The Texas Rangers have a lot of work to do this offseason.
That's not to say they aren't a good team -- much less a good organization. They spent much of 2012 as the cream of MLB's crop. They have played more games than any other franchise over the last three years -- the implicated October success goes a long way toward demonstrating their degree of contention.They have one of baseball's very best farm systems -- and in Jurickson Profar, likely its best overall prospect. But Jon Daniels' front office will be regularly burning the midnight oil this offseason. Because the roster is nowhere near fully-formed.
The next time Josh Hamilton wears an MLB uniform, it will almost certainly be different from the ones he's donned for the last five years. Mike Napoli is one of the five best free agent hitters available and with the Rangers roster's current composition, may not be the best fit in Texas. That leaves two sizable holes in the Rangers' lineup -- holes that very few new acquisitions are up to filling.
The odds are also stacked against repeat performances for a large part of the Rangers' pitching staff -- most notably Koji Uehara, Mike Adams, Ryan Dempster and Scott Feldman. The Rangers' primary setup man is now something between Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and a blank uniform with a question mark on it. The #5 starter likely isn't on the roster right now, and the #6,7 and 8 guys may all begin the season in Double- or Triple-A.
On the other hand, the Rangers are stacked in the infield. Jurickson Profar is 19 years old and baseball's top prospect. Elvis Andrus is 24 years old and one of its five best shortstops
. On the same note, Mike Olt is one of the finest third-base prospects around. But Adrian Beltre may be the game's best third-baseman, and is under contract for at least three more seasons. The Rangers can deal from a position of strength there, trading a talented player at a place of depth for another who fills an immediate need.
The Rangers should also have money to spend. They were a finalist in last year's Prince Fielder derby even after committing 9 figures to Yu Darvish. The ownership, led by Bob Simpson and Ray Davis, isn't held down by hard caps, but spends based on recommendations from the front office. If the decision-makers think Zack Greinke is worth $150 Million, I don't think the team will be hamstrung by paying him that money (assuming he doesn't get even more from one of the LA teams). It's just the reality of doing business in this day and age. They could spend on Greinke, they could spend on Hamilton and Napoli, they could throw a wrench into everything and convince Minnesota to deal Joe Mauer and his mega-deal to Arlington. But bottom line -- as long as the front office is comfortable with the player, the money should be there.
What we'll do over the next few weeks is outline a few scenarios which make sense based on what the Rangers are working with, the players who seem to be available and the projected figures circulating about the contracts they seek. Keep in mind the possibilities are nearly endless, and the chances we nail any of these calls is minimal. This is meant more for spitballing ideas and putting potential names out there than anything else.
SCENARIO 1: THE YOUTH WAVE
Notable moves: SS Elvis Andrus and 3B Mike Olt traded to Arizona for OF Justin Upton and SP Trevor Bauer.
Derek Holland and Martin Perez traded to Cleveland for Carlos Santana
SP Anibal Sanchez signed
RP Jonathan Broxton signed
RP Randy Choate signed
C Kelly Shoppach signed
This won't be a popular scenario. Elvis is an exceptionally well-liked player, and for good reason. Hamilton and Napoli have also factored heavily into the Rangers' recent success, and in this instance, neither would be back. The enigmatic Derek Holland would also be shipped to a suitor willing to gamble on his talent at the expense of his inconsistency. The team would also lose its concensus top pitching prospect for the past three or four years. Those are heavy prices to pay, but could make for a formidable squad in the end.
A year ago, Justin Upton was one of the 15 best positional players in baseball
-- spending most of the season as a 23-year old. The outfielder hit .289/.369/.529 while playing his usual very solid defense. He was one of the league's absolute shining stars. That star has dimmed somewhat after a disappointing 2012 campaign
, but he's still a phenomenally talented 25-year old with three (relatively) affordable years left on his deal. Arizona has soured on the inconsistent Upton and trade talks have swirled around him throughout the season. The Diamondbacks need a shortstop -- but Elvis Andrus is too good, too young and too cheap to deal for Upton straight-up. That's where Beauer comes into play.
Trades like this one are highly uncommon, but this one addresses needs on both teams and puts players in (seemingly) a better position to succeed. Bauer would tentatively slot into the Rangers' opening-day rotation (with the possibility he'd spend a few months in the minors for additional seasoning). The Rangers would effectively trade two years of Elvis Andrus (whose presence would be filled by Jurickson Profar) for three of Upton, and six of Olt (whose presence is nullified by Adrian Beltre) for six of Bauer.
