The Ranger’s Silent Guardian
It’s been just over 5 years since the Rangers officially signed a 6 year contract with Yu Darvish on January 18th, 2012. Now he is in his last term of his deal, and few believe that the Rangers will be able to extend his contract. Hell, according to some of the quotes below I think some wouldn’t mind if the Rangers weren’t able to extend Yu, although I’m confident it’s in the Ranger’s best interests to extend him. Jon Daniels has voiced intent on doing so…however he also voiced the club’s intent on a number of other matters that did not pan out in the matter he voiced.
There are a few issues when considering an extension for Yu. Will the Rangers have room in the budget to do so? Will the Rangers want to extend Yu? Will Yu want to extend with the Rangers? There are a few close to the club who all voice this concern, one of the main ones being budget. To assist in this area, I created an analysis to project what Yu should command on the open market in an earlier article. Another issue expressed is that he is not worth it. One of the greatest pitchers to wear a Texas Ranger uniform not worth a market value contract extension that the Rangers are well within reach of paying. An absent 2015 season and his recovery from TJ surgery in 2016 should decrease his earning power slightly. I believe Yu could be obtained for a bargain in February of 2017. If he ends up reaching free agency in November, then the Ranger’s chances of re-signing Yu become increasingly slim due to other teams possibly overvaluing his earning potential.
Yu Darvish, a Ranger great
Don’t think Yu is one of the best pitchers in Ranger’s history? Let’s take a look at his brief MLB career with the Rangers which only entails 4 seasons, 100 games started & 645.2 innings pitched.
Yu is 6th in bWAR, edging out Nolan Ryan and barely short of Gaylord Perry for 5th place. With a solid 2017 performance Yu will easily pass both Perry & Kevin Brown to ascend to 4th on the list. However, with a Cy Young nomination-like performance, Yu could also pass Fergie Jenkins for 3rd place whom sits atn 21.9 bWAR. Charlie Hough and Kenny Rogers lead the pack in WAR at 33.1 & 31.6 respectively. Rick Helling, Jose Guzman and Jon Matlack round out the top ten behind Yu & Ryan.
It would be interesting to see where Cole Hamel’s numbers will end up at on this list after his final year in his contract in 2019. The stats and rankings are hard to dismiss. Regardless of an extension, Yu will go down as one of the greatest starting pitchers to wear a Ranger’s uniform.
However, it’s not doomsday for the Rangers if Yu does not extend his contract with the Rangers. Thankfully, mostly in part due to a strong 2018 free agent class of starting pitchers who will test the open market. Jake Arrieta (whom will command a contract very similar to Yu), Tyler Chatwood, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Pineda & Chris Tillman are a few of the bigger names that will hit the open market in November of 2017.
After seeing this instagram of Yu during the off-season, one may contemplate the possibilities of the rotation…
1.) Darvish, 2.) Hamels, 3.) Darvish, 4.) Cashner, 5.) Perez ????
Fan & Media Perception
Earlier I mentioned a fanbase who might believe the Rangers would be ebtter if we part ways with Yu. There are plenty who believe Yu is selfish or moves along to his own beat. Some believe that he is counting down his days with the Rangers until free agency. The Ticket’s Mike Rhyner said earlier this year:
This was after a 1-3 loss to the Royals in which the Rangers only scored 1 run. Yu gave up 2 ER , walked 1, and struck out 11 in the process over the span of 6 innings and 91 pitches. It’s absurd to believe a competitor like Yu would put himself before the team. If you don’t like his approach, that’s a different conversation, but not one in which you should be describing this individual as selfish. He is a strikeout pitcher. Strikeout pitchers get the most efficient outs, balls rarely are in play and when they are, they are weakly hit. In 2013, the play-by-play radio announcer for the Dallas Mavericks, Chuck Cooperstein, had this to say:
This quote made a day after another 1-run Ranger loss but this time to the Twins. Yu gave up 3 ER, 2 walks and struck out 11 over 6 2/3 innings and 107 pitches. This was the same year Yu was 1 out away from a perfect game in his season debut, and finished as the runner-up in the AL Cy Young. Pretty good for a guy who is not mentally “tough”.
