So 2011 didn't quite end the way we wanted to...alright, fine that might be the understatement of the year for me. But what can we do, continue to sit around and sulk? Granted that it doesn't help that locally the Cowboys are playing to improve their draft picks and the Mavs are defending their...oh wait, that's right basketball is only being played in Europe now.
However, back in March had I told you that this 2011 Rangers team would win back-to-back AL West championships, defeat the Rays again in the ALDS, exercise some demons by defeating the Tigers in the ALCS, win back-to-back AL Pennants, and play in Game Seven of the World Series (after not even making Game Six last year), would any of you hesitated to say yes? I know I wouldn't.
But it's over, it can't and won't be changed. 2011, though the calendar year still has two months to go, is OVER! Nothing more to say, time for 2012. It took me the weekend to get over it, but on Monday, I moved on and began looking forward to steps leading up to Pitchers and Catchers reporting in some 100 days. What I do know, well it's very similar to last year. The window stays open and the Rangers can continue to improve internally and externally, and once again compete for a World Series championship.
Like last year the Rangers #1 starting pitcher is a free agent and the most coveted one on the market today, but this year it's a much different tone. Let me first start by saying two things: 1) I'm thankful for what CJ Wilson has done for this organization in his service time, especially the last two years. He stepped up big this "regular" season and got the job done when the team needed him to. 2) I very rarely am negative about a player when writing these and try to avoid it at all costs. So with that said...CJ...four to five years at $12-14MM a season (max. $70MM), that's all I'm willing to offer. And because of the second statement above, that is all I will commit for the time being.
Darren Oliver, Mike Gonzalez, Matt Treanor, and Endy Chavez join Wilson as the other major league free agents that can sign elsewhere. Oliver was tabbed, like Wilson, as a Type A free agent. Basically if the Rangers offer arbitration, he declines, and then someone signs him, we get two compensation draft picks. If Wilson signs elsewhere the Rangers WILL get draft picks, as for Oliver, I seriously doubt arbitration is offered because it is more than likely he will take it and return for 2012. Gonzalez has already said he would like to stay here and the Rangers are in NEED of a LH-reliever...simple solution there. Treanor could possibly take another minor league contract with an organization, or more likely retire and begin his coaching career. (Prediction - He WILL be a ML manager one day) Chavez will be interesting, if a team can find a space for him to play everyday, then I wish him well. He helped a lot, and very thankful for his service. However, I would like to see the team take a stab at Chavez, especially if they feel Leonys "Cohiba" Martin isn't ML-ready yet. Chavez, at 34, is a better LH-hitting outfield to platoon with Gentry than Julio Borbon is, but more on that situation later.
Next I want to take a quick look at the Rangers, position-by-position, what we have ready for 2012, internal options, and potential external additions that the Rangers Front Office could consider. This won't be too in-depth, since free agency didn't start till yesterday (Thursday), as the market develops, Bo and myself, will take much deeper looks at the Rangers potential options.
Catcher - Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba are both back for 2012. In all seriousness, the conversation really can end there. Torrealba will make $3.25MM and Napoli, in his final arbitration year, could make in the ballpark of $9-9.5MM. Like before, Treanor could be signed, come back, and start in AAA in case of injury. Taylor Teagarden is out of options, potential trade bait, but unless he somehow makes the Rangers Opening Day roster, his tenure is done. The young catchers in the organization like Kellin Deglan, Jose Felix, Jorge Alfaro, and Elio Sarmiento are all still multiple years away from being ML-ready.
First Base - After the 2010 postseason the Rangers seemed committed to Mitch Moreland as the first baseman of the future, that was re-inforced when AAAA 1B Chris Davis was traded to the Orioles. But down the stretch of the season and postseason Mitch struggled and his starts were reduced greatly. Texas, and this could be very apparent in 2012, went more with Michael Young and Napoli sharing time. This was Young's first season and not even really a full season at first, so I suspect he will be an improved defender in 2012. In the minors, the Rangers could take a look at AAA 1B Chad Tracy or convert High-A 3B Mike Olt. Olt, one of the top power-hitting prospects in the organization, could move across the diamond, similar to what happened with Davis and Mark Teixiera. The final option, external. Imagine this Rangers lineup, as stacked as it was in the postseason, when healthy, and potentially add Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols to the mix. It's really not as far-fetched as it sounds. Rangers Asst. GM Thad Levine made it clear a couple days ago that the main focus is on improving the starting pitching, and I agree, but what happened last year, only a few days after missing out on Cliff Lee...Adrian Beltre. If the Rangers don't sign one of the very few "ace" starting pitchers, it wouldn't shock me even the slightest to see Prince Fielder in Ranger Red. Don't get me wrong, it would cost and cost a lot, but 1) I'd rather commit 8-10 years to 27-year-old Fielder than 31-year-old Pujols and 2) some regulars would not feasibly be given extensions in the years to come. I agree that adding one of the top four best, all-around hitting first baseman in the game today is not a necessity, more a luxury. But before you toss this aside remember three things: 1) what team are we talking about, 2) LH-power-hitter Fielder in our Ballpark, with THAT jet stream, and 3) Kinsler - Young - Fielder - Beltre - Hamilton - Cruz - Napoli - Murphy - Andrus...just saying.
