For all the attention the Astros and Mariners have received for their busy offseasons, the Texas Rangers will go into the 2017 season as the two-time defending AL West champions. They won 95 games a year ago, and while their plus-8 run differential suggests there was some luck involved, their roster still looks solid.
So far this winter the Rangers have made two notable moves; they re-signed Carlos Gomez and signed Andrew Cashner. That's about it. There have been some small trades and minor league free agent signings as well, but nothing that figures to impact the club's chances to contend in 2017.
Gomez, Cashner, and lots of rumors. That is Texas' offseason in a nutshell.
Now, that said, the Rangers are not without flaws, of course. They could really use another starting pitcher, and at the moment they have neither an established first baseman nor an established designated hitter. Neck injuries unfortunately forced Prince Fielder into retirement last summer and Mitch Moreland left as a free agent, so those positions are up for grabs.
The current free agent market, as luck would have it, is absolutely loaded with first base/DH types. If you're willing to spend big and give up a draft pick, there's Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo, though something tells me Bautista wouldn't be too popular in Texas. If you're thinking smaller, there's Mike Napoli and Chris Carter. Or Adam Lind and Pedro Alvarez. Or Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds.
If you need a first base or DH bat, the free agent market has plenty to offer, which means the Rangers are in pretty good shape. They'll have their pick of the litter.
There's also this: they don't need to sign a first baseman or a DH. It's possible GM Jon Daniels doesn't like anything he sees in free agency, and could instead decide to stay internal at these two positions. His in-house options:
- Ryan Rua: Platoon bat hit .277/.348/.406 (106 OPS+) against left-handed pitching in 2016.
- Jurickson Profar: Former top prospect is still only 23, and the Rangers used him at first base last year as a way to get him playing time.
- Joey Gallo: Slugger ranked as the 11th-best prospect in baseball in Baseball America's midseason rankings.
- Shin-Soo Choo: Putting Choo at DH likely means playing Delino DeShields in the outfield, which, if nothing else, improves the defense.
- Josh Hamilton: The Rangers have not re-signed Hamilton yet, but it's coming. It'll be a low-risk minor league contract whenever it does happen.
Of course, that group comes with a whole lot of risk. Hamilton hasn't been able to step on the field in over a year due to knee problems. Choo had his own injury issues last year. Profar is exciting, but the kid hit .239/.321/.338 (75 OPS+) in more than 300 plate appearances. There are rumblings Gallo is falling out of favor with the coaching staff and the front office.
Given his current roster, manager Jeff Banister's best possible lineup probably looks something like this:
- RF Shin-Soo Choo
- CF Carlos Gomez
- 3B Adrian Beltre
- 2B Rougned Odor
- C Jonathan Lucroy
- DH Joey Gallo
- SS Elvis Andrus
- LF Nomar Mazara
- 1B Jurickson Profar
There is some wiggle room there. Maybe Gallo and Mazara switch spots. Or Andrus bats second and bumps everyone else down in the lineup. Generally speaking though, that's it, with Rua getting starts against lefties.
That lineup is ... okay. The top five spots look great! Things get a little dicey after that. The Rangers would be banking on three kids (Gallo, Profar, Mazara) coming into their own and Andrus repeating his career-best 2016 season. There's room for another bat there, for sure. A Napoli or an Alvarez would slot in nicely in the six-hole.
Texas is uniquely positioned at the moment because they have so much leverage. So, so much leverage. The free agents who fit their needs at first base and DH are all competing against each other for jobs, and the Rangers also have internal options at those positions, so they don't have to sign anyone. It's not imperative. The team holds all the cards right now.
Daniels is in an enviable position right now. He really is. He could sign two free agent sluggers for maybe $15 million combined, or roll the dice with high-upside kids like Profar and Gallo. It's a win-win. He could easily justify going in either direction, and frankly, I'm not sure there's a wrong answer.
My guess is the Rangers will bring aboard one veteran hitter, likely Napoli given his ties to the club. (It would be his third stint with Texas.) That player, regardless of whether it's Napoli or someone else, will then share time at first base and DH with everyone mentioned above. Profar, Gallo, Rua, maybe even Hamilton if he gets healthy.
Finding a fifth starter will take a some creativity. The free agent pitching class is thin and asking prices on the trade market are very high. Daniels has some work to do on the mound. At first base and DH though? He can be patient and let the market come to him. The Rangers are well-positioned to capitalize on the slugger-heavy market.