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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 18, 2012 at 2:26 PM

Can Rangers afford Darvish, Fielder AND Hamilton? (Plus, Mariners sign Oliver Perez to minor-league deal)

darvishrangers.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

(This just in: The Mariners have signed LHP Oliver Perez to a minor-league contract with a spring-training invitation. Perez won 15 games for the Mets in 2007 before hitting hard times. Signed to a three-year, $36-million contract extension after the 2008 season, Perez was released by the Mets on March 21 last year, when he had an 8.38 ERA in seven spring-training appearances. They were forced to absorb his $12 million salary for 2011. Perez was out of the major leagues entirely last year, pitching in 16 games (15 starts) for the Washington Nationals’ Double-A team, going 3-5 with a 3.09 ERA. This offseason, Perez pitched for the Tomateros de Culiacan in the Mexican Winter League, going 0-2 with a 0.63 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings.

It might be unfortunate timing for the Mariners that they announce this transaction on the same day that the Rangers are signing Yu Darvish. But Perez is just one of numerous down-on-their-luck veterans that teams all around MLB bring to camp each spring with hopes of having them revive their careers. Nothing more, nothing less.).

It’s official now: Yu Darvish is a Texas Ranger, having reached agreement on a six-year, $56-million contract (not $60 million, as originally circulated), with a chance to earn another $10 million in incentives. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting Yarvish has an opt-out option after the fifth year, but any way you look at it, it’s a substantial expenditure for the Rangers. Add that to the $51,703,411 check the Rangers will now write to the Nippon Ham Fighters — their winning posting bid — and their investment in the 25-year-old pitcher is at least $106.7 million, with the possibility of rising to $116 million.

So now the question is: How deep are the Rangers going to go to counter the Angels’ aggressive actions of Dec. 8, when they spent more money than any team in history ever had on a single day. The Angels dropped $331.5 million to sign the top pitcher on the market, C.J. Wilson (an ex-Ranger), and the top hitter of his generation, Albert Pujols.

If the Rangers are interested in playing “Can You Top This?”, one month later, then they’ll sign Prince Fielder, who as I mentioned in a previous post seems very interested in them. Team president Nolan Ryan has a lot of hefty decisions to make — namely, can the Rangers afford both Darvish and Fielder (which would likely be close to a $300 million combo of their own), and if so, can they then afford Darvish, Fielder and Josh Hamilton?

Hamilton is another key factor in all of this. The 2010 American League MVP, and a huge presence in the Rangers’ batting order, is entering the final year of his contract. He has said he’ll cut off negotiations once spring training starts. This Dallas-based ESPN columnist estimated it would take something like six years and $110 million to get a new deal done. That’s something the Rangers would have to think long and hard about. Hamilton is 30 (31 in May) and has a long injury history. The last three years, he’s played in 89, 133 and 121 games. Yet few hitters in the majors are as productive. If you get Fielder but can’t keep Hamilton, how much of a gain is it for the Rangers?

My feeling is that the Rangers can probably afford to get Fielder and Darvish, and here is the reason: A new television deal, beginning in 2015, that will bring them a reported $80 million a year. Jim Bowden of ESPN, formerly GM of both the Reds and Nationals, tweeted last week that the Rangers could afford to sign both Darvish and Fielder. Jayson Stark of ESPN tweeted today after the Darvish signing that the club could still sign both but don’t feel any urgency to do so. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted that “it would be a mistake” to rule out Rangers’ interest in signing Fielder, even after Darvish. But then there’s this from T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, quoting Rangers GM Jon Daniels today on their chances of pursuing Fielder: “I’m intimately aware of our budget and it’s very unlikely.”

Signing Darvish is likely to push the Rangers’ payroll up to or over $120 million, according to MLB.com.That’s well past the $92 million they spent last year — and Fielder would send it skyrocketing higher (unless there was a corresponding Hamilton trade that sent away the $13.75 million he is owed next year).

But what the Rangers have is a team that, coming off two straight American League pennants, and is jamming fans into their ballpark. They have a hugely lucrative television deal in their back pocket. And they have a burning desire to win the World Series title so painfully grabbed out of their hands in Game 6 last year. They also have one of the most highly competitive men the sport has ever seen, Nolan Ryan, running the show.

The Mariners may still want Prince Fielder, but right now it seems like the Rangers are the ones holding the cards.

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