Second Base - Ian Kinsler will make $7.7MM this season and the team holds a $10M option for 2013. I know he can be extremely frustrating by missing some easy fielding plays or the BEYOND frustrating moon-shot, infield pop-ups. But before you get annoyed, remember he had one of the highest On-Base PCT. amongst ALL leadoff hitters this season, the most home runs of all leadoff hitters, is always a potential 30-30 hitter, and a great combination up the middle with Elvis Andrus. Besides, ask any analyst and based on his actual performance, he is a Top 5 second baseman on anyone's list. Again, Young will serve as his backup when Ian needs a day off. I have no worries about second base for the next two seasons and no need to bring anyone in externally.
Shortstop - Elvis Andrus enters his first arbitration year and will likely make around $3MM this season. If the team isn't too aggressive in bringing in external addition, watch potentially for the team to lock-up Andrus long-term. Anyone have a problem with a 10-year, $150MM contract for the way this kid is developing and growing. His normal back-up, Andres Blanco is a free agent, but I have a feeling will be back for another go-around in 2012, eventually. On the farm, the Rangers have 3 shortstop prospects who all could turn into ML regulars one day: Jurickson Profar, Luis Sardinas, and Leury Garcia. Pay close attention to all three names, as the team could use one or two to trade away for other necessary pieces. Except Profar, this 18-year-old in one to watch and considered by many the Rangers top fielding and positional player in the entire farm system. I've watched the kid for two years now, since he was 16, and no joke he is good enough to one day force the Rangers to move Andrus to second base.
Third Base - 2011 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner...hardware speaks for itself. The addition of Beltre last season was a controversial one early on, but winning fixes everything and there is zero issues today. He may never admit it, and that's fine, but during the season while watching Beltre make some plays, Michael Young had to be saying to himself, I can't do that. It seemed the only way to get the ball past Beltre was to hit it off third base...seriously, not even joking a little bit. Beltre is a Ranger through 2015 with a club option for 2016. And it is a very, very comforting factor to know that the exact same 2B, SS, 3B are back next season and more than likely 2013 as well. The Rangers have two top prospects at third base, Olt and Christian Villanueva. What happens this offseason could go a long way to seeing what the teams intentions are with both, positional changes or trade bait, as Mike and Christian are both at least two full years away from being ML-ready.
DH / Super-utility - Even though Michael Young probably doesn't like that title, it is what he is. Without having to play in the field full-time, Young saw a significant influx in his hitting numbers. Not as though he was struggling, but again he ranked as one of the elite contact hitters in baseball. He batted .338, notched 213 hits, 41 doubles, 6 triples, 106 RBI in 159 games and 631 at-bats, all those lead the entire team. Young is set to make $32MM the next two seasons, but personally, if he continues to record those type numbers, I won't bat an eye.
Outfield - Along with first base, it's the only other offensive area with some question. We know that Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, and Craig Gentry are all going to be back for 2012. The questions are simple, who's the fifth, who plays where, and what about each players future? That's it. No lie, Hamilton is a lethal hitter for the Rangers, when healthy, and he is back for 2012, but after that he is a free agent. Josh wants to stay in CF, but the coaches want him to play more LF as to avoid additional wear-n-tear on his already beaten body. However the only way to make that legitimally work, is to have a "real CF." Last season Borbon got the gig, but it wasn't long before the team realized he wasn't the best option and now the once prized prospect has lost a lot of luster with the team. Best thing to do with Borbon is start him in AAA and hope he continues to improve. Gentry held the position down extremely well and after getting off to a very rough start at the plate, he batted .277 over the final three months of the season. The last internal option is the Cuban-defector, Cohiba. He started midway through the season at Double-A Frisco and quickly earned his promotion to Triple-A Round Rock. At Round Rock he played well, but didn't dominate well enough to be promoted again, until September's roster expansions. Cohiba, Borbon, and Gentry will all go into Spring Training competing for that starting role, and it appears to be the Rangers best option to go with one of those three. Externally, there are three options that the team could look into: Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp, and Juan Pierre. Sizemore, appears to be definitely leaving Cleveland, likely could be looking for a one-year deal to attempt to prove he is healthy again. If healthy and can stay that way, he is an instant upgrade at the position and again makes the Rangers lineup without a single hole. Crisp and Pierre are both older players who could be looking for 1-2 year deal, but more importantly looking to win baseball games. Both have playoff experience, both are above-average center-fielders, both bring some serious added speed to the lineup, and both are at the point in their career where they want to play on a team in order to give themselves the best shot at a title. Enter the back-to-back AL Pennant winners. Any external option wouldn't cost the team too much money and wouldn't be more than a two year, probably just one year commitment. Keep an eye on all three and the direction the front office chooses to take.
