The Rangers’s Lesser-Known Offseason Targets

JD
The Rangers enter this offseason in a similar position that they have been in for the last three years. They are organizationally sound enough from a personnel and payroll perspective to make virtually any move, and they are in an advanced enough position on the win curve that it is imperative that they make the kinds of major moves that improve the team by a win or two. This puts Texas right into the thick of nearly every rumor that will be floated this offseason, and rightfully so: the Rangers are going to explore every possible option.
It seems that during the course of the offseason, there are a handful of players who are the “key” pieces of the winter. They could be trade targets, or free agents, but their names get the most space on the marquee and are at the top of the whiteboards. For some teams, success or failure in the winter hinges on acquiring these elite targets.

This year, it is already becoming clear who those key players are for this offseason. Jose Abreu was one of them, and now he’s off the board. Robinson Cano, David Price, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Shin-Soo Choo probably round out the rest of the list. In one way or another, to varying degrees, the Rangers have already been rumored to be a potential landing spot for each of these players.

Because of the prestige of the players, much of what we hear in the media regarding the Rangers’ activity this offseason will relate to these top-level players. But the Rangers’ actual activity level will go much deeper than that. The front office won’t be just looking at five players this offseason; they’ll cast a wider net. They have to, because there are 29 other teams and the Rangers will operate on a budget, so they can’t expect to bring all of these guys into the fold, and they can’t afford to either.

It is my opinion that none of these players will suit up for Texas in 2014. Not Cano, Price, McCann, Ellsbury, or Choo.

Jon Daniels has stated publicly that he doesn’t expect the team payroll to increase much from 2013. If that were true, based on contractual salary increases and arbitration-eligible players, the Rangers don’t have much room to spend a truckload of money this offseason.

However, we all know that the Rangers have outspent their publicly announced budget before, gaining ownership support from Ray Davis and Bob Simpson to spend more than planned. Those extra expenditures have always come for special players (Yu Darvish), or for short-term rentals (Matt Garza) that were believed to push the team over the top.

Looking at the names that will dominate the headlines this season, there just doesn’t appear to be a fit for the Rangers to break the bank.

Robinson Cano may command a $200 million deal, and the Rangers are fairly set in the infield. Even if the Rangers found trades that would bring significant returns for Kinsler and/or Profar, their team philosophy has never been to spend that much on one player, and Cano will be 31 years old next year.

David Price will likely require trading Jurickson Profar and then some. In return, the Rangers would have control of Price for two years at about $26 million, while giving up six years of cost-controlled Profar. Maybe it’s the kind of “all-in” move Texas makes in light of the new TV contract starting in 2015, but I don’t think more money will change the organization philosophy of operating with both the two-year and five-year window in mind.

Brian McCann will be a 30-year old catcher who hasn’t played more than 130 games each of the last three seasons, while hitting .252/.329/.441 in the games he did play. It doesn’t add up to giving McCann the four or five year deal he will likely land at about a $15M average annual value.

Jacoby Ellsbury is a similar story to McCann. He is now 30 years old, is looking for a nine-figure deal, and has an injury history of his own. He also plays the same position as Leonys Martin. Even if an outfield of Ellsbury-Martin-Rios would be exciting next year, the offseason isn’t a vacuum, and there is going to be another team that needs him more.

Shin-Soo Choo may be the most attractive from this list. His on-base percentage skills (.392 OBP since 2008) are somewhat insane. Yet, again the issue is that Choo may command a five-year, $80 million deal, which I don’t see the Rangers committing to a 30-year old corner outfielder.

The other variable to consider is that signing Cano, McCann, Ellsbury, or Choo would mean the Rangers would forfeit their first round draft pick.

There are certainly arguments to be made about why the Rangers would sign any of these guys. However, I think of when Jon Daniels spoke at last year’s Baseball Prospectus event at the Ballpark. He said that when the club is making a significant economic investment, they have to make sure the scouting, the stats, the medicals, and the makeup of the player all line up. Texas was right about Adrian Beltre. They were right about Yu Darvish. If they determine that one of these guys is worth the investment it will take to sign them, I’ll believe them. However, I don’t see it all adding up for any of these players.

