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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Rangers ink Holland; what about Hamilton?

By David Schoenfield

The Texas Rangers signed pitcher Derek Holland to a five-year extension that includes club options for 2017 and 2018. Richard Durrett reports those options are for $11 and $11.5 million, salaries that will be a bargain if Holland stays healthy and pitches like he did over his final 15 starts of 2011, when he went 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA and held batters to a .230 average and .282 OBP.

This means the Rangers now have long-term commitments to Holland, Yu Darvish, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus through at least 2015. Pitchers Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando are also secured through 2015 via service time and Matt Harrison through 2014. But the core of the offense will be heading to free agency over the next couple of seasons: Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli after 2012; Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young after 2013. Will the Rangers be able to afford all of them?

This is the price of success. The Rangers' Opening Day payroll in 2010 was about $55 million. Only Michael Young, Rich Harden, Vladimir Guerrero and Ian Kinsler were making at least $4 million, In 2011, the Opening Day payroll shot up to $92 million with seven $4 million players. In 2012, the Rangers will be at $120 million with 11 $4 million players.

Considering the salary increases given to Holland and Andrus plus the eventual arbitration increases Harrison, Felix and Ogando will receive, the Rangers are unlikely to keep all five of those hitters. In reality, they wouldn't want to sign all five. Consider their ages in their first seasons following free agency:

Mike Napoli: 31 in 2013
Josh Hamilton: 32 in 2013
Ian Kinsler: 32 in 2014
Nelson Cruz: 33 in 2014
Michael Young: 37 in 2014

Personally, I'd rank the priorities like this, factoring in age, production, health, position and salary:

1. Kinsler
2. Napoli
3. Hamilton
4. Cruz
5. Young

Young and Cruz will make a combined $26 million in 2013. You could punt on both and give some of that money to Kinsler or Hamilton. But there are also other future free agents to consider. The Rangers' top prospects are shortstop Jurickson Profar and third baseman Mike Olt (who may have to move to first base or left field with Beltre around). With much of the rotation locked up long-term, that would turn the Rangers' free-agent focus to outfield and first base. The best players at those positions hitting free agency after the 2012 and 2013 seasons:

2013 -- Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton
2014 -- Joey Votto, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adam Jones, Hunter Pence, Alex Gordon, Shin-Soo Choo

This is why I'd be wary about signing Hamilton to a long-term deal. Do you want to sign him to a five-year deal that carries from ages 32 to 36? Or would you be better off pursuing a younger center fielder like Bourn or Upton, good players who wouldn't cost nearly as much? Or should you roll the dice on going after Votto for 2014?

One thing to keep in mind: The Rangers haven't tapped out their revenue streams yet. Their TV deal with Fox Sports Southwest doesn't kick until their current contract expires after the 2014 season and will be worth a reported $80 million a year, revenue that would place them only behind the Yankees and Red Sox. Also, the Rangers still have room for attendance growth. They drew a club record 2,946,949 fans in 2011 -- but that ranked just 10th in the majors. The Yankees and Phillies both drew over 3.6 million. Imagine what another 500,000 fans per season would mean to the club's bottom line.

Who knows, by 2014 the Rangers may be able to afford Kinsler and Hamilton ... with a little Joey Votto on the side.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.