Starting Pitching - No need to go more into CJ Wilson, I said my peace at the beginning. I'm not opposed to bringing him back, but only at the dollar amount the team wants, similar to a #2 starter. The problem, he WILL more than likely get "ace" starter money, simple Supply & Demand, and I anticipate a team like the Nationals or Marlins to overpay for him. Moving on! The Rangers have already picked up Colby Lewis' option worth $3.25MM (an absolute steal in my book), Derek Holland is back (for at least another four years), Matt Harrison is arbitration eligible (approx. $3M), and Scott Feldman is going into a contract year. Filling in the rotation could be as simple as 1) a move from the bullpen. Alexi Ogando could return to the rotation, where he absolutely dominated for the first four months of the season or the team could again decide to stretch out and move closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation. Both will be dependent upon their continued development of their secondary pitches, their desire to start, and the direction the organization takes. 2) A minor league promotion. #1 prospect LHP Martin Perez, is he ready for the Majors? RHP Tanner Scheppers, can he stay healthy and continue to command his secondary pitches? LHP Michael Kirkman, can he earn himself another, maybe final shot at being a starter and not reliever? Or, is the young RHP Neil Ramirez going to be the answer, he has the stuff, just appears he needs to increase his innings and constantly compete against a higher level of competition. Finally, 3) the external option. Aside from CJ, there currently appears to be three options the Rangers are targeting: Roy Oswalt, Mark Buerhle, and Yu Darvish. Oswalt, is contigent on him NOT being offered arbitration by the Phillies, because there is no way Jon Daniels surrenders a first round draft pick for Oswalt. Buerhle, ranked by ESPN's Keith Law, as a better option that CJ Wilson, is less than two years older. Since 2000, he is the fourth winningest pitcher in MLB, and has a solid track-record pitching at the Ballpark in Arlington. Darvish, the latest Japanese phenom, but only if he posts and the Rangers win the sealed envelope bidding war. As opposed to Dice-K, this kid doesn't fool batters with crazy pitches. Darvish, RHP, is 24-years-old and throws a fastball 94-97mph, commands four seperate off-speed pitches with pinpoint accuracy, including a slider that I believe is illegal in 17 states. As the market develops, keep an ear out for all three names. The other aspect of external is the trade, always a very, very difficult area to predict as one can never be certain what teams are really doing. In only the short few days I have already heard five names of pitchers whose teams are willing to entertain talks: Tim Lincecum, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill. Again, WAY TOO EARLY to think about this market, but always something the Daniels and his "Super Friends" perform their due diligence on.
Relief Pitching - Because of the uncertainity of the rotation and the direction the Rangers are going to take, this too is near impossible to predict. But hears what I know. Definitely back and competing for a spot are Feliz, Ogando, Mike Adams, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, Koji Uehara, and maybe Feldman too. Oliver and Gonzalez are the only free agents, and as I stated before, I believe Oliver is gone and Gonzalez will be back. In the minors the team still has as options: Kirkman, Cody Eppley, Mason Tobin, and potentially Major League debuts from Scheppers, Beau Jones, and Johan Yan. At this time I don't see the Rangers getting involved in this free agency market at all, aside from re-signing Gonzalez, but if the organization plans of moving Feliz to the rotation, a closer will be needed. In house it could be Ogando or Adams, externally there is Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, and Jonathan Broxton.
The purpose of this article was not meant to predict the moves of the Rangers, I can't do that. I can give you my opinion on what direction and subsequent moves I would make, but that's easy because I don't actually have to pull the trigger. I can see the Rangers signing either Darvish or Fielder, lately I've had a strong feeling that Buerhle and Fielder both become Rangers. But until the organization decides on their direction, I'm basically giving you my best, educated guess....for now at least.