The Rangers always seem to forge a non-obvious route in their path to reloading the roster each year. The good news as they enter this offseason is that there still exists a very solid foundation in Texas. They are bringing back eleven pitchers (Darvish, Holland, Harrison, Perez, Ogando, Feliz, Frasor, Ross, Cotts, Soria, and Scheppers), five infielders (Moreland, Kinsler, Profar, Andrus, and Beltre), and three outfielders (Rios, Martin, and Gentry) from this year’s roster. That puts their offseason needs at catcher, left field, first base (assuming Moreland will not be used again as an everyday first baseman), and designated hitter.

It is almost impossible to predict what Texas will do over the winter, but let’s look at some of the less obvious names who may be more likely to fill the holes on the club than the obvious ones. These players would come at a significantly reduced cost to Texas, but may still be able to plug in and make the ball club better as a whole.

Catcher:

Texas continues to search for its franchise catcher. Hopefully, Jorge Alfaro is it, but he is still two or three years away from Arlington, if all goes well. Until then, the Rangers may stick to short-term deals to minimize risk behind the plate.

Carlos Ruiz, FA – Stopgap catcher who hit .268/.320/.421 in the second half of 2013.

Yasmani Grandal, SD – Potential trade target from the Padres, who have Nick Hundley as their fulltime backstop. Grandal may open 2014 on the disabled list after July surgery on his ACL and MCL.

Dioner Navarro, FA – Coming off a career year with the Cubs, hitting .300/.365/.492. AJ Pierzynski was coming off a career year when Texas signed him, too.

First Base:

The Rangers really only need someone to play opposite Mitch Moreland to hit left-handed pitching, which Moreland cannot do. Ideally, if Moreland only has to focus on hitting righties, he can do so at or better than the .281/.328/.470 split he did in 2012.

Kevin Youkilis, FA – This may be too close to a Lance Berkman redux, but despite getting older and being injured last year, Youkilis has always been able to get on base, and hit lefties.

Paul Konerko, FA – Despite an overall disappointing 2013, Konerko still hit .313/.398/.525 against left-handed pitching.

Mike Morse, FA – Buying into Morse would be buying into that he was “Safeco’ed” last year and his .254 BABIP will improve back to something closer to his .330 career mark. Also, a career .284/.340/.479 hitter against lefties.

Left Field:

Based on the Rangers’ current lineup construction, they really need to get some power from the left field position in 2014, which they significantly lacked in 2013, as David Murphy saw the lion’s share of time while hitting .220/.275/.378 in left field.

Carlos Beltran, FA – Despite reaching his late 30s, Beltran has hardly slowed down. He wouldn’t come on the cheap, but he would certainly add some pop to the lineup without being too much of a liability on defense in left field.

Michael Cuddyer, COL – Cuddyer also had a career year with Colorado, pounding a .331/.389/.530 line along with a .382 BABIP, which will likely regress, but doesn’t change that he’s a good hitter (five straight seasons with an OPS+ over 100). He has one year left on his current deal at $10.5 million, and doesn’t fit into Colorado’s long-term plans. If they aren’t looking to move Carlos Gonzalez, Cuddyer may be available.

Corey Hart, FA – Hart missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing knee surgery. He’ll be 32 next year, and may be a defensive liability, but from 2010-2012 his OPS+ was 130, 133, and 120.

Designated Hitter:

The past two seasons the Rangers have whiffed on designated hitter, as the Michael Young and Lance Berkman bats went dead. Young was $16M on the books in 2012, and Berkman and Young were a combined $21M in 2013. Now, that dead weight is off the budget and Texas will look to gain some positive WAR from the DH position, at what should be a fraction of the cost.

We can essentially lump any of the candidates from first base or left field from above into the DH category as well, and perhaps add two more names:

Nelson Cruz, FA – But not on a long-term commitment. If Cruz accepts a qualifying offer, great. If not, it will not be the end of the world if he signs elsewhere.

Raul Ibanez, FA – After looking like the was done in 2011 with Philadelphia, the 41-year old has rebounded each of the last two seasons with strong offensive performances. He is worthless on defense now, which is what kept his WAR the last two seasons low, but as a bat only, he is still an ageless, usable part.

The Rangers will likely add at least one impact talent this offseason. I don’t expect that impact talent to come from the free agent market, but from a trade instead.

Even though we may see and hear the most about five or six names this offseason, the Rangers will find other ways to put a competing team on the field next season. They have the market size and ownership support that they may not have to go bargain shopping all winter, but even if they do, there will be value to be found. 

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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