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Looking to 2021: Texas Rangers Payroll

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Taking a look at the Rangers’ payroll situation this offseason

MLB: Texas Rangers-Workouts Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

As the Texas Rangers shift their focus, in the aftermath of their 8 game losing streak that has put them, if not completely out of contention, at least in a deep hole they are unlikely to dig out of, from 2020 to 2021, its worth taking a moment for us to peruse the Rangers’ payroll situation for 2021, in terms of what they have committed, and to whom.

The Opening Day payroll for the 2020 Texas Rangers was, per Cots, $153,136,666 pre-pandemic. That puts the Rangers in the middle of the pack for 2020, in the 13-15 range, depending on how you calculate signing bonuses and the like, just ahead of the San Diego Padres, and a little behind the Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Braves.

Cots has the Rangers with $63,083,000 committed currently for 2021, for the following players, with actual salary along with the pro-rated portion of the signing bonus, which Cots allocates due to the fact that MLB uses that method to determine payroll for luxury tax purposes, along with how much of the signing bonus is being paid in 2021:

Elvis Andrus — $14 million, plus $250,000 pro-rated signing bonus

Lance Lynn — $8 million, plus $1,333,000 pro-rated signing bonus (all of which has been paid)

Kyle Gibson — $9 million, plus $666,667 pro-rated signing bonus ($1 million of the signing bonus is paid in January, 2021)

Rougned Odor — $12 million, plus $333,000 pro-rated signing bonus (all of which has been paid)

Jordan Lyles — $7 million, plus $1 million pro-rated signing bonus (all of which appears to have been paid)

Jose Leclerc — $4 million, plus $500,000 pro-rated signing bonus (all of which has been paid)

Joely Rodriguez — $2.5 million

Todd Frazier — $1.5 million buyout of 2021 option

Robinson Chirinos — $1 million buyout of 2021 option

Corey Kluber — $1 million buyout of 2021

The Frazier and Chirinos options will be picked up, I would assume at this point, unless the players are traded. Frazier’s option is for $5.75 million, which means that it costs the Rangers $4.25 million to bring him back rather than buy him out, and Chirinos’ option is for $6.5 million, which means that it would be $5.5 million to bring him back.

While it is possible that the Rangers could decline Chirinos’ option — he’s not hit real well, and $5.5 million is $5.5 million — the Rangers have no internal options other than Jose Trevino for 2021, so I suspect that the Rangers would pick up the option with an eye towards Chirinos and Trevino splitting time in 2021, barring getting someone from outside the organization.

So, if we add the $9.75 million for picking up those options, and apply the actual payouts for 2021 (rather than pro-rated signing bonuses), we are at around $70 million.

The Rangers have five players who appear likely to be arbitration-eligible heading into 2021 — Danny Santana, Joey Gallo, Rafael Montero, Nick Goody, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. IKF won’t have three years of service time, but appears to be a lock to be a Super Two.

Gallo is, of course, the big one. Let’s just make the math easy and say, after getting $4.4 million in 2020, he will receive $10 million in arbitration. That gets us to $80 million.

Santana is a question mark — he is making $3.6 million in 2020 and will be entering his final year of arbitration eligibility. He has missed time in 2020 and hasn’t hit much so far. He is probably looking at around $4.5 million for 2021 in arbitration, which, if he doesn’t hit the rest of the way, the Rangers probably won’t feel is a worthwhile investment. His defensive versatility makes him appealing, but he has to provide more than a 606 OPS, something he’s done only twice, in 2014 and 2019 (when he put up 824 and 857 OPSs, respectively).

Montero has taken over the closer role, and closers get paid. If he keeps closing, put him down for $2.5-3 million in 2021.

Goody could be non-tendered, and if he isn’t, he will probably cost around $1 million. IKF isn’t being non-tendered, but will also probably cost around $1 million.

Assuming for the sake of discussion that the Rangers hang onto all five arb-eligible guys, that puts Texas at around $19-20 million for them. That puts payroll at around $100 $90 million. (Ed. Note — Double-counted Gallo’s salary)

You notice I didn’t discuss Corey Kluber’s 2021 option in the above discussion. Kluber and Minor are, in my mind, somewhat linked together — guys you could bring back for one year, but at a price that isn’t warranted by 2020 performance. Kluber’s 2021 option is for $1418 million (its technically a vesting option now since he was traded, but it won’t vest since he’s going to be on the injured list virtually all year), while Minor can be given a qualifying offer, expected to be around $17-18 million. (Ed. Note — I had the Kluber option figure wrong — it increased from the $14 million base to $18 million based on incentives he has met)

The argument for exercising the option on Kluber is that he looked good in spring training and in summer camp, and he suffered an arm injury that may well be due to the shortened run-up to the start of the season, rather than some inherent flaw. He should be throwing before the Rangers have to make their decision on him, allowing them to better evaluate where he is. Paying $137 million (the delta between his 2021 salary and his buyout) for one year on Kluber isn’t necessarily a bad gamble.

