Busy Rangers won't stand pat at Winter Meetings
GM Daniels eyeing left fielder, adding depth to bench and pitching staff
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are threatening to peak even before the Winter Meetings begin. They have already acquired first baseman Prince Fielder from the Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and added outfielder Michael Choice in a four-player deal with the Athletics.
But there will be more work to do when general manager Jon Daniels and his cadre of advisors and scouts assemble at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday for the Winter Meetings.
"There are a few things to do with the team," Daniels said. "Filling out the bench … adding depth. There are some other things we could do. The main thing is we don't feel pressured. The deals have to be right. Our job is to improve the club."
The Rangers usually investigate every possibility, so they will definitely be in touch if the Rays decide to trade ace David Price. They will also continue to talk with Nelson Cruz's agent and they will monitor other free-agent outfielders, including Shin-Soo Choo.
The Rangers have a set infield. But in just about every other area of the team, the club will keep an open mind and attempt to find creative ways to get better. That's what good baseball executives do when sitting around resort hotel suites all day and night long.
Left field: Choice represents the long-term future of the Rangers, but that doesn't mean they have to force him into the lineup right away. Texas could still sign Choo or Cruz and have Choice wait for another time to break into the lineup. If the Rangers don't spend big money here, they will at least add a veteran player or two to give them a safety net in case Choice is judged not to be ready.
Designated hitter: Whether it's DH or the outfield, the Rangers are still looking for more offense. Mitch Moreland is the DH, but Kendrys Morales is available or they could take a chance on somebody like Jason Kubel having a comeback year.
Starting pitching: The Rangers appear to have a set rotation of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. But there could be competition for the fifth spot because the Rangers still have Nick Tepesch, they are giving Robbie Ross a chance to start again and they have signed Colby Lewis to a Minor League contract. If the Rangers don't make a serious run at Price, they will at least sign some veteran depth to Minor League contracts like they did last year with Kyle McClellan and Randy Wells.
Who they can trade, if necessary
Moreland: After being pushed aside at first base by Fielder, Moreland is now the Rangers' leading DH candidate. The Rays, Pirates and Brewers have all had some discussions with the Rangers about Moreland. If the Rangers traded him, though, they would be back to searching for an offensive threat for DH, and it would likely cost them far more than they would pay Moreland.
Ogando: If the Rangers were to get Price, they would likely have to send pitching back in return. Ogando would seem to be a leading candidate to be a part of the much bigger package it would take to land him.
OF Engel Beltre or LHP Michael Kirkman: Both are out of options, meaning they would have to make the team out of Spring Training or be exposed to outright waivers.
The Rangers' top prospect, according to MLB.com, is catcher Jorge Alfaro. They also had two highly regarded infielder prospects in Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor who are coveted by other teams. Luke Jackson has replaced Perez as their top pitching prospect. The Rangers appear loaded with serious offensive prospects in the lower levels of the system, a group that includes Ronald Guzman, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson and Jario Beras.
The farm system has taken some serious hits over the past few years because of midseason trades to reinforce the Major League team. The club is trying to be more protective of its Minor League assets.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rangers often use the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft to add relief candidates to their bullpen. They drafted Coty Woods last winter and picked up Ben Snyder in 2009 and Mason Tobin in 2010 through Rule 5 trades. None of them was able to stick with the team.
Big contracts they might unload
The Rangers have done a nice job of signing their starting pitchers to reasonable contracts that are below the value of what top free agents might get on the market. After trading Kinsler to the Tigers, the Rangers don't have any big contracts they consider a burden.
The Rangers had a 2013 Opening Day payroll of approximately $125 million. They have committed $100 million to signed players with approximately another $9 million-$10 million for four arbitration-eligible players: Moreland and pitchers Neftali Feliz, Ogando and Neal Cotts.
They still have to sign their pre-arbitration players, which would add another $5 million to the payroll, plus what they will have to pay for a backup catcher. That would leave room for at least one mid-level free agent or trade acquisition. Beyond that, the Rangers would be going over what they paid out last year.
It would also mean Texas going over if it was willing to pay the $20 million posting fee to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. He is expected to be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles and be in high demand by Major League clubs.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.