Compared to recent history, 2014 was a fairly quiet year for the Texas Rangers in terms of talent acquisition. There was no Mark Teixeira trade, despite being the worst team in baseball. None of the team's free agent acquisitions have paid off. The amateur draft appears to have gone well for the club, but that is not a slam dunk and will not be decided until the development process has run its course for this year's picks. There were no big splashes internationally like the organization has made recently with the signings of Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, and Jairo Beras.
With regards to the lack of an impact trade, perhaps the market just wasn't there, and the Rangers aren't in a rebuilding mode, anyway. The whiffs on Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder may have simply been mistakes, or maybe it's too soon to make that call yet. The current rules on spending during the amateur draft are rather limiting, and the Rangers did well within those confines which aren't conducive to impact talent acquisitions, especially when picking in the back half of the draft.
However, internationally, the reduced flow of talent into the Rangers' farm system in 2014 was a self-imposed consequence for conscientious decisions made in 2013.
The Rangers' spent more on international signings than any other club in 2013, totaling $8.42 million according to Baseball America. The 2013-14 international signing period was the first under the most recent MLB collective bargaining agreement, which creates international spending pools for each team, with the size of the pool going in reverse order of the standings. The Rangers had a $1.9 million pool in 2013, which they clearly blew completely past. That decision to overspend by over 400 percent resulted in penalties for the club, both in the form of a tax they had to pay on how much they went over their pool amount, and also in the form of limiting their 2014 activity. Because of this, in the 2014-15 signing period the Rangers could not sign a player to a bonus larger than $250,000. So that is why the Rangers didn't make headlines this year in the international market, where they have been among the biggest spenders in recent history.
However, and this was noted at the time by Baseball Prospectus's Nick J. Faleris, the Rangers will not be restricted in the 2015 international signing period. Furthermore, any team who overspent their 2014 international spending pool by 15 percent would have similar restrictions placed on them for the next two years, instead of just one. As Faleris wrote:
"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."
Now, one year later we have seen teams have taken the big spending approach in 2014, namely the New York Yankees, who reportedly spent well beyond their cap by dropping $12 million on just the first day of the 2014 signing period alone. Now, for the next two years, the Yankees won't be able to be involved in the competition for signing the top international talents. New York signed four of Baseball America's top 30 international prospects this year, but their deep pockets will be non-factors internationally until 2017.
As Faleris also said: "the Rangers will have fewer competitors for the top talents in 2015, when the spending cuffs come off."
When Faleris first pointed out the advantage the Rangers created by being the first to aggressively overspend their international cap, he probably had no idea that the Texas Rangers of four consecutive 90-win seasons would the very next year be contending instead for the worst record in baseball.
From a strategic perspective, being the worst team in baseball is a large incentive. The last place team gets the largest pool of money with which it can sign players in the amateur draft, it gets the first pick in the Rule 5 draft, the first waiver claim position throughout the offseason, and the key in this conversation is the most money to spend internationally as well.
Both by choice and by an unintended result of the lousy 2014 season for the big league club, the Rangers have placed themselves in a position for the 2015 international signing period to have the most money to spend, no restrictions on that spending, and less competition in the market for the most talented international prospects.
There will still certainly be competition for the Rangers. The Chicago Cubs took a very similar international approach in 2013, spending over $8 million, and they figure to be big players in 2015 as well. Also, the Rangers' front office will be lacking AJ Preller and Don Welke, instrumental cogs in the Texas talent acquisition machine, and both of whom are now responsible for doing that for the San Diego Padres.
The prospects the Rangers spent big for in 2013 to push them well beyond their supposed limits were Marcos Diplan, Yeyson Yrizarri, Jose Almonte, and Michael De Leon. Diplan, Yrizarri, and Almonte have all cracked MLB.com's list of the top 20 Rangers' prospects, while De Leon played full season ball this year and earned a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach. None of these four have yet turned 18 years old.
Texas obviously thought this quartet of players they signed in 2013 was worth paying a penalty to sign. But paying that penalty not only yielded four quality prospects, it also gave Texas a competitive advantage for 2015. The Rangers' organization has outworked many other teams in the international market for the past several years. And now, besides being among the most well-positioned, trusted, and smartest teams internationally, they'll also have the strongest cache of assets to back them up. The Rangers have had plenty of big years in the international market recently, but the pieces of the puzzle may be forming to make 2015 one of their biggest ones yet.