After losing the AL West to the Oakland Athletics for the second consecutive year, the Texas Rangers again find themselves headed into the offseason without a World Series title. This season may sting a little more than the past few because, for the first time in three years, the Rangers failed to make the playoffs.
The Rangers will be busy in the offseason trying to retool their roster before the window of opportunity closes on the group’s core players. This is Part 2 of a three-part series examining moves the 2014 Texas Rangers may make this offseason. If you missed Part 1, discussing the outlook of the Rangers outfield in 2014, click here.
First base: With a few seasons under Mitch Moreland’s belt, 2013 may have been the last shot for him to prove himself as the first baseman of the future for the franchise. How did he respond? By hitting .232, posting an on-base percentage of .299 (both career lows) and striking out 117 times (career high). Moreland has been given multiple opportunities to thrust himself into the Rangers lineup for the foreseeable future. But after multiple attempts, with little results, the Rangers might think it is time to move on. The club will be desperately looking for more offensive production next year and could get a shot in the arm if able to find a productive bat to insert into the middle of the order.
Ian Kinsler: Before the season, rumors circulated Kinsler would be open to moving from second base to first base in order to make room in a crowded infield for superstar prospect Jurickson Profar. However, before spring training, Kinsler appeared to have a change of heart and decided to stay at his current position. Kinsler might be approached again this offseason to make the transition to the corner infield, which would allow the Rangers financial flexibility without having to sign a free agent first baseman as well as help insert Profar into the everyday lineup. If Kinsler is unwilling to switch positions, something will need to be done about the logjam in the middle of the infield.
Middle infield: Too much of a good thing is never a bad thing, correct? Well in the Rangers case, they may think the same way. In a good way, the club has three great options to fill the void in the middle of the infield with Profar, Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. However, only two can play at one time, meaning a quality player will be forced to the bench. This presents the Rangers with a number of options with the three infielders. Rangers fans appear to be split about what would be best for the club, and you can find circles of fans who support trading one of the three players. The option TTFB writer Todd Kaufmann argues makes the most sense would be to trade Kinsler. In doing so, the club would be able to shed a large contract (he is due $16 million in 2014 and 2015), as well as insert more youth into the lineup. From what is being told to the public, the club still is considering options for the middle infield.
Catcher: Texas is without a catcher for the 2014 season as A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto are free agents. But don’t be surprised if the Rangers make a run at re-signing Pierzynski to another one-year deal similar to what the club offered last season. Soto, on the other hand, may end up signing elsewhere as he is young and most likely would be given a shot at a starting job with other clubs.
Now that we have explained what is happing in the infield, let’s explore some possible candidates who may be able to answer some of the problems the club is facing.
Justin Morneau: At 32, Morneau would be a short-term fix for the club at first base, buying Texas a few years to develop another first baseman in its deep farm system or delay finding a replacement until the offseason of 2014 or 2015. Morneau still might have some pop left in his bat, putting up 17 home runs this season for a dismal Minnesota Twins team. Playing in Texas may boost the lefty’s power numbers, as Rangers ballpark is generous to left-handed hitters.
Mike Napoli: Former Ranger and fan favorite Mike Napoli will be a free agent again after a productive season for the Boston Red Sox. Although unlikely, if Napoli were to return to Texas, he would be used mostly at first base or DH. A reunion in Texas would be nice, don’t expect it to happen. Given his playoff success so far this postseason, and a diagnosis of the same hip condition that quickly ended Bo Jackson’s football and baseball career, Napoli most likely will re-sign with Boston or attempt to get as much money in free agency given the question marks surrounding his health. My guess is the Rangers may have discussions about bringing back Napoli, but the chances of resigning him are unlikely.
James Loney: Loney may be an interesting option for the Rangers. Albeit Loney isn’t the conventional first baseman from a power perspective (averaging roughly 13 home runs per season), he is a productive bat that would be available for far less for than some other free agents. Loney is a career .285 hitter, but last year with Tampa Bay, Loney was able to put together a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/ slugging percentage) of .299/.348/.430, all above his career averages. At 29, Loney is likely hitting his peak, but given his durability the past few seasons, appearing in 460 games in the past three, he may be someone the Rangers take a hard look at for next season.
Brian McCann: One of the biggest names to hit free agency, and expect the price to be steep to land the 29-year-old. In his seven years in Atlanta, the left-handed hitting McCann had a slash line of .277/.350/.473 and 176 career home runs. A seven-time all-star and winner of five Silver Slugger awards, McCann maybe the best free agent catcher, including Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco and Carlos Ruiz.
Jose Abreu: For those not familiar with Abreu, I wrote an article earlier this season highlighting the newest Cuban sensation. Abreu will be one of the more sought-after free agents as he has displayed enormous power numbers while tearing up Cuban baseball. Abreu, who is 24, has hit 123 home runs since 2010 and, for his career, he has more than 180. Teams such as the Rangers may take a chance at landing Abreu, thinking he may be the missing piece to an elusive World Series title.
Stay tuned for the last installment of the three-part series, which will discuss the 2014 starting rotation and bullpen.