Lining Up The Dominoes

dominoes
Just seven days ago, I hemmed and hawed about the offseason plans for the Texas Rangers, and imagined how they would build the roster for next season. Well, that’s all garbage now. 
Since then, key players of my “plan” cannot be in the picture any longer – Ian Kinsler was traded, Brian McCann signed with the Yankees, and David Murphy signed with the Indians. Not only that, but because Texas traded Kinsler for Prince Fielder, the team’s needs have changed now, too.

Here is my best guess of what the Rangers’ 25-man roster looks like today:

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You can see the three holes on the team are at catcher, left field, and a designated hitter type who could also play the outfield.

With the pieces in place, here is an idea of what the lineups would look like:

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Besides just the positional needs, the Rangers are missing some middle-of-the-order bats. Adding Prince Fielder goes a long way to solidifying the middle of a lineup, but the 2013 Rangers were so power deficient that even Fielder isn’t a big enough band-aid to fill the power vacuum left by the departure of Cruz, and now Kinsler.

Having Fielder on the roster and in the lineup brings clarity to the offseason picture for Texas. For starters, having just committed seven years and $138 million to Fielder should take Texas out of the running for signing a free agent to a long-term, nine-figure contract. That means no Robinson Cano, no Jacoby Ellsbury, and no Shin-Soo Choo, in all likelihood.

Despite likely knocking the Rangers out of the running for these top free agent names, acquiring Fielder and his $24 million salary in 2014 suggests that Texas is willing to spend more next year than they originally stated. Without any other moves, they’re on the books for about $112 million. From Jon Daniels’ comments earlier this season, the expectation for the 2014 salary was to be in the same range as 2013 – about $125 million. That would be difficult now. Texas appears positioned to push past that number.

Because of this, the next step for Texas should be to sign Carlos Beltran. While he will be 37 next year, he is coming off of back-to-back seasons with an OPS+ of 128, and wRC+ of 126 and 132. Those seasons would have ranked second on the 2013 Rangers team behind only Adrian Beltre. With a player as talented as Beltran, as long as he can stay healthy he should continue to be productive in 2014, and potentially for the next three years, which is the length of contract it will likely take to sign him.

Signing Beltran gives Texas the impact bat that it needs, and eases the process of finding another catcher and outfielder/designated hitter.

The next domino to fall should be at the catcher position for Texas. Now that McCann is off the market, the rest of the catcher options are relatively underwhelming.

However, Texas should sign Dioner Navarro to complement Geovany Soto. Navarro is coming off of a career year in which he hit .300/.365/.492. That career year was boosted by an 18% HR/FB ratio, well above his career average of 7.5%. It was not boosted by an unusually high BABIP, however, despite hitting line drives at a higher clip (25%) than his career average (21%). Navarro may just be a late bloomer. Signing AJ Pierzynski after a career year worked well for Texas last season, and it would be a good move to repeat that with Navarro.

That would fill all of the starting jobs for Texas. All that would be left is another right-handed bat to come off the bench, and DH on days when the Rangers are facing a southpaw on the mound.

Engel Beltre and Jim Adduci are already in the Rangers’ organization, and on the 40-man roster, and will likely be given a chance to earn a job on the bench of the big club out of Spring Training. However, if Texas were to sign Beltran, this bench role really needs to be right-handed with some pop, which are two qualities that neither Beltre nor Adduci possess.

To fill that last need, Texas could sign a one-year deal with Mike Morse, who may be in line for a bounceback year with a change of scenery, after posting a .254 BABIP in Seattle last season. Morse has also historically hit well against left-handed pitching in his career.

With those three signings, the Rangers roster and lineups would look like this:

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The wild card to this situation would be another trade. Texas tends to deal from its strengths when putting together trade packages. Right now, the club has three clear surpluses from which it could deal: middle infield prospects, Mitch Moreland, and the bullpen.

Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor are flying up prospect charts, and are both still blocked by Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar for at least the next five years (when Elvis could first opt out of his contract).

Mitch Moreland’s defense is virtually his only remaining asset to Texas with the signing of Fielder, and his power stroke is an intriguing skill to be able to offer to another team who may be more bullish on his ability to finally put it all together.

It’s unusual for the bullpen picture to be so clear for Texas this early in the offseason. I speculated on Twitter in mid-October that Texas could trade a “proven” bullpen guy for a good return. Given that the Angels just signed Joe Smith to a three-year deal, there certainly seems to be a market for relievers. Trading Joakim Soria or Neftali Feliz could serve the dual purpose of saving a few million on the payroll, and netting a useful player in return.

Navigating the offseason requires many plans and contingency plans, and the willingness to add to the whiteboard constantly, and rearrange and erase as needed. Attempting to speculate on how the Rangers close the rest of their offseason only goes to show what a glutton for punishment I am. Just like the last time I did this it was turned to rubbish within four days, I am certain this exercise will be laughable in hindsight as well. However, last time I did this, the first domino to fall for Texas surpassed what I had hoped for – perhaps this is just an exercise in setting the bar, and watching the club sail over it.

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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