ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' annual payroll hasn't exceeded $100 million since 2003, which was Alex Rodriguez's last season in Texas.The Rangers could hit that number again in 2011, club president Nolan Ryan acknowledged, after they agreed to terms with third baseman Adrian Beltre on a six-year, $96 million contract. Much will depend on what else the Rangers do this offseason and what happens with five players who are eligible for arbitration. But Ryan said the club is prepared for the payroll to go over $100 million for the first time since 2003 after finishing at approximately $65 million in 2010. "That's just where it's going to be," Ryan said Wednesday after a news conference to announce Beltre's signing. "It's what we budgeted for. Obviously, a lot of factors come into play, but we feel positive about the ballclub and we feel positive about the way our fans have responded. You have to be aggressive and be positive, and that's the position we're taking." Beltre's contract begins at $14 million for 2011 and goes up $1 million in each of the next four seasons. The sixth year, in 2016, is at $16 million and can be voided by the Rangers if he fails to reach 1,200 combined plate appearances during 2014 and '15 or 600 plate appearances in '15. It is the second-largest contract in Rangers history behind the 10-year, $252 million deal that A-Rod signed in 2000. Ryan, during the Winter Meetings, expressed an uneasiness about lengthy contracts for players but the Rangers were also willing to go six years and an option with pitcher Cliff Lee before he signed with Philadelphia. "I think what we're seeing today is what the market has gone to," Ryan said. "But I think that we feel really good where we are with Adrian. He has a lot of ability offensively and defensively, and he fills a veteran presence on the ballclub. There are a lot of positives." Michael Young has three years left on his contract at $16 million per season. If the Rangers end up with a payroll of $100 million, their third baseman and designated hitter will combine for 30 percent of it. "That's kind of where we're positioned right now," Ryan said. "We still feel both players will still be extremely productive." The Rangers still have to deal with outfielders Josh Hamilton, David Murphy and Nelson Cruz, and pitchers Darren O'Day and C.J. Wilson through the arbitration process. The organization has talked about discussing long-term deals for Hamilton, Cruz and Wilson, which would push it even more financially toward levels it hasn't seen since Rodriguez was here. The Rangers do have a new ownership group in place that is committed to much higher payrolls than the last several years, they are expecting a huge jump in attendance, corporate sponsorships and other revenue streams after going to the World Series in 2010. The club also has a new lucrative television contract kicking in after the 2014 season with a significant "signing bonus" being paid up front. The Rangers even have huge advertising signs draped outside the Ballpark in Arlington in preparation for next month's Super Bowl at the NFL stadium down the street. All of that is factored in when the Rangers sit down and project their payroll for 2011 and beyond. But the Rangers made it clear they would be interested in signing certain players -- especially Hamilton -- to long-term contracts when they were pursuing Lee, and that hasn't changed now that they've signed Beltre. "We'll have to obviously cross that bridge when we get to them and see what challenges we have," Ryan said. "Obviously, we have a core group of players we want to keep together." The Rangers may still pursue other free agents. Scott Boras, who represents Beltre, also has closer Rafael Soriano for a client. Ryan downplayed the possibility of pursuing Soriano, but Boras confirmed he has talked to the Rangers about him. Soriano saved 48 games for the Rays this past season and his acquisition would allow the Rangers to move Neftali Feliz into the rotation. It will also guarantee the Rangers soaring past the $100 million mark.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.