I read a column in yesterday's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, not by the general columnist with the Mad Libs piece he churns out every few weeks when it's time for a Rangers theme, but instead by the venerable Jim Reeves. The headline, which Reeves probably didn't write himself, blares out that the Rangers are "studying ways to trim their payroll." The lede, after suggesting that Tom Hicks would like to cut another $20 million from the team's payroll before 2010, declares that, if it were to happen, "[i]t might just incite a riot among an already restless and frustrated Rangers fandom."
That's exactly what the column was designed to do.
But read the quotes, which there are many of, in the story.
I don't see where Hicks said he is looking to cut payroll as an objective in itself.
I do see where he tells Reeves: "There's no direction for [Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels] to cut payroll."
I do see where Ryan notes: "We're in the mind-set that we're going to be in the race this year and not in the mind-set of dumping salaries, because we feel like if we're successful on the field, what we haven't been able to accomplish this off-season in [season ticket] renewals we can make up with walk-up attendance if we're in a pennant race."
As for the one significant 2010 salary that could transform from a club option to a guaranteed contract - Kevin Millwood's $12 million if he reaches a workload threshold this year - Reeves acknowledges that "Hicks said he hopes Millwood hits his 180 innings and will be back next season, ‘but it's up to him.'"
Doesn't sound like an owner trying to find ways to cut payroll.
In fact, didn't Hicks authorize a two-year deal for Ben Sheets last month, for a reported $20 million, before the righthander failed his physical? There have been similar go-aheads to bust payroll to sign players like Carlos Delgado, Barry Zito, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Torii Hunter in recent years.
Said Hicks to Reeves: "If we have a chance to get a great Ben Sheets type player at the right price, we'd do it. All of this is different than saying, ‘I want you to cut the payroll.'"
But that point gets buried halfway into the column.
Ryan adds: "Tom wants to see us try to hit our budget this year. We feel like under the current economic environment, we need to be in the pennant race and need to be competitive this year."
What's wrong with that comment? Particularly considered in light of the effort to sign Sheets in February?
Hicks tells Reeves: "I like the energy of the young guys. I like [Justin] Smoak. I like Max Ramirez. Next year, I think you'll see [Neftali] Feliz and [Derek] Holland in the rotation. It would be nice to see [Brandon] McCarthy step up this year."
If that means some combination of Smoak and Ramirez could change the Rangers' situation at designated hitter, where Hank Blalock will go into the off-season as one of two things - (1) a player who once again wasn't able to give the team a full season or (2) a dependable veteran bat who finally put together a solid year from start to finish and will hit free agency - where's the problem with that comment?
As for Feliz and Holland impacting the rotation in 2010, is that a signal that the Rangers simply want to get out from under Millwood's and Vicente Padilla's eight figures a year and will stick any minimum-salary pitchers they can find in there to replace them? C'mon.
I think we'd all agree that McCarthy stepping up this year is something worth hoping for.
Someone challenged me yesterday on the subject of the Rangers' payroll approach.
This isn't the Carl Pohlad-era Twins.
I'm in favor of spiking expenditures in scouting and player development, going above slot for Smoak, Holland, Taylor Teagarden, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Marcus Lemon, Robbie Ross, Clark Murphy, Johnny Whittleman, Kyle Ocampo, Matt Thompson, and others, and kicking tail in Latin America, rather than spending cash on Jay Powell.
I appreciate that nobody offered Michael Ynoa or Junichi Tazawa more than the Texas Rangers did.
I don't know what the payroll strategy has been, or will be. But there's evidence that the Rangers are spending more (and spending wisely) internationally, and that whatever budget gets set for the big league roster, it's always subject to exception for the right player.
But yeah, dang — I wish we'd signed Gary Matthews Jr. a couple winters ago for that five years and $50 million the Angels gave him, rather than take the two draft picks. Maybe the Angels would consider taking Michael Main and Neil Ramirez for him.
There were baseball writers in this market who criticized the Rangers for letting Matthews "get away" at that price. One of them, Reeves, wrote this a few days into the 2007 season, after Los Angeles had swept Texas in the season's first three games:
"Tom Hicks flew in here from Liverpool, England, on Monday, presumably with the $10 million he saved by not re-signing Gary Matthews Jr. this past off-season jingling around in his pocket with a few extra British pounds in his loose change.
"What the Angels got for their $10 million was Matthews' usual spectacular defense in center field and a three-game sweep of the Rangers to open the season.
"I'll let you figure out who got the best end of the deal."
Who do you think got the best end of the deal?
Who do you think the Angels think got the best end of the deal?
I like Jim Reeves. There's nobody in this sportswriting market who does a better job with the human interest story. But it bothers me when a column like yesterday's, something I'd expect instead from his one-trick colleague, ends up manufacturing a misleading message that the casual sports fan might blindly adopt.
There are players on this team with sizable contracts who will come off the books in seven months. If the team will be better - not cheaper, but better - by going with younger players already in the organization and ready to contribute, is there anyone who would reasonably argue that that's a bad plan? Especially for a team that believes it will contend in 2010, and for years after that?
Are we to believe that Texas aren't busy approaching Josh Hamilton with a huge offer to be a Texas Ranger for life? It would increase payroll, you know.
And does anyone really think that if there's a Ben Sheets out there to sign in 2009 - either a starting pitcher on the free agent market (like John Lackey if he doesn't extend with the Angels, or Sheets himself), or a Josh-Beckett-from-the-Marlins trade to get in on, that Texas will stay away because it would bust the budget?
We know - not on faith but on the evidence - that that hasn't been the case, and I'd bet it won't be going forward.
A few things I'd love to see in Surprise:
Set your DVR's: The MLB Network Rangers episode of "30 Clubs in 30 Days" will re-air three times: (1) this Friday, March 27, at 1:00 a.m.; (2) Friday, April 3, at 11 a.m.; and (3) Sunday, April 5, at 11 a.m.
Also, MLB Network will show "Josh Hamilton: Resurrecting the Dream" again this Friday, March 27, at 7 p.m.
I misled you by mistake when I noted on Sunday that Jimmy Gobble is out of options. That's true, but he's here on a non-roster deal. So there's no issue in terms of having to outright him in order to assign him to a minor league deal. I'm just not sure whether he has an opt-out date in his deal.
Michael Young, back in action yesterday after injuring a quad muscle on Saturday, came out after the second inning after aggravating the quad. He's day-to-day, but it's not expected to be an injury that would endanger his readiness for Opening Day.
McCarthy, after giving up only one hit in his previous eight innings, was touched for six earned runs on eight hits and three walks in 4.2 innings yesterday, fanning three.
C.J. Wilson struck out one Mariner in two perfect innings yesterday. No blister issues, evidently.
New Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who has been dealing with back stiffness in camp, reportedly topped out at 89 miles per hour in a minor league game on Monday. He hasn't pitched in a big league exhibition game yet, and his ERA against minor leaguers is 12.27.
Local lawyer and baseball historian Talmage Boston will have a book signing at the Barnes & Noble on S. Cooper Street in Arlington this Saturday from 1:00-2:30 for his new book, "Baseball and the Baby Boomer." You can learn about the book at www.talmageboston.com.
Mike Hollander, the LSU shortstop drafted by Texas in the 20th round last year, is getting a look in camp at catcher. The 23-year-old hit .353/.410/.588 in an abbreviated nine-game run with the Arizona League squad late last summer, after returning from a broken thumb that he suffered in his second game with Spokane.
The Sioux City Explorers of the independent American Association traded outfielder Juan Senreiso to the Victoria Seals of the independent Golden Baseball League for a player to be named.
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