Breaking Down Possible Free Agent Fits
Off-Season Outlook: Free Agents
The trek towards 2017 is officially underway. The Chicago Cubs were named World Series Champions for the first time in 108 years, and now the Rangers have the 2nd longest World Series drought behind the AL champion Cleveland Indians. Free agency is open, and the Rangers have plenty of spots to fill, and though it is a thin pool of starting pitchers this year, the market has tons of outfield/first base/designated hitter bats, which is where the Rangers are looking to improve.
I’m going to look at these four positions and breakdown of who would be good fits for the team. I’m not going to go through every available player at every position of need, but I will mention a few names at each position that make sense or have been linked to the Rangers in some capacity.
*Rejected qualifying offer
First Base/Designated Hitter:
Edwin Encarnacion*: He’s hit 34 or more home runs in every season since 2012, has driven in 100 or more runs in five of the last six seasons and hasn’t batted below .260 since 2010. Texas can afford to add about $25 million to their payroll, but that doesn’t leave room for additions elsewhere. Consistency isn’t cheap, but Encarnacion would put this team over the top.
What it would take: 5 years/$130 million.
Mark Trumbo*: After a lackluster season in Seattle, Trumbo pulled a Nelson Cruz and went to Baltimore on a one-year deal and had a career year. He swatted an AL-leading 47 homers leading the Os to a Wild Card berth. He’s a candidate to stay in Baltimore but should be a 1B/DH and the O’s locked up Chris Davis last year (7 years/$161 million, which could be what Trumbo asks for). Texas could be a logical fit for the big righty.
What it would take: 7 years/$155 million.
Mike Napoli: He’s a familiar face who allegedly loved being here, and there is absolutely a need. Like Edwin Encarnacion, he is a needed right-handed bat who could play first or DH for the life of his deal depending on what Jon Daniels decides to do with Joey Gallo. Resurgent season with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs could cause someone to overpay, though.
What it would take: 3 years/$42 million, option for 4th year
Matt Holliday: More of a designated hitter, but did play ten games at first last year. Good news: If you take out an injury plagued 2015, he has at least 20 home runs in every season since 2006. Bad news: Quad injury cost him most of the year in 2015 and didn’t look great in 2016 despite hitting 20 home runs in 110 games.
What it would take: 2 years/$20 million
Mark Reynolds: Reynolds is famous for being a three true outcome hitter, but last year he posted a career-high .282 batting average and his lowest strikeout percentage of 25.4%. What’s fascinating is his spray chart for last year. Take a look at 2016 vs. 2015.
He’s spent 2016 going the opposite way A LOT more and actually getting hits going the other way. Could it be that Reynolds is evolving as a hitter at 33? Could be a good guy to take a chance on.
What it would take: 1 year/$8 million, option for additional years, incentive filled contract
Steve Pearce: Could be the other half of a platoon if the Rangers go with Gallo and either miss or pass on Reynolds. Career .270 hitter versus left-handers with the ability to slot in the outfield if necessary. If Gallo thrives, would make an excellent bench player. If Gallo struggles then first base becomes a black hole. Why wouldn’t the Rangers just stick with Ryan Rua, though? May not make sense as a starter, but would be a serviceable bench player.
What it would take: 1 year/$5 million. Lots of incentives.
Yoenis Cespedes*: Will probably be the hottest commodity on the free agent market. 66 home runs over the last two seasons for the Tigers and the Mets while batting .291 in 2015 and .280 in 2016. He opted out of his deal with the Mets in which he would have made $23.75 million each of the next two years, so he will probably be looking to make at least $25 million or maybe even more. I think he’s a fit in Texas, but the high price tag makes it extremely unlikely.
What it would take: 6 years/$160 million.
Note: Right before publishing, Yoenis Cespedes signed a deal with the New York Mets for 4 years/$110 million.
Ian Desmond*: I’d say the first year in the OF went well. Not only did Desmond have a bounce-back season offensively, but also impressed and played serviceable center field. Desmond apparently enjoyed his time here and engaged in extension talks at some point. Started hot, but after the All-Star break, he batted .237/.283/.347 while striking out 22.5% of the time and only walking 5.5% of the time. If asking price stays at 7 year/$107 million offer he turned down from Washington in 2014, he will probably end up elsewhere. What it would take: 5 years/$82 million
Dexter Fowler*: Switch-hitting center fielder who proved to be a catalyst at the top of the Cubs lineup for their championship run. Always been one of my favorite players, and one of the guys I hope ends up in Texas. Doesn’t have league leading numbers, but he can hit homers, steal bases and had the 10th best walk rate in the majors last year at 14.3%. Could be looking for a Shin-Soo Choo type deal.