How did this fan base become so jaded? Reaching the World Series is NOT EASY and requires a bit of dumb luck in part of how a team feels and how hot they are headed into the stretch and into the playoffs. However, it is in fact, the Ranger’s focus and goal to make it to the World Series each season. Who knows if Yu sees this or cares of this absurdity. It only makes me wonder if it has an impact.
This is an unfortunate ideal. The rest of the fan base recognize the impact Yu has on the rotation and this club.
Projecting the Payroll
So before you beat me up and tell me to just stop already, there is simply “no room in the budget” for Yu. Let me show you how it’s possible and how likely the Rangers would be for a bump in payroll. Here is a representation of the Ranger’s payroll over the past 8 seasons:
As of 1/27/2017, the current 25-man payroll is currently sitting at about $155.3m and it’s an entirely different conversation if they will add much more than that but it’s my opinion that they won’t go much over $160m if they in fact do add someone (the 3m in incentives per Ross’s contract put the Rangers @ $158.3m).
The opening day 25-man roster payroll has increased 3.5%-11% each season over the past four seasons, and saw almost a 30% bump in 2011 after the team reached the World Series for the first time ever, and another 24% after the team reached the World Series once again headed into the 2012 season. The team has seen significant payroll growth, both by performance and by inflation. Don’t you think that with this kind of growth it’s strange the front office has said they would like to remain around the same $160m mark for 2017 when they have seen growth every single season even in 2015 after the tumultuously atrocious season that was 2014?
The owners have two options for extending Yu. Remain around this $160m mark for the 2017 season and beyond, or increase opening day payroll by about 8% to 174m for the 2018 seasons onward. Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Andrew Cashner & Tyson Ross become free agents in the 2018 free agent class, which clears up about $32.8m. The club will need to back-fill catcher, center field and add another durable innings eater MORP or BORP. The club can use this money to fill those gaps via free agency, extend Yu, and to extend arbitration eligible players. The latter, is quite the pickle and the main wrinkle in projecting a future payroll this far ahead. Utilizing my arbitration projection model, I’ve done my best to project what the club is looking to spend to retain their arbitration eligible players. I’ve used the Fangraph steamer projection statistics for 2017 in order to have a platform for the model.
That brings 2018’s opening day payroll from the unmodified roster to about $127,995,000. In a previous post I project Darvish to get a 5 year deal worth $121.25m. Using this projection, Yu will make $20.5m in 2018 if he receives a signing bonus of $3m. This now brings the 2018 payroll $149,995,000. Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo hit free agency around the same time Yu’s contract expires or is close to expiring so the term length on Yu’s contract works quite well. Also, who’s to say that any of the above players listed will still be with the club after the 2017 season ends?
Now that Yu is extended, the holes must be filled and that leaves little money to do so. It becomes clear at this point that some of the above mentioned players will need to either be non-tendered or traded during the 2017 season or during the winter to dump salary and replenish the farm system. Here’s a glimpse of who might be available during the 2018 free agent signing period for positions with vacated players, including relief pitching:
Robinson Chirinos is a great backup catcher, but his pitch sequencing and framing really hurt the rotation. His value will become more dimenisioning as he hits his 2nd and 3rd year of arbitration, so I feel inevitably Chirinos might be in a Ranger uniform for his last season. Purusing the open market for a veteran catcher who is known to work well with the staff, mentor younger catchers, a club house leader and is good with pitch sequencing and framing might be the most frugal of options. Of the catchers available that might fit this profile of excellent pitch farming, are Carlos Corporan, A.J. Ellis, Jose Lobaton, Jonathon Lucroy, Francisco Cervelli, Rene Rivera & one of the best in the business, Miguel Montero. However, Montero might be a little less affordable than the other options & might not mesh with Texas’s clubhouse demeanor. However, it would be difficult to hang onto Lucroy and remain around the $160m target.
