance against the Ranger fan who only thinks “SPEND MORE MONEY YOU CHEAP BASTARD OF AN OWNER”. Quite honestly, I detest fans like that, there’s a lot more to the issue than just throwing money at things.
Mike’s rant starts here…
In the midst of a nine-game Rangers winning streak, I got to hear yet another round of money talk from the local sports media yesterday that I just donâ€™t follow. What generated yesterdayâ€™s belly-aching session were some ill-advised comments from Rangers president Jeff Cogen who, like his boss, doesnâ€™t appear to understand that talking publicly about payroll and attendance issues is a losing proposition in that it only invites more attacks on their credibility.
A few months after Tom Hicks indicated that team payroll would be tied to attendance–(saying “if our revenue grows in the off-season, our payroll will grow with it” which, quite honestly, sounded a quite a bit like a threat)–Cogen told the DMNâ€™s Evan Grant this week that he was disappointed in ticket sales this year, noting that the Rangers havenâ€™t seen the “bandwagon” reaction that might be expected for a winning club.
The Ticketâ€™s Bob Sturm and Dan McDowell, appropriating patented Randy Galloway “arguments” (or rants, depending on how persnickity you are about what constitutes an argument) and speaking for all of us I guess, enlightened Cogan by explaining that the reason the fans arenâ€™t supporting the streaking Rangers in overwhelming numbers is that we are all exceedingly disappointed in the fact that Tom Hicks failed to throw a lot of money around this offseason.
Frankly, I donâ€™t know if that is true or not, and thatâ€™s not my point here. Iâ€™ll get to my point in a minute. But, but my guess is that it is not true. I would say that most fans probably care a whole lot less about how much money the club spends than they do about how well it performs on the field (especially in a front-running market like D / FW), but I could certainly be wrong about that.
Let me think about it for a minute….
“Son, Iâ€™m so proud that you graduated near the top of your class and earned that scholarship to college. As a reward, I got us two tickets to the Rangers game tonight. Just you and me. And weâ€™re going to take in many more games this summer before you go away to school.”
“Hell no, Dad. I donâ€™t want to have anything to do with the Rangers until Tom Hicks spends more money on the Rangers than Drayton McLain spends on those damn Astros!!”
Hmmm. Yeah: thatâ€™s probably it. Iâ€™m wrong. Everyone is completely obsessed with this payroll issue. Randy Galloway IS the voice that speaks for all of the Metroplex.
But letâ€™s put aside the issue of whether or not Tom Hicks “lied” about what heâ€™d do with his “financial flexibility” in the wake of the Great Shortstop Dump and the expiration of the contracts of Rusty Greer and Jeff Zimmerman and whether that has anything to do with attendance.
Letâ€™s get back to my point about the payroll issue in general which is, basically this:
In spite of the seemingly endless stream of media commentary on the issue of Tom Hicksâ€™ apparently miserly ways, I have yet to hear anyone explain to me how it has hurt this baseball team. And even though no one who has provided me with this information, I’ve takent it upon myself to look and I still haven’t found any. In fact, I have a suspicion that Hicksâ€™ thrifty approach to the free agent market last winterâ€“for whatever reasonâ€“could very well prove to be a key to the Rangers winning the AL West.
If the Rangers had made moves this past offseason to shore up what were the perceived shortcomings of the ballclub, you likely would have focused on the rotation first. You could have spent $25.5 million for three years of Eric Milton (as the Ticketâ€™s Greg Williams frequently advocated this winter). Milton is 3-6 with a 7.05 ERA. Or maybe you would have preferred Jaret Wright, who is 2-2 with a 9.15 ERA for the low, low, low price of three years, $21 million. Obviously, you could have done better (e.g. Derek Lowe or Carl Pavano), but they were much more expensive and ultimately, the going rate on startersâ€”no aces in the group, but a decent collection of #2’s and #3’s–was 3 or 4 years at about $8 million a year. No thanks.
You might have added a big bat at DH. Say, Carlos Delgado for $48 million over 4 years (and yes, I know all about the positional brouhaha). That might have been nice. But then again, if you believed (as I did) that what the Rangers needed more than a big bat was a leadoff hitter who could work counts and put together a high OBP, the acquisition of Delgado would have prevented the Rangers from ever discovering what David Dellucci could do at the top of the order. And do you really believe that the Rangers are sitting on top of the AL West after two months without that development? Maybe you do, but you wonâ€™t convince me of that.
Wait a minute, you say, they could have signed Delgado and started Dellucci in a left field platoon with Kevin Mench. Oh really? Delgadoâ€™s OPS this year is .977. Menchâ€™s is .967. Do you really think that, in the long run, this club would have been better off with Kevin Mench taking about 20% of the at-bats in left field? Maybe you do, but you wonâ€™t convince me of that either.
