Texas avoided arbitration on Tuesday by agreeing to terms with C.J. Wilson ($7 million) and Nelson Cruz ($3.65 million) on one-year deals, leaving Josh Hamilton, Frank Francisco, and Darren O'Day as the club's remaining arbitration cases (the club settled with David Murphy [$2.4 million] a couple weeks ago, and Mark Lowe [$1.2 million] in November).
The question is less whether Texas will settle with Hamilton ($12 million player proposal vs. $8.7 million club proposal), Francisco ($4.875 million vs. $3.5 million), and O'Day ($1.4 million vs. $1.05 million) than whether the club could work out multi-year contracts with any of them.
The Rangers have made a routine practice of approaching core players (and some who might be considered non-core, but dependable pieces of the puzzle) to see if there's mutual interest in an extension that would buy out the player's remaining arbitration years and a year or two of free agency. Texas did it in recent years with Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Francisco Cordero, Hank Blalock, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Feldman, and Ron Mahay.
There was talk in the press yesterday that it wouldn't be out of the question for the club to approach Elvis Andrus, who isn't arbitration-eligible yet but will have the first of his three arbitration winters arrive a year from now, about the idea of a long-term deal that would knock the shortstop's arbitration years out, and maybe more. Such a deal would give the club some cost certainty (perhaps even at a perceived discount, Scott Boras notwithstanding) and the player the financial security that would set him and his family up for life, with the likelihood of plenty of prime earning years beyond the deal.
Young and Kinsler were in the same service time class as Andrus when they signed their initial long-term deals here, as is Carlos Gonzalez (like Andrus a Boras client), who signed a seven-year, $80 million deal with the Rockies last week.
How likely is it that Texas could announce a multi-year agreement with Andrus, or any of its arbitration-eligible players? It's a question worth looking at, not only as far as Hamilton, Francisco, and O'Day are concerned, but Wilson and Cruz and Murphy as well. The Rangers signed Young in March 2004 before announcing a four-year contract that April. They settled with the first-time arbitration-eligible Feldman last January before agreeing to an extension through 2012 (with a club option for 2013) five weeks later. Settling on the current year doesn't eliminate the possibility of an extension shortly thereafter.
To me, the idea of a multi-year deal with Wilson, right now, might be the least likely of any of them. Theoretically, it's the most urgent case of the six, as he and Francisco are the only two who will be eligible to test free agency next winter. But you can imagine that in Wilson's case, both sides may be reluctant to commit long-term. The Rangers might want to see the one-year starter deliver another year of results and health before binding themselves at anything close to market level for multiple years - he'd cost far more than Feldman, who agreed last year to a guarantee of less than $14 million for three seasons - and Wilson will probably want to take advantage of the fact that he sits near the top of an unusually thin class of starting pitchers eligible for free agency next winter. Someone else will emerge during the 2011 season, but at the moment it's Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Wandy Rodriguez, Edwin Jackson, and Joel Pineiro who stand out (assuming St. Louis and Philadelphia exercise 2012 options on Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt). There's no Cliff Lee in the bunch.
Wilson strikes me, and probably you, as someone who will want to see how much (and for how long) the Yankees and Red Sox and Angels and Dodgers might be willing to pay him a year from now to pitch in a big market, which is not to say Texas wouldn't ultimately be his first choice once his market is defined. I just can't imagine he's making financial security a priority right now.
Cruz, for different reasons, is an unusual case. People talk about Hamilton's relatively advanced age - he'll be 31 when he's first eligible for free agency (after the 2012 season) - but Cruz will be 33 when he can test the market for the first time (after 2013). For that reason, he's probably motivated now to see if there's common ground with the team for long-term talks (this season's $3.65 million contract will be his first, due to service time, for more than $500,000), but how long will Texas be willing to commit for a player who's already 30? I don't think anyone expects Cruz, a classic late bloomer, to start to recede in 2011 but, really, how many years do you go?
Which brings us to Hamilton. It's sort of bizarre to categorize him as a year-to-year proposition (from a team perspective), but for all his positives, which stack up against anyone's in baseball, there's also his track record in terms of his ability to bounce back from injury (or illness), the risk of another 2009-level regression, and, frankly, the off-field issues that everyone hopes are fully past tense. I can easily imagine Texas floating a three-year proposal, maybe four, that would delay Hamilton's free agency by a year or two, but would he agree to such a (relatively) short term for what could unquestionably be the one contract in his career of such a length? Hamilton is motivated in different ways and by different things than most players, and maybe he would be absolutely fine with just a three- or four-year commitment (even though he's barely made more as a player than the $3.96 million he signed for as an 18-year-old out of high school). But as with many things as far as Hamilton is concerned, his case is uniquely difficult to predict.
As for Murphy, his situation is probably somewhat like that of Feldman's a year ago. Murphy isn't exactly a core player, just as Feldman wasn't when he signed his extension coming off a 17-win season, but like 2009 Feldman he's the type of player that winning organizations have in the middle of the roster, and aren't hesitant to commit to. Feldman took advantage of a window to secure his financial situation, and I suspect Murphy (who can't elect free agency until after the 2013 season, when he'll turn 32) would be motivated to do so as well.
The 31-year-old Francisco, the lone free agent in the group, made sense to commit an arbitration offer to this off-season, and given the injury that ended his season prematurely, it's not surprising that he accepted the offer (in spite of a very healthy market for set-up relievers). But given the Rangers' bullpen depth (including a couple arms who haven't arrived but are getting close), anything more than a one-year settlement would be surprising, unless the club were to get Francisco to agree to a 2012 club option that would guarantee a modest buyout.
O'Day is probably not a candidate for an extension. The club already controls him for four more years (he'll have four years of arbitration eligibility rather than three, as he qualified this winter as a Super Two), and the 28-year-old unlikely to elevate into a role (now or in the future) that would generate the kind of statistics which would trigger a massive arbitration payday.
And Andrus? I'd say the Gonzalez deal that Boras just struck with Colorado gives him the type of model that will simultaneously (1) embolden his ask and (2) lessen the chances of anything getting done. That's not a problem. Andrus is here through 2014, at least, and there will be plenty of chances to make sure his tenure lasts longer than that. I wouldn't rule out an extension before the season, but it may be more likely to look like Mark Teixeira's in 2006, a two-year agreement that didn't even exhaust his arbitration years but did give Texas a little multi-year cost certainty.
Count on the Rangers, who haven't taken an arbitration case all the way to hearing in 11 years (when a panel found the club's $3.5 million proposal for Lee Stevens more appropriate than the 32-year-old's $4.7 million submission), settling in the next couple weeks with Hamilton, Francisco, and O'Day, just as they've already done with Wilson, Cruz, and Murphy (and Lowe). The bigger issue is whether there will be mutual interest between club and player in some cases - including Andrus's - for a multi-year extension at a number both sides would accept.
I should have known better than to ask yesterday for story ideas. You guys emailed me with more than 200 of them. Not complaining - I appreciate the feedback a lot - but I won't be able to address any of them today. Several of your suggestions in particular turned up over and over, and I'll get to those, and a stack of other notes, next time.