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January 27, 2010

On the Beat

Mid-Week Update

by John Perrotto

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Chuck Greenberg has been swamped by well-wishers the past few days, noting, "A lot of people have said the same thing, that they've known for 20 years that I was going to own a Major League Baseball team some day. I wish I would have known that because then I would have known what I wanted to be when I grow up."

Greenberg laughed, then mused, "I always thought it would be interesting to own a team, but it was never a burning obsession for it to happen. It's been a pretty amazing process, though."

Greenberg and his group of investors, called Rangers Baseball Express, and including Hall of Famer and Texas icon Nolan Ryan, agreed in principle to purchase the Rangers last Saturday night from Tom Hicks for a reported $570 million. The group still needs formal approval from three-quarters of Major League Baseball's other 29 owners, but that is considered to be a formality.

Greenberg was considered a long shot when he first entered the bidding last year, as many analysts felt the group headed by former agent and current White Sox special assistant Dennis Gilbert stood the best chance of landing the Rangers. Gilbert is close with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who is commissioner Bud Selig's chief ally.

Greenberg was an unknown in MLB circles, a Pittsburgh attorney who helped broker the sale of the NHL's Penguins to hockey great Mario Lemieux and who owned two minor-league teams, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the High-A Carolina League and State College Spikes in the Short-season New York-Penn League. However, the personable and approachable Greenberg had an ace in the hole in his quest, and that was Ryan, the Rangers' club president and most popular player in team history.

Greenberg serves on Minor League Baseball's board of director along with Reid Ryan, Nolan's son. The Ryans own the Round Rock Express in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. It was Reid Ryan who brought his father and Greenberg together.

"Nolan Ryan provides so much credibility to our group," Greenberg said. "Everyone knows what his reputation was a player and the type of person he is. He was a Hall of Fame pitcher and is now a great executive. That's why I'm so excited about what we are about to enter into. You know anything Nolan Ryan is involved with is going to be successful. He is already a large part of the Rangers, and it means so much for him to see the Rangers succeed."

Greenberg will become the managing general partner and CEO, while Ryan will continue overseeing the baseball operations. The Rangers are a franchise on the rise after going 87-75 last year to end a string of four straight losing seasons and eight sub.-500 finishes in the previous nine years. They also have one of the most fertile farm systems in the game.

Greenberg does not plan to tinker with the baseball operations. Thus, the jobs of general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington are safe. The new owner observed, "Usually when you have the sale of a club, it's because there are problems, but we don't have problems here. Jon Daniels and his staff have done a great job of putting together not only a very talented major-league roster, but what I would say is the best farm system in baseball. I don't think there is any team that wouldn't trade their farm system for our farm system, player-for-player. This is an organization that is on the right track. All I want to do is keep it going in the right direction."

The Angels have won three straight American League West titles and five of the last six. However, the Rangers feel they are ready to end the Angels' reign while also acknowledging that the Mariners are building a contender under GM Jack Zduriencik and the Athletics showed on Tuesday that they clearly want to get out of the cellar when they signed free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets.

"It's a very interesting division," Greenberg said. "You have four very good organizations. It's not going to be easy, but we believe we can compete with anybody."

The Rangers haven't made many major changes this winter, as they traded right-hander Kevin Millwood to the Orioles and signed Rich Harden to take his place at the front of the rotation. They also took a shot on designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, who the Angels did not try to re-sign, on the free-agent market.

The oft-injured Harden contributed just 1.0 WARP3 to the Cubs last season, but the Rangers were encouraged by his 26 starts and 141 innings pitched, both the second-highest figures of his seven-year career. Guerrero had just 0.3 WARP for the Angels in an injury-marred season, but the Rangers are buoyed by his career line of .394/.471/.705 in 221 plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"As a manager, the only thing you can ask for is to have a team you can put on the field and feel you have a chance to win that day," Washington said. "I have that feeling with our team the way it is right now. I think we have a good team and Jon Daniels has done a good job of adding some players. We might not be done yet, either. Maybe we'll have another new player or two before we get to spring training. We'll see. Either way, I'm excited."

