The Prestige of Small Payroll Baseball – Texas Rangers 2010

This is the 2nd in a series of articles examining how small payroll teams have found success in recent years.  The goal is to try and determine what methods were successful in an attempt for the Pirates to emulate them.  The Minnesota Twins were the first team studied, in case you want to see the methodology of these articles.

The Pledge

Entering the 2010 season, the Rangers had the #1 ranked farm system (as determined by Baseball America) and a large amount of present-day talent on the roster.  They were coming off of an 87-75 season in 2009 and expectations were high.

But due to Tom Hicks’ sports holding company Hicks Sports Group (an umbrella group containing the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers, and Liverpool in the English Premier League) defaulting on interest payments on the $525M in loans he had on them, the Texas Rangers filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Essentially, the Rangers were a frozen asset and no major expenditures could be made without MLB approval.  As a result, the Rangers had a 2010 Opening Day payroll of $55.3M, good for 27th out of 30 MLB teams.

And yet the 2010 Rangers finished 90-72 (improving their run differential from +34 in 2009 to +100 in 2010), won the AL West, and advanced to the World Series where they lost to the Giants.

The Turn

In order to understand how the Rangers won in 2010, you need to go back to 2007.  In July of 2007, the Rangers were floundering around on their way to a 75-87 finish.  During that month, GM Jon Daniels decided to trade franchise star Mark Teixeira and reliever Ron Mahay to the Braves.  In return the Rangers received: one of the top catcher prospects at the time (Jarrod Saltalamacchia), a future defensive whiz at shortstop (Elvis Andrus), a back of the rotation starter prospect (Matt Harrison), a young reliever prospect (Beau Jones), and a flamethrowing youngster in the Gulf Coast League (Neftali Feliz).  At the time, Saltalamacchia and Andrus were seen as the keys to the deals and Feliz was the lottery ticket to be excited about if he truly developed.

Teixeira’s contract that he signed with the Rangers was up at the end of 2008.  It was widely viewed that he would be out of their price range, so let’s compare the Wins Above Replacement for this trade with Teixeira’s contributions in 2007 and 2008.  Also, keep in mind that the Braves ended up trading Teixeira to the Angels in 2008 once they fell out of contention.

Mark Teixeira (2.3, 7.3 in 2007, 2008 with ATL/LAA) = 9.6

Ron Mahay (0.3 in 2007 with ATL) = 0.3

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (-0.4, 0.3, 0.4, 0.1 in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 with TEX) = 0.4

Elvis Andrus (3.1, 1.5 in 2009, 2010 with TEX) = 4.6

Matt Harrison (0.6, 0.6, -0.1 in 2008, 2009, 2010 with TEX) = 1.1

Neftali Feliz (1.1, 1.7 in 2009, 2010 with TEX) = 2.8

The Braves received 9.9 WAR from Teixeira and Mahay, while the Rangers have received 8.9 WAR to date.  Saltalamacchia was traded to Boston, as his hitting never adjusted to the major league level and he developed a slight Mackey Sasser Syndrome with his throwing.  Matt Harrison is a 5th starter at best, but still provides innings.  Beau Jones is still in the minors, but should be in Texas in 2011 as a bullpen option.  Even with the minimal contributions from those three, Texas has clearly won this trade because of Andrus and Feliz.

2010 was a down year with the bat for Andrus, highlighted by his 0 HR’s in 586 plate appearances, but his defense was Gold Glove caliber again.  Feliz was a dominant setup man in 2009 down the stretch for Texas and moved into the closer position in 2010.  There is talk that if the Rangers do not re-sign Cliff Lee that Feliz will be moved back to a starter’s role, which is what he was all through the minors.  His upper 90’s fastball and devastating curveball are a good beginning to a starter’s arsenal.  These two players will continue to add to the running WAR total in Texas’s favor for many years each.