Mike Napoli's 2011 is one of the greatest seasons in Rangers history. Seriously. His .320/.414/.631 line was baseball's best in 2011
, and would have been in 2012 as well (for comparison's sake, Miguel Cabrera in 2012: .330/.393/.606). But in every other season, Napoli has been a highly flawed player; heavily strikeout-prone, defensively limited, affected by a bevy of injuries. Napoli loves Texas and Texas loves Napoli, but he doesn't seem like a guy who's likely to age well, making a potential 4-year deal difficult to stomach. Instead, the Rangers could target a younger catcher with more upside, though at the expense of some of their young ptiching.
Carlos Santana was one of baseball's top prospects. The Indians backstop was regularly one of the best hitters in the minor leagues, and his defense was more than enough to make him an extraordinarily highly-valued commodity. Santana hasn't raked as expected in the majors, but his career line of .247/.363/.443 remains well above-average for the position
. He's far from a bust. Best of all, he remains young (26) and has four years of control remaining on his contract. The Indians have weaknesses up and down their roster and need to rebuild, particularly in the rotation, where their starters' ERA of 5.25 ranked third-worst in baseball. Derek Holland would give them a talented, cost-controlled arm with upside, while Martin Perez would give them another talented pitching prospect to work with. The Indians could control both for the next six years. The Rangers would control one of baseball's best offensive catchers for the next four.
The Rangers have been mentioned as one of three primary contenders (along with the Dodgers and Angels) for Zack Greinke's services. If his price goers beyond what they're comfortable with, the team could make a play for the market's second-best starter, Anibal Sanchez.
Over the last three years, Sanchez has thrown a very solid 587 innings to the tune of a 3.7 ERA. Fangraphs estimates that he's been the 17th-most valuable pitcher in baseball over that span
. The 29-year old Sanchez is not someone you think of as an ace, but Yu Darvish could fill that role for the Rangers going forward. Sanchez could be a solid 2 or good 3, and should come significantly cheaper than Greinke -- think 5 years and 60 million for Sanchez, as opposed to 7 and 150 for Greinke. Sanchez is also a groundballer who would be served well by the Rangers' excellent defense. Along with Darvish and Matt Harrison, he would be a consistent piece in what could be a fluid Rangers rotation going forward.
Finally, the team needs to supplement its relief corps. Barring significant injury setbacks, Mike Adams will find a multi-year deal elsewhere. Koji Uehara will likely find a new home as well. Mark Lowe likely won't be brought back, and Yoshinori Tateyama could settle for a minor-league deal... or wind up an Oriole and torment everyone for a few years. The Rangers have options, however.
The first, Jonathan Broxton, is a big name. He was once a frontline closer for the Dodgers
and one of the game's most prolific strikeout machines. His stuff has fallen since, but he still managed a 2.48 ERA and 3.03 FIP last year. He's a heavy groundballer (in both tendencies and, well, appearance
) who has given up a home run once in about every 17 innings throughout his career. I could see him signing for two years and around $10 million.
The second is something of a journeyman. Randy Choate has pitched for four different organizations, largely because of major control issues. But that's mostly because most don't realize where his true skills lie: He's a fantastic LOOGY. What's a LOOGY? A Lefty One-Out GuY. Against left-handed hitters last year, Choate had a strikeout-to-walk rate of 30:9 and allowed an absolutely anemic .154/.243/.218 line
. Against righties, he walked more than he struck out and yielded an unsightly .317/.471/.350 mark. As long as his role is well-defined, Choate could be a valuable part of the bullpen and should come very cheaply -- probably a year at around $2 million. This would allow, Robbie Ross, whose platoon splits were fairly close, to pitch against a more diverse group of hitters and become a larger part of the pen.
Leonys Martin would settle into a center-field platoon with Craig Gentry, facing righties as Gentry handled the southpaws. Martin bullied AAA pitchers to the tune of .359/.422/.610
and hits right-handers well. Gentry is the best defensive player on the roster
and had a stellar .343/.425/.434 line against lefties. They won't replace Hamilton by any means, but sould be a solid tandem.
I can't definitively say this Rangers roster would be better than 2011's. Such is life when the bar is set high. Compensating for the loss of studs like Hamilton and Napoli is extremely difficult. But these Rangers are younger, have a lot of upside and don't sacrifice the future -- prospects are dealt, but only for young pieces who can be part of the foundation. This is what the opening-day roster could look like:
2B Ian Kinsler
RF Justin Upton
3B Adrian Beltre
C Carlos Santana
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Mitch Moreland
LF David Murphy
SS Jurickson Profar
CF Leonys Martin
OF Craig Gentry
Utility: Michael Young
C: Kelly Shoppach
Veteran utility infielder (pick a name out of a hat)
This is just one plan. Stick with WFAA Sports -- over the next few weeks, we'll continue exploring offseason scenarios with you!