With Minor, a lot will depend on how he looks over the final month — the 32 year old has had issues maintaining (or even finding) his velocity this year, and while his K and walk rates are consistent with 2019, his home run rate has almost doubled. Interestingly, Minor’s .286 BABIP is almost identical with 2019, when he had a .287 BABIP, and his xFIP of 4.67 is in line with what he did in both 2018 (4.60) and 2019 (4.67).

Given his age, the struggles he has had this year, and the uncertainty of the 2020-21 free agent market, I have to think that if the Rangers make the qualifying offer to Minor, he almost certainly takes it. What Texas will have to weigh is to what extent Minor, who it is well-established is extremely routine-oriented, is being impacted by the changes MLB has put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to what extent he’s just not the same guy who gave them a 6.6 fWAR and an 11.2 bWAR in 2019-20.

If we assume that the Rangers either pick up Kluber’s option or don’t offer Minor the QO (or offer it and he declines), but not both, that puts the Rangers at a payroll of about $120 $110 million for 2021, factoring in minimum salary guys who round out the roster. That would also give them four returning veterans for the rotation, with a spot open for one of the internal options or a cheap free agent signing, allowing them to devote their offseason budget to fixing the lineup, assuming everyone else returns.

Which, of course, is a big assumption, and is what makes spitballing this situation difficult.

If we assume that the Rangers keep the guys under control currently back, along with Kluber or Minor, that means the Rangers would likely be primed to go after a couple of impact hitters. Assuming the Rangers keep a payroll consistent with 2020, they have the financial wherewithal to pursue a George Springer, who would provide a righthanded middle of the order bat who could play center field or, if Leody Taveras shows himself ready, slide to a corner, potentially letting Willie Calhoun DH while Nick Solak moves to second base. J.T. Realmuto will be hitting the market as the top catcher on the market, and has been a consistent 4-5 win player the last several years.

Nelson Cruz will be a free agent, if the Rangers wanted to have a reunion with him and plug him in at DH on a short-term deal. Justin Turner will also be a free agent, and given his age (he turns 36 in November), would seem to be an option for a middle of the order righty bat who would require a short term deal. Nick Castellanos, who the Rangers pursued last offseason, can opt out of his deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and thus could be back on teh market.

The Rangers can go out and get a couple of impact hitters to add to the current group they have in place — they have the financial ability to do so, and there are options that will be out there.

But the bigger question is whether they are going to keep the current group together or not.

There has already been talk about the possibility of Lance Lynn being shopped. Rafael Montero and Joely Rodriguez have been mentioned as potential trade candidates. Joey Gallo, who is a free agent after 2022, would seem likely to bring back a significant package, if he were dealt. Todd Frazier, a useful bat who has a cheap option for 2021, could be moved.

Dealing relievers like Montero and Rodriguez is not a particularly game-changing decision — the Rangers have a lot of relief arms in the system, and have had success finding guys off the street who have had success. Whether to keep or move Frazier also is a minor decision in the overall scheme of things.

But Lance Lynn and Joey Gallo are different. Those are the Rangers’ two best players. They would bring significant returns. And they would leave huge holes in the roster not easily filled.

If you think you can contend in 2021, you hold onto those guys. If you don’t think you can contend in 2021, you probably have to aggressively shop Lance Lynn. And if you are aggressively shopping Lance Lynn, you probably have to either believe you can ink Gallo to an extension this offseason, or see what sort of return he would bring in the trade market.

And if you are dealing Lynn and Gallo, all the talk above about payroll and what the Rangers have to spend isn’t really all that relevant, because not only are you subtracting around $20 million from your projected 2021 payroll (thus theoretically increasing what you have available to spend), you’re committing to a path that means you are looking past 2021, which means that you’re going to be less inclined to make big financial commitments this offseason to try to win in the immediate future.

With the trade deadline being August 31 — six days away — I guess a week from now we will know which way things are heading.