Additionally, in December 2007, the Rangers and Reds got together on a swap of “fallen angel” prospects.  The Rangers traded Edinson Volquez (and Danny Herrera) to the Reds for Josh Hamilton.  Volquez was once part of the much hyped DVD trio of Thomas Diamond, Volquez, and John Danks.  These three were going to lead the Rangers to glory.  Diamond developed shoulder problems, and only in 2010 reached the majors as a reliever with the Cubs, Volquez was traded for Hamilton, and Danks was traded to the White Sox.

Josh Hamilton was drafted 1st overall in 1999 by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays and was the next great phenom.  He was said to possess all 5 tools and was oozing with talent.  However, after flashing his greatness very early in his minor league career, he was derailed by injuries and the subsequent drug problems that he encountered while recovering from these injuries.  After returning from a long drug suspension in 2006, Hamilton did not show enough during the season to warrant being protected on the 40-man roster by the Rays.  The Cubs drafted him in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and immediately traded him to the Reds for cash considerations.  In 2007, Hamilton not only treaded water with the Reds, but did quite well especially considering all the rust he had to scrape off.  That year, he hit a very respectable .292/.368/.554 (922 OPS) in 90 games for the Reds, but he did have some injuries.  The Reds felt that trading an injury prone Rule 5 pickup, essentially a free player, for a potential top of the rotation starter with some injury and attitude warts was an even trade.

After 2008, it did look like it was a win-win trade for both teams, but then Volquez had Tommy John surgery and missed half of 2009 and half of 2010.  And Josh Hamilton fulfilled all of his promise and potential and delivered a massive 2010 season that resulted in the AL MVP.  Here’s the WAR breakdown to date:

Edinson Volquez (4.2, 0.3, 0.9 in 2008, 2009, 2010 with CIN) = 5.4

Danny Herrera (0.0, 0.4, 0.2 in 2008, 2009, 2010 with CIN) = 0.6

Josh Hamilton (3.8, 1.3, 8.0 in 2008, 2009, 2010 with TEX) = 13.1

Cincinnati has received 6.0 WAR from their end, while Texas has received 13.1 WAR and an AL MVP and World Series appearance from theirs.  Even factoring in Hamilton’s escalating arbitration costs, this is still a clear win for Texas.

Between these two trades, the Rangers obtained their starting shortstop in Andrus (age 22 in 2011), their closer/potential starter in Feliz (23 in 2011) and a starting OF and reigning AL MVP in Hamilton.  That’s how you build a winner through trades.

The Prestige

In 2010, the Rangers’ offensive was led by the following players.  In parentheses is their 2010 season age and the method in which they were obtained.

Josh Hamilton (29, trade with CIN in 2007) .359/.411/.633 (1044 OPS, 175 OPS+)

Nelson Cruz (29, trade with MIL in 2006) .318/.374/.576 (950 OPS, 150 OPS+)

Vlad Guerrero (35, free agent) .300/.345/.496 (841 OPS, 122 OPS+)

Ian Kinsler (28, draft 17th round in 2003) .286/.382/.412 (794 OPS, 113 OPS+)

Michael Young (33, trade with TOR in 2000) .284/.330/.444 (774 OPS, 105 OPS+)

As you can see, their primary contributors were mostly obtained via trades.  To date, their fertile farm system has not produced a whole lot of offensive talents.

During this season, the Rangers also had quite a few black holes offensively.  Catcher was a season long problem offensively, as Matt Treanor (60 OPS+), Bengie Molina (60 OPS+), Max Ramirez (85 OPS+), Taylor Teagarden (59 OPS+), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (8 OPS+, yes an 8 is not a typo) all took turns being anywhere from horrific to cringe-inducing with the bat.  At least Treanor and Molina stabilized the pitching staff and provided decent defense.  First base was also a problem, as once-heralded prospects Chris Davis (54 OPS+) and Justin Smoak (79 OPS+) both failed to solidify the position.  It wasn’t until mid-season call up Mitch Moreland arrived (121 OPS+) that the position was one of strength.  Additionally, Andrus was a disappointment with the bat (75 OPS+) and Borbon was weak both at the plate (74 OPS+) and in center field at times.

