2013 Rangers Infield Preview

To say that this off-season is an important one for the Rangers franchise would be an obvious understatement. The questions that this team must answer this off-season involve more key players than any hot stove period I can remember for the Rangers. I believe this is the most pivotal winter in the history of the Texas Rangers. How they handle some of those crucial questions could shape this franchise’s future for many years. I traded in my coaching whistle for a GM hat and below is what my plan would be if I were King for a day (or an entire off-season).

3B

THE SCENARIO:  Adrian Beltre

THE PLAN: Adrian Beltre

SS

THE SCENARIO: One of the more intriguing debates going on this off-season is the status of Elvis Andrus. Do the Rangers trade him now in order to capitalize his market value while it is at a peak?  Or do they keep him and try to either resign him or utilize his talent until the contract expires? Andrus is signed through the 2014 season and there is the risk that he will walk and take his talents to the Bronx or elsewhere, so I understand the trade discussion and why it makes sense to trade him now. Coupling Andrus with another prized prospect or major league player could return a Texiera type player haul, but there are no guarantees in the trade market.

THE PLAN: Elvis will be our shortstop next season because this franchise needs Elvis more next season than they need anything he could return in a trade. They need a known commodity to solidify a transitioning infield (see 2B), plus Elvis Andrus was arguably the most consistent player in 2012 and continues to grow both as a hitter and a defender. He is one of the top three shortstops in the game and no matter how ready Profar is, this team takes a step backwards without Elvis playing short. Profar may be the future, but after the collapse this season Jon Daniels won’t be ready to take that risk-yet.

2B

THE SCENARIO: The most intriguing question of the off-season in my opinion is this one. Moving Kinsler to the outfield is a very logical transition for the Rangers if they decide they need Profar in the lineup everyday. Alfonso Soriano made that transition successfully and  the Astros also moved Biggio to the outfield to make room for Jeff Kent in 2003. Moving to the outfield is an easy transition for a great athlete and Kinsler is obviously one of those. It requires Ian to get a million reps seeing the ball off the bat, but his athleticism will take over once he gets comfortable seeing the ball from a new perspective. His arm will be average at best, but it will suffice in left field, especially at Rangers ballpark.

THE PLAN: The fact that Ian is coming off a down year defensively at second will help Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan pull the trigger on this move, thus opening up second base for rookie Jurickson Profar. The combination of Profar and Andrus not only upgrades our team defensively, but keeps a nice balance of youth and veteran leadership. Plus, it gives you defensive flexibility in case of an injury with Kinsler coming back to second if needed.

1B

THE SCENARIO: Mitch Moreland will have a full season one day and will show the world that he is a productive big league first baseman, but it seems that injuries and the presence of Mike Napoli and Michael Young stealing his at bats have always seemed to stall his development. The argument for not needing an upgrade over Mitch was always that this team didn’t need the stereotypical slugging first baseman because of the power we got from Josh in the outfield. Well, that suddenly changes if Josh doesn’t return in 2013 and all of a sudden the first base position requires the plus hit tool. The problem is this year’s free agent market isn’t as strong as it was last year with Pujols and Fielder headlining the free agent class.

THE PLAN: There are a few free agent names out there that are intriguing (James Loney, Carlos Pena, and  CarloS Lee), but I think this team has bigger needs other than first base and they will be able to contend with a healthy Mitch Moreland. Plus, if you are able to bring Napoli back he is a nice alternate plan here when Moreland needs rest or a lefty is throwing. Upgrading the first base position is nowhere near the top of my needs list if I am Jon Daniels.

Catcher

THE SCENARIO: Much like first base, there are some intriguing names in the free agency market at catcher, but nothing that really feels like a significant upgrade in my opinion. Guys like Russell Martin, Gerald Laird, and A.J. Pierzynski headline the free agent group, but in terms of statistical value and team value I would prefer Napoli.

THE PLAN: I think this is a pretty simple business decision for the front office to make, in my opinion. You have a solid backup returning in Geovany Soto and Mike Napoli is coming off a disappointing season and will not garner the financial return he was looking for going into this season. Signing Napoli to a one-year contract works for both parties because it gives Napoli a chance to possibly have another 2011 season and cash in for 2014. It also gives the Rangers a great duo for an entire season that combines a solid offensive catcher in Napoli and a pitcher friendly Soto. The Rangers run the risk of over-paying for one year of Napoli’s services, but the other options previously mentioned do not make this team better.

Utility Infielder

THE SCENARIO: One of the problems that is often overlooked about the 2012 season is the lack of a quality utility infielder on this roster. The flexibility of Michael Young and Mike Napoli allows Washington to devalue the need of a high priced utility player, but there were times when a quality bat and glove off the bench could have made Wash more comfortable this past season. Brandon Snyder and Alberto Gonzales were ghosts on this roster and made very few appearances. I do believe Washington mishandled his roster at times and a lot can be questioned about his resting of players, but can you blame him for not wanting to put Gonzales or Snyder out there?  

THE PLAN:  Michael Young becomes your primary corner utility infielder. The brain trust will spend the off-season convincing Michael (but mostly Washington) that it’s time to limit his at bats and his role on this team will be limited compared to this past season. Michael Young is a fantastic option as a guy off your bench to give Beltre and Moreland spot rest during the season. Brandon Snyder is still on the 40-man roster, but I don’t see him breaking camp with the club this spring. Would 37- year-old Marco Scutaro accept a utility role to help him win that coveted ring? He would be out of the Rangers budget I would imagine, but the need for a quality defensive middle infielder is a need the Rangers must address this winter. Mike Napoli also provides depth at first base and Kinsler would provide insurance in case of an emergency.

Jeff Johnson is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Jeff.Johnson@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @Houstonhog.
Jeff Johnson

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