I find it easy to write about teams that fall in either of the two following categories: 1) Very successful 2) Terrible. It’s easy to find material to discuss when talking about teams with a legitimate World Series shot. It’s also easy to find material for the perennially bad. In this case, I’ll focus on the good verse the bad, but with the preface that the good in this case could become bad very fast.
The Rangers did what most teams cannot. They made the World Series in back-to-back years. Unfortunately for them and their fan base, Texas lost both series. The 2012 season seems like another chance for the Rangers to make a deep run. They have the Angels to compete with now with C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols‘ additions. However, the Angels had enough problems in 2011 that the addition of those two players does not make them an instant favorite to win the division, let alone win the World Series. The Rangers are still in the driver’s seat, but that could change very quickly.
Earlier this week, Josh Hamilton essentially said he doesn’t owe a thing to the Rangers. And he’s right. The Rangers wouldn’t bat an eyelash at releasing or trading Hamilton should his numbers dip. Hamilton, in turn, has no reason to hesitate at taking more money from another team this offseason if he can get it. Of course, Hamilton quickly clarified his remarks this past Sunday by saying, “My loyalty is here. This is where I’ve been.” But the truth is, Hamilton could easily become a free agent after 2012, and so could Mike Napoli.
Napoli is the often overlooked secret weapon of the Rangers. The Angels let him walk, thinking they could do better. They were wrong. Now the Rangers may allow him to walk. They’d be wrong to do so as well. Mike Napoli can play first base, catcher, and can fill in as a designated hitter. He hit .320/.414/.631 last season and was worth 5.5 wins. By far, these were the best numbers of his career. Call it an anomaly, but Napoli’s career averages make him a player worth keeping. But like Hamilton, Napoli may become a free agent after this season.
Napoli recently spoke with Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star Telegram:
"I’d love to be here, but I’ll test the market. Every player plays to get to free agency. But it’s not something I’m going to worry about. That’s why I have my agent."
Hamilton and Napoli combined for 263 hits, 152 runs scored, 56 doubles, 55 home runs, and 169 RBI last season. Those numbers are difficult to replace with three or four guys, let alone two. Should the Rangers allow both to walk in free agency (and make no mistake, not offering a contract higher than the expected competition equates to letting them walk), the team will suffer in a major way.
There will always be available talent, but the Ranger struck gold in getting Hamilton – in a down year no less – and Napoli on the same team at the same time. The Rangers made the World Series in 2010 without Napoli, but Hamilton was there. Prior to Hamilton’s arrival, the team had not even made the postseason since 1999. I’m not naive enough to think that Hamilton was the reason for this sudden change to competitive baseball. I will, however, make the claim that the Rangers willingness to spend money on players like Hamilton and Napoli is the reason for their success. They play in a bandbox in Arlington, and big time offensive players get even bigger in Texas. However, that combination of power and on-base percentage found in Napoli and Hamilton will be hard to replicate.
The Rangers will need to re-evaluate their offers before letting both these players walk. They may simply be waiting to see what the market value is for both Hamilton and Napoli, but if they wait too long, they may find the value is much higher than they expected. After tying up so much of their payroll in Yu Darvish‘s contract and posting fees, the team would be better served to hammer out a deal before allowing these two sluggers to truly realize their full monetary value.
Hamilton will make $13.75 million in 2012. In today’s market, it’s clear he’s worth more than that. Despite his addiction issues and his propensity for injury, Hamilton is worth somewhere in the $18-20 million range per year. Napoli will make $9.4 million, a figure the Rangers and he agreed on to avoid arbitration. If he continues putting up numbers like he did in 2011, it’s clear that Napoli will be due a hefty raise. He’s the type of player, that if all goes well, could command the type of contract Hamilton is currently being paid.
Many fans don’t want to hear about these astronomical figures, but baseball is a high-dollar business. That’s just part of the game today. The Rangers want to continue winning. They want sold-out, rabid crowds. They want long lines at the concessions and huge TV contracts. These things require a willingness to shell out the dough. The Rangers don’t have to be the Red Sox or Yankees when it comes to payroll, but they can’t be the Angels or the Mariners either. They’ve got to fall somewhere in between.
Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are cogs in an offensive machine. Remove one and a replacement part may keep the machine operable. Remove both, and the machine will fall apart. This is what Texas is faced with if they can’t get contract extensions done for both of these players. The magical run of the Texas Rangers may last through 2012, but beyond that lies a big question mark. How much are the Rangers ultimately willing to pay? Will they shed players in other key spots to retain Hamilton and Napoli? Will they make the assumption that the Angels did with Napoli after 2010 – that these players are replaceable?
While the Rangers should be the favorite in the American League West (and I know some will debate that), their run of division titles and American league pennants may soon be coming to a close. That is, unless they can find the money to get extensions done for Hamilton and Napoli.