No matter how convinced you are that Tom Hicks is a “liar” and that the Rangersâ€™ “financial flexibility” should be exercised somehow at every opportunity, even if you must overpay or if the target of spending doesnâ€™t fit your needs, I would think that you would have to admit that last winter it was almost certainly impossible to forecast the one thing that this ballclub really needs to fortify its pennant drive.
Dominant setup relief pitching.
The last four years should have taught Texas Rangers fans that paying big bucks in the off season for available relief pitching isnâ€™t a great idea. Expensive signings like Jay Powell, Todd Van Poppel, and Jeff Nelson havenâ€™t held a candle to cheap pickups and minor leaguers like Ron Mahay, Carlos Almanzar and Frankie Francisco. But nonetheless and as silly as it seems, letâ€™s assume that Hart should have foreseen that he needed to pick up still more proven big-league relief help last winter. The choices were pretty limited. He could have signed Steve Kline (2-2; 5.30 for Baltimore, where he has publicly stated he is miserable) or Billy Koch (released in spring training by Toronto). Nothing there. Obviously.
So yes, I agree that Hicks has not yet exercised his “financial flexibility” (unless you count going out and nailing down Michael Young, Hank Blalock and Chris Young on multi-year deals and you probably shouldnâ€™t). But as often as I am forced to think about it (for those of you who donâ€™t live in the Dallas / Fort Worth media market, that statement wonâ€™t make sense; for those who do, you know exactly what I mean), I still canâ€™t come up with a moment when, even in hindsight, doing so would have made this team much better than it is. And as an added bonus, weâ€™ve discovered so much about guys who might not have gotten a shot had the Rangers gone out and spent a bunch of money (e.g. Chris Young, David Dellucci, Kevin Mench).
Looking ahead, I fully expect the Rangers to add a piece or two to the mix, but I doubt very much that payroll will play any part in those moves. What will be decisive will not be money, butâ€“as I suggested in another report recently–prospects. Ultimately, it will be more a decision about how this ballclub is operated in the years to come than about short-term dollars and cents.
Last year, Kansas City G.M. Allard Baird extracted a high-ceiling pitching prospect named Denny Bautista from the Orioles for…36 year old Jason Grimsley. Thatâ€™s roughly the equivalent of getting Paul Quantrill for Edison Volquez. If Bautista is the price for Grimsley, then you might reasonably argue that the market for Ugie Urbina or Danys Baez is John Danks or Thomas Diamond. And thatâ€™s fine. Sometimes, thatâ€™s what it takes to win.
But realize that the price for Mike Sweeney might also be John Danks or Thomas Diamond, no matter how much of his salary you are willing to swallow. You still want both if it means that you lose Danks and Diamond?
Maybe you do want both, but then the cupboard begins to look a little empty and suddenly, you are getting close to committing yourself to years of fishing in the free agent market for pieces to patch together a ballclub.
And at that point, you have little choice but to try to squeeze another year out of Ken Caminiti because you donâ€™t have a Hank Blalock ready to go. You have to overpay for Eric Milton because you donâ€™t have a Chris Young. You have to try to plug in a Herb Perry or 50 year old Andres Gallarraga because you donâ€™t have a Jason Botts. You donâ€™t have 1st, 2nd, 3rd round picks because you signed Todd Van Poppel and Jay Powell and CHoP. Maybe you do, but I donâ€™t want that to be the future of my club. Iâ€™ve seen it. Itâ€™s ugly.
You canâ€™t sign someone to a $50 million dollar contract every year and when you do, you better be right. It better be what you really need. You canâ€™t trade for every player on the market in July and when you do, you better be right. It better be what you really need.
In the long term, I agree with those who argue that it is ridiculous for the owner of the Texas Rangers to treat this like it is a small market club, but Iâ€™m not so sure that he is doing so in spite of a few of his admittedly disturbing comments and in spite of the fact that this clubâ€™s payroll currently ranks in the bottom third of all payrolls in big league baseball. And I doubt anything that happens this summer will change my mind about that even though Iâ€™m constantly battered by a barrage of media luminaries who tell me that I should. Iâ€™m pretty sure that decisions to not make a deal will have much, much more to do with John Danks, Thomas Diamond and Edison Volquez than with the dollars in Tom Hicksâ€™ pocket.
I like the way this club is assembledâ€“ a lotâ€“ and Iâ€™m glad that the Rangers didnâ€™t try to fix their perceived weaknesses this past winter so that they have the ammo (both money and prospects) around to address their actual needs as they stampede towards a possible division crown.
I know Iâ€™m going to be attacked for appearing to defend the Rangers just as I do any time I say anything remotely positive about the club, but Iâ€™m really trying to be objective here. Iâ€™ll reserve my judgment on the whole “financial flexibility” issue vis-a-vis Tom Hicks until I see him refuse to make the right baseball move because of money. So far, I havenâ€™t.