Top of the world.
Thursday morning, the Baseball Prospectus staff published a story called “The Lineup Card: 12 Items That Tell the Story of the 2013 Season.” At number 11 was a lengthy entry by BP writer Nick J. Faleris, which he titled “The Rangers’ International Spending Spree.”
In Faleris’s section, he went into interesting detail on the tactics Texas deployed last year on players like righthander Marcos Diplan, shortstops Yeyson Yrizarri and Michael De Leon, and outfielder Jose Almonte, blowing through the club’s allotted cap and absorbing the codified penalty for doing so, which happens to restrict what the Rangers will be able to in 2014’s J2 period but, for teams exceeding their cap going forward at the level Texas has done in 2013, the primary restrictions will extend not just to the following year of international signings but actually to two years of such spending.
Faleris spells it out: “That’s right. While the Rangers are forfeiting the right to spend big next year, any team hoping to follow suit in gobbling up a bunch of top talent in a single signing period will have to forfeit big spending for a two year period. By acting first in this manner, the Rangers have effectively claimed an advantage on the international amateur scene that no team can match. Strategically, it’s a home run; scouting and development will ultimately determine whether that impressive first move results in an on-field advantage for the big club.”
And this: “In many ways, Rangers fans might consider 2013 a disappointment. To me, it was another example of an impressive organization operating at the forefront of the talent acquisition game. It’s moves like this that should keep Rangers fans confident their org is going to do what it takes to keep the talent pipeline stocked for the foreseeable future.”
Hours after Faleris wrote about the Rangers’ “remarkable first move advantage,” the club announced the signing of lefthander Martin Perez to a contract that it controls for longer than that of any other player. It’s a move that set the 22-year-old up for life, provided the organization with a tremendous amount of cost certainty, rotation stability, and overall flexibility, and earned praise from writers all over the country (including ESPN’s Keith Law, who tweeted: “Dispatch from the Department of Obvious Analysis: The Martin Perez deal looks amazing for Texas”).
And it harkened back to a time when the Rangers, after years of international absenteeism, began to reclaim that advantage in Latin America that is now a big part of why Texas operates, Faleris argues, at the forefront of the talent acquisition game.
Most of us remember when the Rangers had an unmistakable foothold internationally, signing teenagers like Pudge Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra and Jose Guzman and Wilson Alvarez. But the advantage Texas had south of the border began to erode to the point at which the club was lagging most of its competition, and perhaps not coincidental in its timing.
By the time the Rangers started winning in the mid-1990s, international spending had been noticeably de-prioritized, with occasional exceptions. In 1999, the Reds had agreed to pay a 16-year-old Dominican righthander named Omar Beltre $300,000 to sign, but when they opted to delay the deal until 2000 for bookkeeping purposes, the Rangers swooped in and signed Beltre in February 2000 for $650,000.
Ten months later, Texas agreed to share $252 million with Alex Rodriguez.
You can imagine a probable offshoot of that decision was significant budget cuts in various other departments. Whether one of those was international scouting is uncertain, but between February 2000 (Beltre) and July 2005 (when Fabio Castillo, Cristian Santana, and Johan Yan were signed as part of the first J2 class after A.J. Preller’s and Don Welke’s arrival, for between $325,000 and $425,000 each), the only international signing for so much as $200,000 was Dominican shortstop Antonio Pena, who managed to play 132 games in four minor league seasons (.222/.323/.298) over a career that topped out with seven games at Low A Clinton.
Texas did sign Edinson Volquez (then known as Julio Reyes) in 2001, but that was more an example of excellent scouting (hat tip, Rodolfo Rosario) than any budgetary rededication to the international market. Volquez signed for $27,000.
The Castillo-Santana-Yan class has been chronicled repeatedly as a “statement” class more than anything. Maybe the Rangers overspent on those three by committing more than a combined $1 million to sign them. In retrospect, there’s no question they overspent, at least in terms of what those three Dominican prospects would develop into. But they didn’t overspend at all in terms of sending a message, to players and to buscones and to the baseball industry as a whole, that the Rangers — who had moved on from A-Rod and were beginning to refocus on player development — were back in the international game.
In 2006, Jon Daniels’s first full year as Rangers GM, Texas ramped its international spending and presence up even further, bringing in a class that July that included Wilmer Font, Wilfredo Boscan, Carlos Pimentel, Kennil Gomez, Geuris Grullon, Leonel De Los Santos, and a third baseman named Emmanuel Solis who got $525,000 to sign.
Mike Daly joined the Rangers’ international scouting department after the 2006 season, as the organization looked to beef up their efforts in Latin America even further. In July 2007, Texas paid two international teenagers more to sign than it had paid any since the February 2000 Beltre acquisition: a Dominican shortstop named Wilson Suero ($558,000) and a Venezuelan lefthander named Martin Perez ($580,000), who was widely considered the top southpaw on the international market.
Yesterday, a little over six years later, the Rangers agreed to pay Perez $1 million to sign a contract that will pay him $750,000 in 2014, $1 million in 2015, $2.9 million in 2016, $4.4 million in 2017, $6 million on a team option in 2018 ($2.45 million buyout), $7.5 million on a team option in 2019 ($750,000 buyout), and $9 million on a team option in 2020 ($250,000 buyout).
That’s over $32 million (if all options are exercised) in a deal that every single person who spends time reporting on and analyzing these things is calling a slam dunk for the team.
It’s that for the player, too. Perez will still be just 22 when camp opens in three months, and even if he pitches well enough to persuade the Rangers to make sure he’s here in 2018 and 2019 and 2020, he’ll still be short of his 30s when he has the right to venture onto the free agent market. Very few frontline starters hit free agency before age 30.
Texas made sure yesterday Perez wouldn’t be able to hit the market when he’s 27.
And that it controls Perez and Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison and Derek Holland through 2017, at least. (Unless Darvish claims that 2017 option by being elite the next few years . . . in which case we can all hope he gets re-locked up before then anyway.)
True, Perez has yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues and in fact has more minor league starts the last two years (29) than big league starts (26).
Yes, he can still be traded. (Arguably, the contract extension makes him an even more valuable commodity, not that the Rangers would be open to moving him, even in a deal for David Price or another impact pitcher or hitter.)
Sure, he could get hurt or fail to take the next step or somehow not make this deal pay off, in which case the Rangers can get out for a total of $12.5 million after the fourth year of the contract.
But nobody’s counting on that.
Without the Rangers reestablishing their presence internationally, there’s no Perez and no Darvish and no Leonys Martin and no Jurickson Profar and no Wilmer Font and no Jorge Alfaro or Rougned Odor or Luis Sardinas or Nomar Mazara or Ronald Guzman or Jairo Beras or Marcos Diplan.
Without Volquez, there’s no Josh Hamilton. Without Leury Garcia: No Alex Rios.
Faleris was writing about the Rangers’ 2013 moves internationally when he referred yesterday to Texas as “an impressive organization operating at the forefront of the talent acquisition game.” But later in the day we were reminded that it’s nothing particularly new for this franchise, and even though the reality in the Latin American market is a lot of those signings don’t end up paying off, that’s the cost of doing business in that part of the world and part of the game, and sometimes they not only do pay off — they can do so in a potentially very big way that can set up a player for life, not to mention his franchise, in many ways, for the foreseeable future.