Lobaton offers a more gentle demeanor but has been mostly a backup his career as well as Rivera. Ellis might not produce at the plate. This could also be an opportunity for the Rangers to commit Brett Nicholas to a catching role or have Jose Trevino split time with Chirinos if his 2017 performance ends up being as impressive as his improvements in 2016. Montero would be slightly expensive compared to other options, but would offer an anchor to the team’s leadership and would be a great asset defensively pending any aging decline.
If the budget is increased to $174m then there would possibly be room to also extend Jonathan Lucroy to a multi-year deal. Unfortunately, that would leave the Rangers with 6 large contracts for 2018 with two of them freeing up in 2020 and another in 2021. This may put the club in a terrible position that they might want to avoid.
In order to remain at the $160m mark, there is a lot of salary dumping that needs to happen in order to keep Yu, obtain an elite catcher, upgrade at center field and shore up the bullpen and rotation. Personally, I’d flip Yohander Mendez, Jeremy Jeffress & a lottery ticket over to the Pirates who need relief and a BORP for 2018 to obtain Francisco Cervelli. Move Chirinos for relief or a lottery ticket, and allow for non-roster invites, Nicolas & Trevino to compete for the backup spot in the spring. Cervelli has proven to be a very capable every day catcher. In fact, Cervelli has the 3rd best fWAR in the past two seasons at his position. Lucroy comes in at second only two tenths better than Cervelli.
However, if the owners gave the go ahead for an 8% bump moving foward, retaining Lucroy is very much within the realm of possibilities. I guesstimate that Lucroy will yield a contract worth $16m-$19m average annual salary on a term of 4-6 years. I do believe Texas will be one of his top choices in free agency due to the proximity of his homestate, Louisiana. Texas has a championship mentality that some fans have easily dismissed. The front office really does a great job putting a team on the field that wins ball games season in and season out and I believe all of the above attract Lucroy in pursuing an extension with the Rangers.
The team would most certainly look into the trade market for center field unless Delino DeShields returns to an enhanced version that we saw in 2015. Either way I’d prefer a better glove in center field. The team has been linked in rumors for Travis Jankowski this off-season. A player like that would solidify this spot. Currently, Jankowski would be expensive to obtain but after a potentially less productive sophomore year could be cheaper. Too many what ifs, but looking at the free agent market a similar player in Ben Revere or Jarrod Dyson would fit the bill. A one year deal would work in the best interest of the club, as there are players like Jose Cardona, Luke Tendler & Scott Heineman whom will be close to major league ready in 2018 to 2019.
Some of the other internal options might be Jared Hoying, Drew Robinson or even Jurickson Profar. Yes, Jurickson Profar will be a Ranger in 2018. In fact, he will be a Ranger until the fate of Elvis Andrus for the 2019 season is defined or if Josh Morgan, Yeyson Yrizarri or Anderson Tejeda break through to the majors in 2019. The Rangers could also take a chance in the rule-5 draft like they did in 2015 when they landed DeShields. However that’s risky and I’d rather the club use their rule-5 pick for bullpen aide on a player who has a projectably high floor.
Extending Carlos Gomez would be an option too, and not a cheap option.It’s hard right now to say how well he will perform in 2017. He was extremely effective during his time with the Rangers when he joined the club in late August of 2016. If that trend continues and he is in fact back to his former mold, Gomez could command an extremely healthy extension. He will barely be 32 on opening day in 2018 and has the potential to produce for multiple years. I’m spit-balling his worth at about $16m-$18m a season for less than a handful of seasons.
The club could Sign the stop gap Ben Revere or Jarrod Dyson to a one year deal worth $6m-$7m. Dyson is my preferred player of the two. He has a great glove, a cannon for an arm, and adds speed that the club will lack at the top of the lineup. Left field will be the concern unless Choo is still able to play in the field. Hoying, Robinson, Profar, Rua & DeShields would compete for the left field spot or platoon. I really feel Scott Heinemen, Jose Cardona and Luke Tendler are sleepers in the organization and wouldn’t count them out either. I’d look for one of them to make the move to the big league club in some capacity by 2019.
