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Reviewing 2022 Rangers Payroll After Record Spending Spree

The Texas Rangers have spent more money than any other MLB club has in one offseason. Where does their payroll stand and what room is there for more additions?

The Texas Rangers stole headlines prior to Major League Baseball's lockout, spending $561.2 million in free-agent signings. It far exceeded most expectations of the front office's claims to spend money, especially with them landing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien—two of the five coveted shortstops on the market.

Yet, even after all this money spent, every indication coming out of Arlington is that the Rangers plan to add more once the free-agent and trade markets re-open after a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place between MLB and the Players Association (MLBPA).

In turn, this naturally brings up two big questions for fans who are eagerly waiting for the owners and players to stop squabbling over money.

What does the Rangers' payroll look like after these signings?

Believe it or not, very manageable. In fact, the Rangers are still roughly $45-50 million short of the most they've ever spent on a big-league payroll.

Of the 26 players projected to begin the season on the active roster, four have guaranteed contracts:

  • Corey Seager: $33 million ($32.5 base salary, $500K from signing bonus)
  • Marcus Semien: $25 million
  • Jon Gray: $15 million
  • Kole Calhoun: $5.2 million

TOTAL: $78.2 million

Two more players have guaranteed money from major-league contracts: 

  • José Leclerc: $5.25 million
  • Kohei Arihara: $3.6 million

TOTAL: $8.85 million

Leclerc will likely start the season on the 60-day Injured List as he finishes his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Arihara, though he is not on the 40-man roster, is still owed guaranteed money from the two-year major-league contract he signed when he came over from Japan. Players in the minor leagues earning money that counts against the big-league payroll are chalked up as buried salaries.

The Rangers have four arbitration-eligible players on their 40-man roster. As long as these four players break camp on the 26-man roster, their contracts will become guaranteed. The figures below are projections of what these players will make based on MLB Trade Rumors projection model, which has been respectably accurate over the years. Of course, there are variables from the new CBA that can alter what any arbitration-eligible player makes in 2022 and beyond.

  • Isiah Kiner-Falefa: $4.9 million
  • Willie Calhoun: $1.6 million
  • Taylor Hearn: $1.1 million
  • Brett Martin: $1.1 million

TOTAL: $8.7 million

Thus far, we've only accounted for eight of the 26 players that will start on the big-league roster. To see where the payroll sits for now, the remaining 18 spots are reserved for pre-arbitration players. These are players that typically make the league minimum with only a few earning just over that amount. In addition, Jonathan Hernández—who will also likely start the season on the 60-day IL—has to be accounted for.

This is the most difficult part of the roster to project. The MLB minimum salary in 2021 was $570,500. If we see the same kind of incremental increase to the league minimum, it would be around $575,000 in 2022. 

However, the league minimum is a core economic issue up for debate in the CBA negotiations. The owners have conceded that it needs to rise, but players want to see a substantial increase—and for good reason. Though MLB brings in significantly more money than the National Hockey League (almost twice as much in 2019), the NHL's league minimum for the 2021-22 season is $775,000.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal proposes a league minimum of at least $800,000 in a recent column, and that would be a significant win for the MLBPA. Just to show what impact the pool of pre-arbitration players could have on the payroll, here are the totals for all of those players at $575,000 vs $800,000.

  • $575K minimum: $10.9 million*
  • $800K minimum: $15.2 million

*- includes previous salaries for Kolby Allard and Jose Trevino, who earned more than $575,000 in 2021.

In addition to on-field payroll, the Rangers have retained salaries on the books from previous trades:

  • Rougned Odor: $12.33 million**
  • Elvis Andrus: $7.25 million

**- the 2022 MLB minimum will be deducted from this amount, per source

TOTAL: $19.58 million

Add up these totals, and the Rangers' 2022 payroll sits at $126.2 million with a conservative MLB minimum, and $130.5 million with Rosenthal's proposed higher minimum. Either figure puts the Rangers right in the middle of the pack, potentially cracking the top half of the league.

How much room is there for acquisitions after the lockout is over?

At the beginning of the offseason, president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said the Rangers' budget would be "consistent with the market and fan base of this size." Dallas-Fort Worth is a top-five sports market in the United States, and the club just led the American League in attendance (though there are other variables to consider like the "new ballpark" factor and COVID-19 restrictions in other states).

Before you begin thinking the Rangers are aiming to be top-five in payroll next season, it's important to remember there are future offseasons to consider. General manager Chris Young and the rest of the front office have been clear their plans to add impact players via free agency or trade spans multiple years. The Rangers want to make more significant signings next winter and the one after that. This winter is not a one-year splurge.

The Rangers have yet to be clear as far as a set number for the 2022 payroll. In all honesty, it's probably not a hard number. The club still wants to add another starting pitcher and outfielder. Clayton Kershaw is still on their post-Christmas and post-lockout wishlist, and he would likely demand a high salary. A $25 million average annual value (AAV) is a good barometer. That puts the payroll north of $150 million alone. Then, if the Rangers still look to add Seiya Suzuki, another player on their wishlist, that could cost roughly another $12 million, plus a posting fee.

Some cheaper pitching options—in terms of its impact on the payroll—could come in the trade market. The Rangers reportedly reached out to the Cincinnati Reds about a trio of starting pitchers: Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. All are under contractual control through the 2023 season, and would cost considerably less than Kershaw.

Gray will make $10.37 million in 2022 and has a $12 million club option for 2023. Castillo and Mahle are both entering their second year of arbitration, with Castillo projected to make $7.6 million and Mahle projected to earn $5.6 million next season. As long as a trade for any of these three starters doesn't cost too much in trade capital, it could make a lot of sense for the Rangers.

Regardless, the Rangers have plenty of options left to address their needs with solid players, all while keeping their payroll in check. After all, financial flexibility allowed them to sign top-tier players this winter. They'd like for that to continue next winter and beyond.

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