The 2010 Rangers’ starting pitching was an amalgamation of players in terms of their backgrounds and how they arrived in Texas’ rotation.  Again, in parentheses is their 2010 season age and the method they were obtained.

C.J. Wilson (29, draft 5th round in 2001) 15-8, 3.35 ERA, 204 IP, 161 H, 4.1 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

Colby Lewis (30, FA but originally drafted by TEX in 1999) 12-13, 3.72 ERA, 201 IP, 174 H, 2.9 BB/9, 8.8 K/9

Scott Feldman (27, draft 30th round in 2003) 7-11, 5.48 ERA, 141 IP, 181 H, 2.9 BB/9, 4.8 K/9

Tommy Hunter (23, draft 1st round in 2007) 13-4, 3.73 ERA, 128 IP, 126 H, 2.3 BB/9, 4.8 K/9

Rich Harden (28, free agent) 5-5, 5.58, 92 IP, 91 H, 6.1 BB/9, 7.3 K/9

Cliff Lee (31, trade with SEA in 2010) 4-6, 3.98 ERA, 108 IP, 103 H, 1.0 BB/9, 8.0 K/9

C.J. Wilson was the setup man/part-time closer as recently as 2009, so his jump in innings from 73 to 204 in one year bears watching.  Colby Lewis was drafted by the Rangers in 1999, labored with them for a few years, bounced to Detroit and Oakland, then spent the previous 2 years in Japan before returning on a free agent deal in 2010.  Feldman was a late round draft choice that panned out.  Tommy Hunter was a compensatory pick for the Rangers losing Mark DeRosa to free agency in 2006.  Rich Harden was a boom-or-bust gamble that busted, while Cliff Lee was obtained from SEA for the afore-mentioned Justin Smoak and three other prospects.

It was truly an odd mix of how each starter got to that point in the rotation.  On the back end of the pitching staff, Neftali Feliz locked things down as the closer with 40 saves over 69 IP, 43 H, 2.3 BB/9, 9.2 K/9.

Contrary to the Minnesota Twins method of success, the Rangers did not rely on homegrown talent (at least to this point) for their success.  Rather, their key pieces were obtained in trades with some judicious free agents sprinkled in to the mix.

Author: Kevin Creagh

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  • Anonymous

    Actually if you want to give hope to Pirates fans, you should link this article about the GM. If anything, it shows that Neal could turn out like Daniels if he learns from his mistakes like Daniels did.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Daniels

  • Lee Young

    Tim….I have agreed all along that Marte needs more time to ‘cook’. I lean towards K Law’s eval of him…

    In other words:

    ***DON”T FREE STARLING MARTE….HE ISN’T STERLING YET!***

  • cocktailsfor2

    Hear, hear.

  • Dom DiDominic

    Prior to the season, NH was adement that Starling needed an entire year at AAA. By the recent “cold” streek in AAA, does nothing to his trade value. If he came up, then did not hit lights out, his trade value does down very quickly. Let’s see where we are August 1st before even thinking about Marte.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1307305 Matt Clements

    At some point, shouldn’t we be more concerned about putting the best product out there for the big league squad? There was an easily catchable ball last night that fell in front of Sutton in the 8th inning. I know Starling would have made that play. If it wasn’t for McCutchen’s gold glove, we could’ve blown the lead. We need even the potential of having Marte’s bat and defense- its costing us big league games now to keep him down.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I don’t think you bring up prospects based on how they compare to the major league team’s options. You bring up prospects when they’re ready.

      As for Sutton, it didn’t cost them the game, so what’s the point? I agree, Sutton isn’t the best defensively. If that’s the concern, put in Gorkys.

