ARLINGTON, Texas – The new owners of the Texas Rangers are already lowering prices for fans while still preparing for the increase in payroll they know will be necessary for the AL West leaders to have a chance at keeping Cliff Lee and their core group of players past this season.
"We're fully prepared to bear the cost of that," new managing partner Chuck Greenberg said Friday. "And do it with a smile because we're here to win."
A day after Major League Baseball formally approved a sale that pulled the Rangers out of bankruptcy, the new ownership group led by Greenberg and Hall of Fame pitcher and team president Nolan Ryan announced lower prices for concessions, parking and merchandise. Those went into effect Friday night for the start of a weekend series against Boston.
Greenberg said the immediate lowering of costs for fans at Rangers Ballpark and the increased price paid in auction last week to get the team for $590 million will not affect plans by the new group of 18 investors for upgrades at Rangers Ballpark and keeping their players.
Lee is the ace left-hander the Rangers managed to get a trade from Seattle on July 9, despite their uncertain situation then and the New York Yankees also pursuing the pitcher. Lee can become a free agent after this season, and is likely to be one of the most coveted and expensive players if he is on the market.
"Right now the terms are secondary. What matters most now is demonstrating that this is a family," Greenberg said.
He said the Rangers have "a pretty good idea" of what it will cost, but didn't get specific.
Lee, who is 2-2 with a 2.97 ERA in seven starts for Texas with two complete-game losses, said having the ownership and bankruptcy cleared up makes it easier for him to consider staying in Texas past this season.
"Obviously you wanted that taken care of. It's more of a stable situation, for sure. It's good for the organization," Lee said. "Yeah, it's better than a bankrupt situation, for sure. It's more attractive, yeah."
Slugger Josh Hamilton, the majors' leading hitter, is eligible for salary arbitration after this season. The two-time All-Star is making $3.25 million this season, a bargain for a potential MVP.
Greenberg and Ryan, who was not at the ballpark Friday, have already met with general manager Jon Daniels about the roster.
"We feel like we have a pretty good handle on how to keep this team together with Cliff as a part of it," Greenberg said. "It's nothing that frightens us, and we'd be real happy to go into next season with that group and the cost that we project."
The Rangers have one of the lowest payrolls in the majors this season at around $55 million.
"Right now this roster is a lot more valuable than it is expensive, and that's because of the relative youth and where players are in the economic system that baseball has," Greenberg said. "Our payroll is going to rise on its own, it's nothing we need to make a conscious decision to do. ... To go out and say we're going to be at this club's level or that club's level would be a foolish thing to do, because it would be an artificial number."
As the Red Sox series opened, fans found cheaper prices at the concession stands that will be in effect at least through the rest of this reason.
Hot dogs were reduced from $4.50 to $4, soda in souvenir cups was down from $5.75 to $5 and bottled beers were cut from $7 to $6. The most-reduced concession was hot chocolate from $3 to $1, but with temperatures in the upper 90s that is not a big seller
There are also plans for significant improvements to the 16-year-old Rangers Ballpark, including new video boards.
Greenberg said all that was only the beginning. His group plans to hold a series of town hall meetings and online chats with fans to get their feedback and see what they want.
This is the "easy part" after the lengthy process to buy the team, which began for Greenberg in May 2009. His group entered into exclusive negotiations with Tom Hicks in December, struck a deal in January and then had a months-long struggle that included a messy bankruptcy case and ultimately a bidding war with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
"At the end of the day it came down to will, and it came down to resolve and commitment and passion, and we just weren't going to be denied," Greenberg said. "I think our fans can take a lot of comfort from the fact that that's how we're going to operate the franchise. We're really a competitive group of people and there was no way we weren't going to win."