The Rotation & BP
The 2018 starting pitcher free agent class is very deep. But signing one of them will cost money that the club might not have. A.J. Griffin, Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Yohander Mendez, Ariel Jurado, Connor Sadzeck, Tyler Wagner, Joe Palumbo and Brett Martin all contribute to the rotation’s depth past Yu, Cole Hamels & Martin Perez. Andrew Faulkner, Jose Leclerc, Dario Alvarez, & John Fasola all contribute to the bullpen’s depth past Alex Claudio, Keone Kela, Tony Barnette, Jeremy Jeffress, Jake Diekman, Matt Bush & Sam Dyson. Also, don’t forget that if Mike Hauschild remains on the 25-man roster for the entirety of 2017 that he will become team controlled past 2017.
This is the area where the options are virtually limitless. External options could be found on the free agent market. Jhoulys Chacin would fit a very low risk but low reward type option as a BORP. Other options like CC Sabathia, Alex Cobb, Miguel Gonzalez, Derek Holland & Tyler Chatwood will also be on the free agent market who would fit within a Ranger’s budget. Trade market will always be a venue to obtain new players for the Rangers. I’ll just name drop Robbie Ray one more time here. The Diamondbacks have a slough of candidates for rotation options, and Ray becomes arbitration eligible in 2018 and therefore less affordable to a team like the Diamondbacks.
There is also of course a few guys coming back from injuries that will keep them out for the 2017 season, and non-roster invites who could play a factor during spring training. Nathan Eovaldi & Rubby De La Rosa fit the above descriptor. The club could draft another option from the rule-5 who would have a projectibly high floor. I’m thinking of a guy similar to Jandel Gustave. The front office has always done a great job in obtaining bullpen arms on a budget, and I don’t think the future would hold anything less.
The club could sign the obligatory reclamation project, Nathan Eovaldi to a 1 year $5.5m deal with $2m in incentives (equals earning potential of what he would have earned in 2017 if he wasn’t released). Decline the option for Barnette’s 2018 season or flip Diekman in order to free up more salary to sign Alex Cobb to a 2 year deal worth $11m in 2018 and $13m in 2019 with a team option in 2020 worth $15.5m and a $2m buyout. Dependent on Cobb’s 2017 performance and health. Cobb could be a very high impact starter if healthy and returns to form in 2017. The deal would work in conjunction to Shohei Otani‘s potential posting year.
The Decision – 2018
I really hate giving up Yohander in order to get Cervelli, but I’m sure that would be a piece that would need to move in order for the Pirates to make Cervelli a Ranger for 2 seasons. However, I have more faith in Ariel Jurado’s floor than I do Yohander’s. Past those two there aren’t many names that will be major league ready by 2018. Connor Sadzeck and Brett Martin will be the closest. Due to the free agent market in 2018, stop gaps like Alex Cobb and Nathan Eovaldi could be had to allow more time for these guys to grow. Pull the trigger on the Cervelli deal and move Chirinos as his value will be minimized behind Cervelli.
Similar idea with center field. Jarrod Dyson is extremely undervalued, and could be signed to an extremely valuable contract that would serve as a stop gap for further Ranger sleeper talent in Heinemen, Cordona & Tendler are ready to make their debut. Sign the spark plug with a cannon for an arm in Dyson.
The rotation and bullpen will be the dynamic portion of whether or not the club will keep a player, move them or non-tender them relating to the budget. If the Rangers were to stay within the $160m mark, the club would need to move Jeremy Jeffress to the Pirates for Cervelli, and then move or non-tender A.J. Griffin, Tanner Scheppers & Tony Barnette. That would leave Alex Claudio, Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, Matt Bush and Sam Dyson as the familiar faces in the bullpen. Jurado, Leclerc and Sadzeck would step up for the remaining roles. If the club were to increase payroll by 8%, the bullpen would remain 100% in tact unless trading for Cervelli. If extending for Lucroy then Griffin, Barnette (or Diekman), along with Scheppers would need to be moved or non-tendered.
