The Texas Rangers’ 2020 payroll is not completely locked in yet — the offseason isn’t quite over, and I suspect that there will be another move or two before Opening Day — but we are far enough along that it makes sense to at least take a look at where things stand.
Using the data from Cots Contracts, the Rangers’ Opening Day payroll for 2020 is currently projected at $147,966,666. Because all the team’s arbitration cases have settled, there are no unknowns for unsigned players, and Cots is using $4.6 million as an estimate for the 8 spots on the 25 man roster that would need to be filled by players not currently on guaranteed contracts, and who will likely make around the league minimum.
The highest paid player on the team is Shin-Soo Choo, at $21 million, in his last year of his notorious 7 year, $130 million deal. Prince Fielder is the second-highest paid player by the Rangers this year, at $18 million, though with insurance paying approximately half of that, the actual amount that the Rangers are paying (and that we are using for payroll calculation purposes) is $9 million, which makes him the 8th highest paid player on the team.
That amount is less than the $150-170 million that I think we expected to see from the Rangers this season, although it is worth noting that 1) the Rangers have tried to spend more money, including most recently on Nicholas Castellanos, whose decision to go to the Cincinnati Reds instead likely had more to do with the opt-outs making the deal more attractive than any disparity in guaranteed money, and 2) there are still potential moves to be made, particularly for a center fielder.
Nevertheless, if we assume that the Opening Day roster is at $147,966,666 — which assumes that no one else is signed and that every player rounding out the roster is a minimum salary guy — that give the Rangers, per Cots, their third-highest payroll in team history, behind the 2016 and 2017 teams.
The Rangers currently have the 10th most payroll dollars committed for 2020, per Baseball Prospectus, at $142,866,666 for 19 players, though the San Francisco Giants are less than $1 million behind the Rangers and, because they have only 14 players with guaranteed deals, the Giants would creep ahead of the Rangers if we used minimum salaries to round out the 25 man roster.
If we use 2020 payroll based on Sportrac, who has a slightly different methodology from BP and Cots, the Rangers have a payroll of $143,450,000, which is 13th.
Finally, if we look at the BP 2020 payroll page and sort by increase from 2019 to 2020, the Rangers have the third highest percentage increase in payroll right now — 20.8% — and the fourth highest dollar increase in payroll from last year (the New York Yankees have a larger dollar increase but a smaller percentage increase).
So, what can we take away from all this? After a couple of years of lower payrolls as the Rangers have been rebuilding, Texas has, as expected, increased payroll this year with the new stadium opening. Texas has not spent as much as I suspect has been budgeted for 2020, nor have they spent as much as I think we, as fans, would like to see them spend.
Given that they were in on Nicholas Castellanos, who was going to make $14-16 million in 2020, before he signed with Cincinnati, it seems reasonable to believe that the organization is prepared to go to the $165-170 range this year. Thus, I think we could (and, I think, should) see a move between now and Opening Day to add a player who will cost a not-insignificant amount of money.
We have discussed Jackie Bradley, Jr., all offseason. The Rangers need a short-term center field option, and Bradley would fit the bill. The Boston Red Sox are discussing potential Mookie Betts trades, and there seems to be more smoke surrounding that of late, but if they do not deal Betts, the consensus seems to be that they will be likely to offload Bradley for a marginal return. Bradley is making $11 million in his final year before he hits free agency, so acquiring him would likely give the Rangers a payroll in the low-$160M range.
We have also discussed the possibility of pursuing Ender Inciarte from the Atlanta Braves. While Inciarte’s bat has regressed of late, he’s still a very good defensive center fielder, and is slated to make $7 million in 2020 and $8 million in 2021, with a $9 million 2022 option that includes a $1.025 million buyout. With the Braves already having Ronald Acuna, Jr., in the outfield, and having signed Nick Markakis and Marcell Ozuna this past offseason, and having Adam Duvall under contract, and having center fielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters close to major league ready, Inciarte would seem to be someone the Braves could be motivated to move. Like Bradley, Inciarte would likely not cost much more than taking on his contract, which would put the Rangers just shy of $160 million for 2020.
Alternatively, there are free agent center fielders still available — namely, Kevin Pillar, Jarrod Dyson, and Billy Hamilton. None of the three is an exciting option, but given the state of the Rangers, if Texas can’t land Bradley or Inciarte (or a center fielder from another team via trade), I kind of think they have to go get one of those guys. The cost would likely be a few million for any of the three, which the Rangers can easily afford.
Finally, there are the third base trade fantasies. Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado and Kyle Seager are all rumored to be on the block, and are all going to make a lot of money in 2020. I have no doubt the Rangers have varying degrees of interest in each of the three, and have no doubt that if one of these guys is available, the Rangers would stretch the budget to fit them in. Bryant is making $18.6 million in 2020 and Seager is making $19.5 million, which means adding either of those guys would ultimately push the Rangers’ payroll up to close to $170 million, which I think they are prepared to do. Arenado is the White Whale, and I think he would be the least likely of the three to be acquired, but if they landed him and his $35 million salary they’d squeeze it in somehow.
Ultimately, I expect the Rangers to have Matt Duffy or someone like him make the roster as a bench guy at $1 million, one of the extra NRI relievers to make the team at around $1 million, and a center fielder to be added. Whether Opening Day payroll is a little over $150 million, a little under $165 million, or somewhere in between depends on who the center fielder the Rangers add is. Either way, they should be in a position in the summer to take on salary, either because they are performing well and want to make an addition, or because they want to buy a prospect or international slot bonus money, as they’ve done in recent years by taking on the obligations to Austin Jackson, Nate Jones and Welington Castillo.
(Ed. Note — I am aware that the owners are billionaires and could spend much more than this and their lives not be affected. I am coming at this from a descriptive rather than a normative point of view.)