Texas Rangers rumors: Justin Upton is still a free agent, and with camps opening in less than a month, there's more and more talk that the Rangers and Upton could end up being a fit on a relatively short-term deal. This morning, Buster Olney raises the possibility while ranking the Upton-less Rangers as the 2nd best lineup in baseball currently:
Like other teams, the Rangers could have a shot at landing an attractive free agent: If Justin Upton winds up taking a short-term deal before going back into the market next fall, he would fit Texas in a lot of ways. As a right-handed hitter, he could balance a lineup that generally leans left, could play left field, and put up big numbers in the middle of a strong lineup and set himself up well.
Before you get too excited, though, remember this part, which Olney throws in at the end:
It’s unclear whether the Rangers even have the money for Upton …
And that's the rub. The Rangers' payroll looks to be around $140-145M right now. While Olney suggests signing Upton would mean a fourth outfielder role for Josh Hamilton, it seems more likely that signing Upton (or Yoenis Cespedes) would mean trading Mitch Moreland (which would save $6 million or so) and moving Prince Fielder back to first base. Theoretically, you could deal Moreland, maybe move Shawn Tolleson (who has been rumored to be available all offseason) or Tom Wilhelmsen, and expand the payroll by a few million to squeeze Upton in on a backloaded deal.
Of course, if Upton is going to take a short-term deal, it limits how much you could backload it. Upton at $15 million for 2016 is probably doable for the Rangers (and not just Upton -- Jerry Crasnick says the Orioles are willing to go 5 years, $75-90M for Yoenis Cespedes, and I'd wager most teams, including the Rangers, would do 5/$75M for Cespedes, who was projected to get 5-6 years at $20-25M back in October). But Upton at $15M in 2016 only works on a short-term deal if you offer something like $50M total in 2017-18, or else have a heavily backloaded deal with an opt-out after, say, 2017 -- otherwise, Upton isn't going to do that.
Barring that, the Rangers would likely be looking at having to move Prince Fielder or Shin-Soo Choo to sign Upton...and if a team were willing to take Fielder at 5/$90M, or Choo at 5/$103M, they'd probably just sign Upton or Cespedes. And besides, the Rangers are likely going to be looking to move Choo or Fielder after 2016 to clear payroll for the Adrian Beltre extension we think is coming, and open up playing time for Nomar Mazara and/or Joey Gallo. One could theoretically argue that the Rangers could take some of the money they've budgeted for this summer's J-2 class, when they are expected to break their spending pool limits for a class where many other big money teams will have to sit out...but that probably doesn't work, because realistically, most teams likely already have oral agreements in place for the top talent. If the Rangers are planning on spending big in this year's J-2 class, that money has already been committed, and reneging at this stage would cause huge damage to the team's Latin American efforts.
There's also the open question of how much the Rangers really want Upton...we know they coveted him three years ago, when the D-Backs were reportedly demanding Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar for Upton. If you recall, the Rangers supposedly thought they had a deal with the D-Backs for Upton at one point, in a package that was rumored to have included Martin Perez, Cody Buckel, Luis Sardinas, and other parts. Then the Rangers were supposedly working on a three-way deal that would have sent Derek Holland to Seattle with Upton coming to Texas, and then Upton was actually traded to Seattle for Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryorbefore Upton exercised his right to veto the trade. In that parallel universe, of course, we would have missed out on all the Furbush for Fister jokes.
In any case, the reports continue to circulate that the Rangers aren't exactly in on Upton (and Cespedes), but aren't exactly out, either. You hear that they are "monitoring the situation" or "staying in contact" or some such, reports that are usually followed up with "but they have no money to spend." Jon Daniels could go to ownership and ask for them to stretch payroll for Upton, but the last time JD did that, it was to get them to open up their wallets to sign Shin-Soo Choo, a deal that...well, a deal that JD probably wishes he could get a mulligan on.
So we watch, and we wait, and see if some team swoops in out of the blue with a 7 year, $175M offer for Upton that makes these discussions moot (remember four winters ago, when we were speculating that Prince Fielder's market might drop to the point that the Rangers would get him cheap?), and get us back to hoping that Josh Hamilton can somehow be both healthy and productive for 2016 or that Mazara comes in a hurry. And until that happens, we will continue to have the "whatifs" of the Rangers and Justin Upton...