---

The Marlins were the first team asked by commissioner Bud Selig to begin spending money on player payroll as direct result of pressure applied by Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, who wants teams to start living up to the terms of the revenue-sharing portion of the basic agreement between the owners and players.

Reportedly, the Athletics are another team that Weiner is targeting, which might explain the Sheets signing. The Pirates are also said to be on the MLBPA's list. They traded away six members of their starting lineup last season and will begin 2010 with the lowest payroll in the major leagues at somewhere around $36 million.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting, though, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic that he believes his team has nothing to fear if the MLBPA wants to investigate their spending habits, stating that, "I really can't speak to the Marlins' situation, but what I can say is that, in Pittsburgh, I'm very comfortable that what we're doing is in the best interest of the team. We're using our revenue-sharing dollars appropriately, and we're building a program to improve on-field performance, which is the goal of revenue sharing."

Following 17 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates are in total rebuilding mode, as GM Neal Huntington tore apart the roster last summer. The Pirates have funneled most of their money toward scouting and player development, as they spent more on draft picks over the past two seasons than any other organization. They also opened an academy in the Dominican Republic last April. However, the Pirates did lose out to the Twins on the free-agent bidding for highly touted Dominican amateur shortstop Miguel Angel Sano last year, declining to go over $3 million.

Nutting feels the Pirates are justified in having a low payroll since they are going with a youth movement, which means many inexperienced players are on the roster with low salaries. Pirates fans are understandably tired of hearing that talk, especially since many of them perceive Nutting as an owner much more interested in turning a profit than fielding a winning team. Nutting admittedly knows little about baseball, which becomes abundantly clear when you talk to him, and was not a fan of the sport until his family invested in the franchise in 1996.

"I think it's never going to be about the total dollars we spend as much as how effectively we put them to use," Nutting said. "Part of the reason for the payroll level is that we have young players, and it is normal, expected, and natural that, as those players mature, those dollars are going to have to come up. That certainly is my expectation. But I think we've shown good discipline in building this 2010 team, in that there is lots of flexibility that (Huntington) still has. He's building the team that he thinks will perform best for the coming year but also can still succeed going forward."

---

The MLBPA, which is also reportedly checking into the Padres' spending habits, is also unhappy with the Rays' policy of ending all negotiations on salary arbitration cases and proceeding to hearings as soon as both sides exchange figures. The Rays believe their policy causes more deals to get done, and they may be right, as their hearing with center fielder B.J. Upton next month will be just their fourth in five years since Andrew Friedman took over as executive vice president.

"With respect to the file-to-go strategy, or the file-and-trial strategy, the union has long believed, and has expressed to the commissioner's office, that that strategy stands the purpose of salary arbitration on its head," Weiner told the St. Petersburg Times. "Years ago, many clubs took the view that it didn't make sense to talk until after we exchanged numbers, and to say that we won't talk if you exchange numbers in our view is not consistent with the way the system was designed to operate. But clubs are entitled to negotiate as they see fit."

Friedman also believes the MLBPA has pressured agents to be tougher in negotiations with arbitration-eligible players this year. Weiner, though, disputes that idea, stating "The union does not put pressure on agents or players with respect to salary arbitration. We consult with respect to all arbitration negotiations just as we expect the Commissioner's office would do with the clubs."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: It is becoming increasingly possible that the Rays could move out of St. Petersburg, particularly with no plans for an open-air stadium currently on the table. Orlando businessman Armando Gutierrez claims he has the backing to build a privately-financed stadium for the Rays in his city, and some in baseball would like to see a third team added to the New York metropolitan area, perhaps in southern Connecticut. Selig seems unlikely to put up much resistance if owner Stuart Sternberg wants to move the team, particularly in light of the Rays getting only a minuscule boost in attendance last season following their stunning run to the World Series in 2008. After failing to land Ben Sheets, the Mets are now targeting free agent John Smoltz for their starting rotation and are considering making an offer to one of two free-agent catchers, Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba. The Yankees are going to hold firm on offering free-agent left fielder Johnny Damon no more than $2 million on a one-year contract to return and believe he will eventually agree to those terms.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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