When it comes to building the roster for the future, so much of the attention falls on the performance of Michael Choice in the present.
Getting his first real taste of the big leagues after being acquired from Oakland in exchange for rangy outfielder Craig Gentry, the rookie has already had some ups and downs this season. His batting average is hovering around the Mendoza line, but the 24-year-old local native has certainly shown flashes at the plate, particularly recently after he’s been one of the beneficiaries of the at-bats vacated by the injury to Prince Fielder.
The first decision to make might be on free agent Kendrys Morales, who has been in limbo due to the fact that signing him would result in losing a draft pick, as he declined the Mariners’ qualifying offer this offseason. Morales is no longer subject to draft pick compensation after the June 5 draft next week.
Morales is a switch-hitting designated hitter (don’t let his agent Scott Boras call him a first baseman) capable of hitting for both average and power. The 30-year-old former Angel hit 23 home runs with Seattle last year and owns a career OPS of .813.
The Rangers do have some extra room in the budget, as the contracts of both Matt Harrison and Prince Fielder were insured, and the Rangers should receive reimbursement for a percentage of both contracts. Stephen Drew, who was in a similar situation with Boston, recently sign a one-year, $10 million deal with his former team.
The issue with Morales may not be the bidding war so much as the fit. An above-average hitter, Morales is capable of spelling Mitch Moreland at first base occasionally, but his at-bats would more likely be at the expense of Choice, who has been filling in the role of designated hitter as Moreland has taken over first base duties.
Morales would almost certainly represent an upgrade offensively over Choice, but the Rangers must decide if that short-term upgrade would be worth possibly slowing the development of their future right fielder; particularly in a year where they have already suffered enough injuries to seriously threaten their ability to compete for a World Series.
Texas committed seven years and $130 million to Shin-Soo Choo to be its left fielder through 2020. Center field, another position Choice has played, will likely be occupied by Leonys Martin for the foreseeable future. Choice’s inclusion on the Opening Day roster this season shows that the Rangers are committed to Choice as well, and see him as a piece of the organization at the major league level moving forward. He could complete the outfield of the future in right.
Speaking of right fielders, Alex Rios is off to an impressive start this year for Texas. Rios is currently batting .322 with an on base percentage of .354 and slugging percentage of .477. His OPS of .831 is second only to Choo (.916) among Rangers’ starters. He currently leads the club with 29 RBIs.
Rios, who turns 34 next year, is under team control next season, as his contract includes a $13.5 million club option for 2015. In addition to his play, the shallow group of free agent outfielders this offseason makes Rios a valuable option going forward. The question for the Rangers might not be about his level of play, but rather, whether they have enough faith in Michael Choice to replace his production at a level that would make them more comfortable spending the money due to Rios elsewhere.