Construction Fun: Building The 2014 Texas Rangers Roster

Roster
Playing armchair General Manager is a popular hobby among baseball writers these days. My twitter handle alludes to my enjoyment of that very activity. Being a General Manager is a dream job for me, like many. But it’s also a dream of which we can only understand a fraction of the reality. 
Because of that disconnect from reality that many writers (myself in particular) experience, the exercises like the one I am about to undergo are far too Utopian, far too often.

For example, I did this last year, too. My plan for the Rangers’ 2012-13 offseason included trades for Giancarlo Stanton AND David Price AND Matt Garza AND Tim Collins. On top of that, I wanted to sign Melky Cabrera AND Koji Uehara AND Ryan Madson AND Maicer Izturis. In hindsight, that looks ridiculous. A nice team, but ridiculous.

As I take another crack at it again for the Rangers’ 2013-14 offseason, let’s look at what the Rangers have today.

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Without any other moves this offseason, Texas is on the books for about $104 million in payroll, after factoring in estimated arbitration settlements (estimates used from MLB Trade Rumors).

If Jon Daniels is to be believed, he expects the 2014 payroll to open the season in the same range as where the 2013 payroll was, which was $125,340,100. That tells us what we have to work with in terms of salary.

The other area we need to look at is team needs, which are most prominently Catcher, Designated Hitter, Left Field, and First Base. I’m assuming Texas doesn’t need to and won’t make any moves with pitching.

And finally, the big question mark is what to do with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Jurickson Profar. I believe that for the Rangers to successfully execute an offseason plan, this is the first piece of the puzzle that they need to put in place.

It seems the most popular solution in this area is to trade Ian Kinsler. He has the largest contract of the three and is the oldest of the three, after all. That solution looks great on paper. But in reality, Texas has not historically made offseason trades. Instead, they are intensely active in the trading season during the summer.

Trading Michael Young last year was the first meaningful offseason trade the Rangers had made since moving Alfonso Soriano in December 2005. Young was traded because he had been moved to every possible position on the diamond until he ran out of positions, and could no longer be used. It isn’t the same situation for Kinsler. This leads me to the first move of the offseason:

Move Ian Kinsler to Left Field

My plan centers on Kinsler moving positions. At one point, last offseason, he had decided to switch positions to make room for Profar, before changing his mind. One reason that was given for staying at second base was that 2013 was the first year of his five-year contract extension with Texas. While Kinsler had said at the time of signing that contract that he would at some point be willing to move positions, he apparently hadn’t imagined that move would take place in the first year of his contract.

Now, it is time for Texas to re-visit Kinsler moving positions, and given the team’s needs and Kinsler’s abilities, left field seems to make the most sense. If this move is to take place, it should be decided soon, both for Kinsler’s sake with his offseason preparation, and especially for the team’s sake as they execute their retooling of the 2014 roster.

With that position change as the first domino in the offseason, here are the other moves that I think Texas should make:

Sign Brian McCann for five years, $80 million

I was initially against signing McCann, but as I went through this exercise plugging in Dioner Navarro in as the team’s second catcher, it became clear that what McCann brings to the team is a perfect fit for their needs. His bat in the lineup is a difference-maker, and his defense behind the plate would be an upgrade over last year. Texas would also not be relying on him to catch every day, which should help reduce McCann’s risk of injury, considering he hasn’t played more than 130 games the last three years.

While I don’t think Texas is eager to forfeit a draft pick, and isn’t the kind of team to spend rashly in free agency, they should be in line to receive a compensatory draft pick for Nelson Cruz signing elsewhere, and if a McCann deal looks bad in the back end of it, they do have that new TV contract that starts in 2015 to help alleviate that concern.

Sign Paul Konerko for one year, $6 million

Konerko had the worst year of his career in 2013, and he turns 38 next season. Neither of those are major positives in his favor. However, there are three reasons that Konerko makes sense in Texas.

1. The Rangers only need him to hit left-handed pitching. Despite his terrible season last year, he still hit .313/.398/.525 against lefties.

2. He can provide value off the field in the clubhouse. Konerko is probably going to be a big league manager one day. He brings a presence to the clubhouse, perhaps filling a void left behind by the departure of Joe Nathan.

On Baseball Prospectus’ Effectively Wild podcast, Sam Miller mentioned that he spoke to players from the Cleveland Indians last year, who spoke about the importance of the role that Jason Giambi played in their clubhouse in 2013. Giambi was a sort of manager proxy, who helped manage the clubhouse without the manager having to always be present. I could see Konerko playing that kind of role in Texas.

3. Before his 80 OPS+ season last year, Konerko had posted nine straight seasons with an OPS+ over 100. And even though he will be 38, with a more limited role he could provide some of the power that Texas needs.

Re-sign David Murphy for one year, $5 million

As I was assembling this roster for the 2014 season, I came to a point of needing a left-handed bat to hit off the bench, who could also play the outfield. I have written previously about why Texas should re-sign Murphy, and it held true to me in this case as well.

It was either him, or Raul Ibanez. Considering that Murphy can still play defense without being a total liability, it was an easy choice.

This is a more simplified version of this exercise than you will commonly see. I don’t have Texas signing two or three top free agents and making one or two blockbuster trades. For one thing, I don’t think that fits with the behavior and philosophy of the Rangers’ front office, and secondly, they don’t have to. The 2013 Rangers won 91 games while being decimated by pitcher injuries, and getting almost no production from first base, DH, and left field.

The final product is a team that maintains payroll flexibility (a $6.1 million increase in Opening Day payroll from 2012, or 5%) and dry powder in the farm system while improving at the big league level. I believe this aligns with the objectives of the Rangers as an organization, and most importantly (to me), it might actually happen. 

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Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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