The Texas Rangers’ 2019 payroll is a topic I likely would have covered earlier this month, except I haven’t felt terribly motivated to do so. Normally, we are obsessing over what the budget looks like, what is allocated, how much room the Rangers have to make moves in the offseason to push them over the top. With the Rangers in rebuilding mode, however, it is likely the payroll will be lower in 2019 than in 2018, with less money currently on the books, and less motivation to spend, given that the team has acknowledged it is unlikely to be a playoff contender next year.
That said, we might as well peruse where things stand so we know what theoretical options there are in 2019.
Currently, the Rangers have $67.25 million allocated to five current players (Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, Mike Minor and Chris Martin) and two former players (Prince Fielder, net of insurance, and Austin Jackson). In addition, the Rangers appear likely to decline the options of Martin Perez, Matt Moore and Doug Fister, whose buyouts would total $2 million, and will pay Cole Hamels’ $6 million buyout of his $20 million team option for 2019 if the Chicago Cubs don’t exercise the option. Robinson Chirinos, meanwhile, has a 2019 option for $2.375 million that is almost certain to be picked up. That gets us to $77.625 million.
The Rangers have arbitration cases for five players who almost certainly will be tendered contracts for 2019 — Jurickson Profar, Nomar Mazara, Alex Claudio, Delino DeShields, and Matt Bush. That group probably pushes you to somewhere around $90 million in payroll. Ryan Rua, Eddie Butler, Hanser Alberto and Carlos Perez are also all arbitration-eligible, but if any of them return, it will be for something not much more than the league minimum.
So if the Rangers wanted to spend money, they easily could. They dropped payroll significantly this year, to $133 million to start the season, but even assuming they stayed at that level, that would give them about $40 million to go out and splurge. And Texas appears unlikely to be in a position to need position players — sure, they could use a quality center fielder, especially if you see Delino as a fourth outfielder, but other than that, there’s no holes in the lineup, and even if Adrian Beltre doesn’t return, Texas has more corner bats than they have room for, and likely will need to move one of the Joey Gallo/Nomar Mazara/Willie Calhoun/Ronald Guzman/Shin-Soo Choo group.
Everyone is yelling “trade Choo” right now, of course, and if they could do so and eat just some, rather than all, his 2019 salary, that would clear up more payroll room...but again, to what end? The Rangers have just one starting pitcher in their 2019 rotation right now, Mike Minor. They may use an opener without a “true” starting pitcher for one spot in 2019, and who knows, maybe they go with Yohander Mendez for a little while...but otherwise, they have holes in the rotation, and don’t appear to feel good enough about their 2019 contention chances to splurge on big-dollar free agents.
So what we will likely see is some moves similar to last season, when Doug Fister, Matt Moore and Mike Minor were brought in on relatively inexpensive deals. Moore was a disaster, Fister was okay until he got hurt, and Minor was a success. Unless Clayton Kershaw opts out and indicates he wants to come home, Texas isn’t likely to spend big on a long-term expensive deal for a starting pitcher. Instead, they’ll probably look to see if one of the lefty bats can bring back a controllable pitcher they can try to plug into the rotation, will go with a reclamation case or two like Drew Pomeranz or Sonny Gray or Gio Gonzalez, will look to get creative if there’s another Mike Minor-type out there, and otherwise will bide their time until the starting pitchers who ended the year at Frisco are ready.
The bullpen is up in the air as well, but Texas isn’t going to spend big there either. Probably two-three guys of the Tony Barnette/Chris Martin variety, maybe a reunion with Jake Diekman, but probably not more than $5-8 million spend on relievers. That, plus whatever costs are associated with whatever starting pitchers the Rangers opt to bring to Arlington, will be the money that is likely to be used above and beyond what’s currently committed.
Unless, of course, Adrian Beltre decides to come back for one more year.