  • IC Bob

    Tim your nit picking. Your calling a 243 line a slump. Every player goes through ups and downs. Most slumps are when a guy hits 100. In Martes case his down is a 243 line with a 12% walk rate (likely a 340OBP). Quite frankly I don’t think the team can afford to keep him back. Players will go through slumps at all levels. If he struggles you send him back and he truly understands what he needs to get done. One thing we know for sure is he will be a major upgrade defensively over anyone we play.

    • maguro

      Agreed. No one hits .300 every single week of the season.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Every player does go through ups and downs. But which one is to be believed in Marte’s case? He had hot streak, followed by a cold streak. His strikeouts are way up during the cold streak. All I’m saying is give him more time to show which one is legit.

  • JohnDreker

    Before the season started, I wanted Marte to spend the entire year at AAA even if he hit like last year, which he isn’t. He has slightly improved his walk rate but he has struck out even more often this year and he still doesn’t properly utilize his speed on the bases. He still has time to learn, he was rushed through the system prior to last year. Marte played 125 games over the four lowest levels of the minors, not even a full season at any league. He’s a September call-up in my mind

  • Dave Parker’s Unfiltered Camel

    The strikeout/BB issue is the one weak spot for Marte. Compare his AAA numbers to Cutch’s full year in AAA and Marte’s numbers are basically pretty favorable with the exception of his BB/K. In the end, it all boils down to this: does Marte join the Pirates this year or next year? As far as this year goes, he is what he is, so another two weeks in AAA will not change him.

  • RandyLinville

    I’d rather have him come up now when things are going well for the offense (therefore less pressure on Marte to deliver) than wait three or four weeks when the club has a tough stretch on the schedule where the club plays better teams. As Matt Clements pointed out in his comment, the defensive lineup is shabby with Sutton in the OF where he clearly doesn’t belong. Move Sutton to SS where he is a capable defender and put Marte in the OF and bench Clint Barmes. That’s almost certainly an upgrade on both offense and defense.

    I don’t see the point in waiting. If this team is looking to trade Marte for a proven ML bat, a couple of bad weeks in the Show won’t be a detriment to teams that have thoroughly evaluated him.

    IMHO, I don’t believe Marte is going to be a star. But I think he is a better option right now than anything else we have.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Sutton can’t play shortstop. You’d go from bad defense in the outfield to bad defense at shortstop, which I think could be worse.

  • Shawn

    So if he’s not hitting .350+ with 3 HR every week, he’s not ready for a promotion? Come on. Midnight will soon be here for Drew Sutton’s pumpkin-carriage and his OF defense is atrocious. Tabata isn’t earning a promotion anytime soon and I can only watch Alex Presley flail at a first pitch so many times. Put your BEST PLAYERS on the field. Marte, right now, is better than all of the guys I mentioned, despite his “10 game slump”. A “10 game slump” in which he’s put up a .781 OPS, which just so happens to be 110 points higher than Presley’s MLB OPS this season and 145 points better than Tabata’s.

    So much flip-flopping here about Marte that I would think I was at IHOP.

    • Shawn

      And hitting is only one aspect of his game. The guy can steal bases and plays OF defense that might be better than Hernandez. Anytime a promotion is in order, hitting is always the go-to stat. In fact, 90% of the time it’s the ONLY stat brough up. There’s a lot more to the game than what you do in the batter’s box and it’s constantly overlooked.

  • maguro

    “We can dismiss all of this with two phrases: small sample size, and arbitrary end points. But if a nine game hot streak was all people needed to see to call Marte up, then why shouldn’t this recent streak bring some concerns that he’s not quite ready?”

    Kind of a strawman argument there. The nine game hitting streak isn’t the reason he should be called up, his performance over the entire season is. He’s at .286/.349/.490 his first time through AAA, and he offers plus defense in the outfield.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Prior to the 9 game hitting streak, he had a .754 OPS. No one was making daily calls for him to be promoted. All of that started with the streak.