Extend both Lucroy & Darvish with an 8% bump in payroll ($173,980,000) .
Extend Darvish with a payroll of $163,780,000.
I understand there are a lot of dependencies for the above to work out. Will Elvis pick up his options for 2018 and 2019? Will the club decide to move Profar or any other young talent close or ready for major league action? Will the club increase the budget, or will they in fact remain around the said $160m mark? Will Choo be able to play the outfield past 2017? Won’t the Rangers just extend Ross instead of going after Eovaldi and/or Cobb who both have history of injury?
As mentioned before, Profar will be a Ranger until free agency, unless the club feels that someone else in their system could provide depth at short stop in case Elvis opts out and the club is unable or does not wish to re-sign Elvis. Profar becomes much more expendible if Elvis does not opt out, and both Ronald Guzman and a short stop farmhand are ready for the majors. Guzman being very close, would be a first base candidate but the other short stop options are not as close.
It’s hard to say immediately if the Rangers budget could increase by 8% in 2018, but with the history of the payroll, it looks like it is headed there. Choo should be in a DH role by this year, and could share the responsibility with Gallo and Beltre. I feel this makes the club better, and gives them more options, but we’ll have to see how Choo feels in a year as he is reluctant to commit to a full time DH role in 2017. Profar or Gallo’s pure athleticism could open a door for them to compete for in left field if Choo moves to DH.
Although the Rangers will only see a glimpse of Ross in 2017, as they did with Darvish in 2016, it should be a good look. He will hopefully pitch effectively, although it may be a shell of what we’ve seen from his body of work. The 2nd years of recovery are the true test. Due to his body of work, Ross will not come as cheap in 2018 as he did in 2017. He will be looking for a multi-year deal that would eat up a large chunk of the budget.
Alex Cobb is a guy the Rangers have shown interest in on numerous rumors linked between the club and the Rays. Usually that is for a reason, and if he bounces back to producing even as a shell of the past he will be financially rewarded more searching for a team other than the Rays. There is still some concern for health, as Cobb has never pitched over 166.1 innings in a single major league season. The deal I propose offers Cobb a couple years of security and a pedestal to continue building his body of work as he began to do so with the Rays before his injury. It also gives the Rangers some insurance past the 2019 season if he never comes to fruition. Both Eovaldi and Cobb give the club multiple options rather than one in Ross. Multiple options is something a manager values, and that is why I believe Ross won’t be extended as his cost would likely come close to equally that of Eovaldi and Cobb combined for 2018.
I am not worried about any loss taken in the bullpen in result of trades or non-tenders/options. The fans should have faith in the front office to continue to do a fantastic job in picking up guys who produce. Also, have faith in the coaching staff. They both have done an amazing job the past couple of seasons and the front office is very quick to react to the team’s needs mid season. Plus there are a few exciting arms that should be ready for action. I’m hoping to see Sadzeck come out of the bullpen in 2018. Jurado and Mendez will also be contributors to the bullpen and/or rotation.
Now it’s clear to me that the Rangers do in fact have the possibility and means to extend Yu. The more and more I think about the scenarios, gaps included, and the opportunities that lie between now and 2018, the more I believe that we will be celebrating a Yu Darvish contract extension in under a month’s time.
Have faith in Jon Daniels, the front office, and coaching staff. The team has yet to let the fan base down in the past couple of years under the reigns of Jeff Banister. The team will be fierce, year in and year out. And I have hope that the Rangers are serious in retaining one of the greatest pitchers to dawn a Ranger uniform. If I’m wrong, then it was obviously not the right move for the club. Regardless, I’ll still bleed Ranger red until I die.