What it would take: 6 years/$98 million
Jose Bautista*: This scenario is HIGHLY unlikely because Jose Bautista the person is probably the worst fit in this clubhouse, but Jose Bautista the ballplayer is a great fit. He is best suited as a DH with injury issues coming back up last season, holding him to only 116 games. He’s still hit the most home runs in the majors since 2010 (249) though. Again, I doubt this happens, but since he is a fit, I wanted to mention it at least.
What it would take: 3 years/$45 mil, player option for a 4th year.
Brandon Moss: I wouldn’t expect the Rangers to go after Moss unless they trade and/or sign a right-handed center fielder/first baseman as well. Moss’ left-handed power could be a great fit in Globe Life Park. 25 home runs in three of the last four seasons and could play first corner outfield, or DH. If first basemen start flying off the market, Jon Daniels may give Moss’ agent a call.
What it would take: 4 years/$42 million
Carlos Gomez: If we are being honest, I hated Gomez until he was a Ranger last season. Judged him by his bat flips and helmet taps as he rounded the bases, but now I want him back. Gomez was cut after batting .221 with 9 home runs over 126 games for the Astros, then signed with the rival Rangers and hit .284 and six home runs in 33 games. He raved about Rangers hitting coaches and the clubhouse atmosphere and expressed interest in returning. If Rangers can make a reasonable offer, I would expect to see him back in center field.
What it would take: 4 years/$56 million, options for additional years.
Carlos Beltran: After two very meh seasons in New York, Carlos Beltran did what Carlos Beltran does; breakout in a contract year. He combined for .257 with 34 home runs and 116 RBIs between 2014 and 2015, then in 2016 hit .295 with 29 home runs and 93 RBIs in stints with the Yankees and Rangers. At 39 years old, he says he is ready to go for another season, and will look to join a club close to World Series contention to get himself a ring, probably as a DH.
What it would take: 1 year/$16 million, option for a 2nd year at $14 million.
On Friday, Nov 18, the Rangers signed FA Andrew Cashner to a one year/$10 million deal. This section will be brief and under the assumption that the Rangers are looking for a “higher end” or flyer signed at starting pitcher.
Edinson Volquez: The starting pitching market was thin even before Jeremy Hellickson accepted his qualifying offer. It’s now the slimmest of pickings, and the whole pool became one big value bin. Volquez has started at least 30 games in every season since 2012 and was two outs away from reaching 190 IP in 2016, which would have made three straight seasons. Rangers need innings at the back of the rotation, but the career-high 23 home runs and 9th worst walk per 9 at 3.61 is troubling. Seems unlikely after the Cashner signing, but as we have learned, you can never have enough starting pitching depth.
What it would take: 2 years/$23 million.
Note: During editing, Edinson Volquez signed a deal with the Miami Marlins for 2 years/$22 million.
Ivan Nova: After a great 2013, Nova posted a 5.31 over the next three seasons in New York. So, of course, they dump him to Pittsburgh, and he looked a lot better, posting a 3.06 over 11 starts. What’s really impressive has he only walked three batters over those 11 starts and tied his career low in home runs per 9 innings with 0.6 (allowing only four home runs in those 11 starts). Tiny sample size, but this Nova looks a lot like the Nova that the Yankees had in 2013. That should help him secure a sweet deal this winter, but his late 2016 performance could cause someone to overpay.
What it would take: 3 years/$36 million. Lots of incentives.
Nathan Eovaldi: This is a fascinating case that I wanted to highlight for a minute. Formerly a top level prospect with the Dodgers, he was traded to the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez in 2012, and then to the Yankees in 2014. He has yet to pan out but lit up the radar gun in 2016. Had he qualified, he would have averaged the 2nd highest fastball velocity at 97 MPH.
Now that he is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and will miss all of 2017, I think his days as a starter are done. I want to see the Rangers bring him in on a two or three-year deal, let him heal completely and transition him to a relief role, where he could be dominant. Going a little deep here but in 2016, his swinging strike percentage on his splitter was 14.6%, his cutter was 13.4%, and his changeup was 14.5%. For reference, in his last year as a starter (2011), Andrew Miller’s slider generated a 13.6% swinging strike rate, and his average fastball velocity was only 93.2 that year. Pair those 3 pitches with a 98+ MPH fastball, he could be a superb reliever in the future.
What it would take: 2 years/$15 million. Salary loaded to the second year with lots of incentives.