      You take that stretch out, and he’s got a .757 OPS on the season. Now that’s not totally fair. He did hit for those numbers, so you can’t take them out. But my question has always been: how legit are those numbers? Is that something he can do on a regular basis? Or is it just a fluke?

      Last year we saw Matt Hague put up better numbers than Marte in the month of June. He didn’t repeat that the rest of the year. He flashed those numbers in Spring Training, but hasn’t shown them since. Is that going to be the case with Marte? Was it a one month fluke, or is he ready to the point that he can do that on a consistent basis.

      All I’m saying is give him more time to prove which Marte is legit. And to me, an .839 OPS on the year doesn’t scream that he’s ready for the majors. That’s not exactly dominant.

  • BarryJT

    If he’s being pitched around to the point he’s getting just a couple of pitches to hit a game and he’s driving those pitches, then I think that might mean there’s no point for him to stay in the minors.

  • John DiVito

    So basically, the Rays were penalized for winning baseball games and doing so with a reasonable payroll in a small market. MLB must have the same accountants as Congress :)

    • john.alcorn

      The entire CBA is designed to punish teams for winning on a small budget. It makes sustained success for small market clubs much more difficult.
      The Sox complain, Bud listens, they get to spend $3 million more than us in the draft. Great!

  • Lee Young

    Tim….I agree.

    Only one thing I want to mention about Tampa….KARMA!! Makes up for all those extra (inexplicable) picks they got a year ago. I ain’t crying for them. IF there was one team to ‘leave out’, it would’ve been them.

    .

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      That was them being smart and playing the system to their advantage.

      I feel like a Rays fan sometimes with the way I follow their moves.

      • Lee Young

        I agree they played the system, but this makes up for the inequities in that old system. I root for the Rays, too, but since they got all those picks, I didn’t shed a tear when they were left out.

        However, it WOULD be nice if they’d make the lotto fairer or just do away with it all together and slot them.

  • capirate

    This is Bud’s system, which means that the worst possible way of doing something will be chosen.

  • http://twitter.com/mjdouble Marcus J

    Bravo to MLB for creating a system that puts the skinny kids on a diet while the fat kids gets to feast on ice cream at an all you can eat buffet.

  • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

    You’re absolutely right. You could take out a bad stretch and his numbers would look better than they are right now.

    My argument isn’t for anything other than giving him more time to show what he really is capable of doing. I’m not saying he’s ready. I’m not saying he’s not ready. I’m saying we don’t know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    My comment would be, in regards to season totals in the minors, is that is a flowed argument. In the minors, you should be able to see some sort of growth; from month to month, beginning to mid to the end of the season, etc. so that’s why I don’t take much stock in the entire line score for a year. If grossman

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    ….goes on to hit .270 this year, will people look and say, that was an alright season for him moving up, or will they acknowledgethat while he had a miserable start that he was a .300 for most of the season, the final stages of it at that. I just think in regards to Marte, that offensive production wasn’t necessarily why he found himself in Indy rather than Pittsburgh. The key to his ultimate success is going to rely on his plate patience. The guys always been able to hit, and equally may always strike out, but the goal for his continued development has little to do with what his average has been the last month and a half and more about how he got it. The goal here is that you bring him up and that better pitchers, with better breaking balls don’t take him for granted, because if Ra not ready, they can and will do that. This would be entirely different for a guy like Grossman, who has solid peripherals, when he’s in AAA, it will simply be a matter of, is this guy actually hitting enough? You just can’t set your hitters up to be overly exploited by the next level. I mean, personally, I say bring him up and see what you have. I don’t disagree with those people preaching patience, I’m just an impatient fan. Lol

  • MikeEaslerFan

    +1 The idea behind a lottery system in regards to a draft was to ensure fair competition. In other words, a lottery would deter teams from tanking it to gain a significant edge in the draft. In this situation that isnt much of a concern. Its hard to comprehend any legitimate reason to use a lottery here. Its borderline mind boggling and idiotic.