DALLAS — The annual Winter Meetings are being held this week and the baseball community turns its eyes towards Las Vegas as more pieces for the 2019 season fall into place. Unless you’re the Seattle Mariners or any of their trade partners, it’s been a relatively slow off-season. None of the big name free agents have signed, but that’s not entirely unexpected. One doesn’t just sign a player to a record contract without thorough planning. Those are the kinds of moves that shape a franchise.
The Texas Rangers don’t have to worry about any of that, though. Coming off of one of their worst non-health related seasons in years, the Rangers are easing off of the gas in the AL West competitive race for 2019.
So far, the most notable acquisition by Jon Daniels and crew has been trading for lefty starter Drew Smyly from the Cubs to help fill out their rotation. Pitching is sure to be at the top of their priority list in Vegas, but what else should they be looking to do?
With Adrian Beltre’s retirement, a hole at the hot corner has been opened. On the surface, it would seem that a tandem of Jurickson Profar and Isiah Kiner-Falefa would be primed and ready to take over the position. Why shop for a third baseman?
In Kiner-Falefa’s case, he may be better suited as a super-utility infielder and the Rangers seem keen on letting him devote most of his time to honing his craft as a catcher. I’m not necessarily saying that he can’t anchor down a position, but his value to the club would be in not being tied down to one spot.
The versatility as a catcher for the team's 2018 rookie of the year is also invaluable, and while offensively, Kiner-Falefa was best while manning third base, Texas might want to have a more traditional power bat at that position and have Kiner-Falefa focus on developing behind the plate while spelling regulars all along the infield.
So, what about Jurickson Profar? 2019 now looks like it could be the first time Profar has a guaranteed everyday position on the big league club. It’s been something Rangers fans have been waiting for since he was named top prospect in all of baseball in 2013.
But has his trade value been any higher since then than it is right now?
As the Rangers look to reload the farm system, Profar would be of interest to teams looking not just for a third baseman, but for someone who can play at second, short and first. The Manny Machado market would probably have to sort itself out before any value for Profar can be accurately assessed, but the switch-hitter is sure to be the subject of some phone calls.
He’s also going into his second year of arbitration eligibility, and while not an extremely pricey player, the Rangers are trying to save up for big spending in future years when they have something to aim for.
So if the Rangers deal Profar and/or decide the commit to Kiner-Falefa at catcher, who available on the free agent market as a third baseman? The names Texas could look at could include former Padres Cory Spangenberg and Yangervis Solarte, Tim Beckham, Andrew Romine and Chase Headley. Mike Moustakas, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Harrison are probably out of the Rangers’ price range – that is to say, if you were going after those guys, you might well just keep Profar.
A lot of how each of these players’ contracts line up will have to wait until Machado is signed. It's possible the Rangers will find themselves in a position where their penciled in everyday third baseman is attractive as a Machado consolation prize and are offered a deal they can't refuse.
Trade an outfielder
It's no real secret that Texas has a few extra outfielders that are Major League ready. The Rangers will need to once again navigate doling out playing time and perhaps that means trading some of the surplus.
Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara are certainly headliners that would draw the most return, prospect wise. Shin-Soo Choo, who commands a hefty, but justified, contract would provide salary relief or perhaps an equally talented, but expensive pitcher.
Willie Calhoun remains an unknown as an outfielder, but the potential of an impact bat might draw some teams into discussions. Delino DeShields acquitted himself as a well above average defensive center fielder in 2018, but there are definitive questions about his bat.
Carlos Tocci, against all odds, managed to stay on the 25-man roster all year as a Rule 5 pick and is under team control now. He can be sent down and brought up without fear of losing him to other teams. Tocci was a good center fielder in 2018 and ended up being a pretty hot bat down the stretch. For a rebuilding team like Texas, it’s possible that Tocci could man center field full time. He already got a taste of that action when DeShields was injured and he managed to hold things down well enough.
I’d think that the ownership group would rather see Choo and his $21 million be moved off of the books, but once the 2018 season ended, Choo obtained 10/5 Rights (10 years as a player, 5 with the same team), which means that he has full no-trade protection. He’d have to waive it to be traded. Realistically, Gallo and Mazara are the most likely to be traded.
The Rangers would likely prefer to hang onto Gallo but power is a huge part of today's game and he supplies it. Texas will also be listening on Mazara, as he is full of untapped potential, but they don't want to get in a situation where they're selling low.
Sign a franchise pitcher…?
Arguably, Texas already has a few core position players in Gallo, Mazara and Rougned Odor. Jose Trevino and others are waiting in the wings, but what about a marquee pitcher to anchor the staff while the rest of the young arms develop? Mike Minor, while a successful signing last season, certainly isn’t that, and neither are Drew Smyly or Edinson Volquez. There aren’t too many big names on the market that could conceivably carry the title of ace, but a couple of names might interest Texas if they want to sign someone to carry the team into the new stadium.
Matt Harvey is the most obvious choice. Plagued by injury, underwhelming performance, and some outside drama in New York, Harvey was traded to the Reds by the Mets and bounced back somewhat, ending up with a 7-7 record and a composite 4.94 ERA.
The allure in Harvey is the idea of continuing to bounce back. He’s not going to be the promised “Dark Knight” the Mets were waiting for, but in a pressure free environment in Texas, Harvey could work on regaining some of that form that made him a quick household name after 2015. He might come at a relatively low price tag, too, given his injury history and previous lack of performance.
Shelby Miller is a “Typical Ranger” target. Going into his second season after Tommy John surgery, Miller would be a low-cost, high-upside pitcher. Miller briefly tried to come back after the surgery last year but only made four starts before being shut down.
Miller is a former All-Star, someone that had been counted on heavily by St. Louis from 2012-2014. The 28-year old is a prime candidate to sign on somewhere on a very low-cost deal and see if he can come back to form. Why not have that place be Texas for a Texas native? His contract could be heavily laden with incentives, and if he ends up rebounding, he’d be a candidate to lead the Rangers’ pitching staff at 29 years old when Globe Life Field opens.
Who knows, maybe the Rangers could end up surprising everyone with some low-key moves that keep them competitive. With Seattle already waving a white flag and the Angels seemingly perennially spinning their wheels and unable to get out of their own way, Jon Daniels could pull the trigger on some sleeper moves. This is the era of the second Wild Card, after all.
More than likely, however, the Rangers are still under construction and will stick to their plan of trying to build a team that can contend for the long haul. There’s a lot to consider with ownership tightening an already reduced payroll and a the promise of a new ballpark looming.
The Winter Meetings might not be full of moves to improve the 2019 Texas Rangers, but you can bet that whatever moves they do make will be designed for the 2020 club and beyond.
Do you think the Rangers should do more of a teardown rebuild or do you think they already have the core of a team that can compete with a little more time and pitching? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.