Rangers fans: Do you want to see Josh Hamilton in the lineup next year?
93 wins. 178 days in first place. A year-long mission to go one strike deeper than last season's run. An MVP-caliber season from Adrian Beltre. A dazzling (if initially rocky) rookie campaign from Yu Darvish. Comparisons to various Yankees teams from the 90s. For much of 2012, the Rangers' stars seemed aligned. But the run came to a halt Friday night in the epilogue of what was seemingly a foreboding novel pre-written two weeks ago, when the A's and Rangers switched 2012 fortunes for good.
This was a very talented Rangers team. Conceivably, it's the most talented Rangers team we've ever seen. But baseball is a weird game. Little things have a way of really messing with the spokes of even the most solid wheels. When enough little things pile up, they sometimes create a distraction. And in this case, the distraction -- and possibly, sense of helplessness, overcame a talented squad and led to a full-on collapse in which they lost eight of their final ten games, conceding first the AL's best record, then the division crown, and finally their place in the American League Division Series.
What's next for the Rangers? Josh Hamilton is certainly their highest-profile free agent; he's the biggest name in baseball's offseason market. Hamilton has been an occasional superstar for the Rangers and made the franchise unfathomable amounts of money. But he will also receive unfathomable amounts of money this offseason, and the Rangers must decide whether they are the right organization to invest 9 figures into an extraordinarily talented player whose approach has moved beyond 'atrocious' and whose personal issues present a constant distraction off the field and potential barrier to his success on it.
Mike Napoli will also hit the market. The (nominal) catcher became a fan favorite in 2011 when he essentially turned into Miguel Cabrera for the season's second half and showed up big in the playoffs. After failing to reach an extension with the Rangers this offseason, his 2012 was less positive. He's a three-true-outcomes player who either strikes out, walks or homers in a whopping 49% of his at-bats. As a player who isn't overly athletic, he's not expected to age very well. But as a DH, 1st baseman and occasional catcher, his bat still holds enough pop that the Rangers would find him attractive. He hits better in Arlington than seemingly anywhere else and is also popular in the clubhouse, and so Napoli seems like a good fit in Arlington.
The Rangers have several other free agents. Setup men Koji Uehara and Mike Adams can look for new opportunity if they so choose, as can swingman Scott Feldman when the Rangers decline the team option they hold on him for 2013. Ryan Dempster will almost certainly find himself another team. Roy Oswalt, the first Ranger to fully clear out his locker last night, will retire or sign cheaply elsewhere. No one will care.
I believe most of the Rangers' retooling this offseason will be done through trades. Hamilton is likely gone, and the team's pitching depth will be worn thin. That leaves them with big holes at left field and the #3 spot in the order, as well as the pitching staff. One thing the team is blessed with, thankfully, is an abundance of talented infielders. Shortstop Jurickson Profar, widely regarded as the #1 prospect in baseball, will play a significant role on next year's team.
That could lead to a few things -- a trade of Elvis Andrus, a move of Profar to 2nd base and Ian Kinsler to left field, or potentially even a trade of Kinsler, who just signed an extension in April. The bottom line is that Profar is too talented not to play here next year, and the Rangers won't waste assets when they have clear holes to fill. The Diamondbacks have been mentioned (by nothing but absolute rumor and common sense) as a potential partner in an Andrus swap -- with outfielder Justin Upton potentially coming back to the Rangers. The Rangers could also target young, promising, controllable pitchers in such a trade.
Mike Olt is another chip. The 3rd baseman is a well-regarded defensive player with prodigious power and patience but a questionable hit tool. He profiles as a well-above average player at the hot corner... but the Rangers have possibly the Majors' best 3rd baseman in Adrian Beltre. Olt is also a natural fit to be dealt, strengthening other aspects of the club.
One final note: I believe we have seen Michael Young's last game as a Texas Ranger. Much has been written about the extent of his struggles this year, once by yours truly. The bottom line is that he was one of baseball's least-productive players this year, and something has to change. I anticipate Rangers GM Jon Daniels will approach Young with an ultimatum this year: Accept a bench role or find a job elsewhere. Young will be released ot traded (with the Rangers eating all or nearly all of his salary) and the team will find a new first-base platoon.
I said on Twitter earlier today that I could see next year's Rangers boasting four new positional starters on Opening Day. One way or another, there is a shakeup coming. What will it look like? Nobody's sure. But stay tuned -- when we find out, we'll let you know!