I was discussing yesterday with a friend the Elvis Andrus extension, and my friend was making the point that with Jurickson Profar rocketing through the Rangers system, it is likely the Rangers are going to face a decision with Andrus – of course, sitting on two shortstops in their 20s is a nice problem to have.
Given that the Rangers have won the last two AL pennants and many in baseball are celebrating Nolan Ryan’s tremendous positive influence on the once floundering franchise, this may be a minority opinion – but it appears to me that the Rangers window to win is closing.
The table below shows the 2011 Rangers WAR Leaders:
Against that list, let us cross-reference the Rangers’ contractual commitments. The future for Rangers fans does not necessarily look bright beyond 2012. CJ Wilson moved within the division to the Angels (who also added a first basemen with some history of success at the major league level). Josh Hamilton (31), Mike Napoli (31) and Colby Lewis (32) are free agents after 2012 – 13 WAR from last season, and each comes with his own question marks. Hamilton battles injuries on the diamond and demons off; Napoli had question marks about whether or not he had the skills to catch in his mid 20s, never mind his early 30s, and Lewis has resurrected his career after a mid career stop in Asia. Additionally, Mike Adams, the solid setup man acquired in a deadline deal with San Diego, can walk after the 2012 season.
Looking ahead 18 months, the decisions don’t get any easier. Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler (presuming the Rangers merely exercise their $10M 2013 option on Kinsler rather than extending him) all hit free agency in November 2013. AT that point, Young will have turned 37 and Cruz will be 33 (and has yet to turn in an injury free campaign, something that becomes less likely with age). Kinsler has established himself firmly in the discussion with Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano as the best second basemen in the game, and Cano will be cashing in in the Bronx in 2013 if not sooner. At that point, the Rangers will be sitting on $30MM in commitments to only 3 players (Yu Darvish, Elvis Andrus and 34 year old Adrian Beltre.
If things break right for the Rangers, Josh Hamilton will take a below market deal this off season, Napoli extends as the Rangers 1B for the next few years (with occasional backup catching duties) and some of the Rangers young pitching sticks in the rotation. More likely, Hamilton walks and the starting pitching experiments with Feliz and Ogando don’t work.
The Rangers do have a relatively strong farm system, but the fact remains – they had better take advantage of 2012, because the Angels are better (and awaiting the expiration of some bad contracts and the arrival of the best prospect in baseball). Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, and Josh Hamilton are all going to see big dollars thrown at them on the open market. Nelson Cruz, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz are going to get big raises in arbitration. The Rangers simply aren’t going to be able to keep this team together beyond 2013 – possibly not beyond 2012.