Clearly, the approach is different this time around.The Texas Rangers aren’t holding baseball “hostage.” And they don’t have the hot stove season “in a headlock.” Those were last year’s winter storylines. But after reportedly being in the center of discussions last winter for seemingly every marquee name on the market — from Zack Greinke to Justin Upton to Josh Hamilton — the Rangers awoke on Christmas morning with nothing but a lump of coal in their stockings.Humbug. So here we go again.No headlocks. No hostages. But I’m not seeing any new Texas Rangers, either. If the Rangers have any fishing hooks in the remaining free-agent waters, the fish aren’t saying. And neither is general manager Jon Daniels. Operating in his customary Stealth Elf mode at this time of year, Daniels emerges periodically to declare negotiations with (fill in a name) “not close.”“I like our team,” he said the other day, unearthing a line from last winter. Well, some of us don’t. As the Rangers sit, less than a week before Christmas, they don’t own an everyday lineup as good as, among others, the Tigers, Red Sox, Athletics, maybe even the Yankees.Despite the trade for Prince Fielder, the Rangers are still a bat-and-a-half short. And while Daniels is publicly trying to leave the impression that the club would be OK with an Opening Day lineup that includes rookie Michael Choice in left, near-rookie Jurickson Profar at second base, Mitch Moreland at designated hitter and young Leonys Martin in the leadoff spot, he can’t be serious. Choice’s time will come, but it’s not likely to be as soon as Opening Day. Profar will be a year older, a year wiser — he’s still only 20 years old — but it’s asking too much for him to duplicate Ian Kinsler’s 4.9 wins above replacement. And for most of the 2013 season, Moreland was statistically the worst first baseman in the American League. Why should the Rangers expect his contribution at DH to be any better?They need another bat-and-a-half, beginning with free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann all signed by the Yankees, Choo has become the most attractive free agent left on the market. His agent, Scott Boras, reportedly has priced him accordingly.Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote Wednesday that Boras rejected an offer for Choo by the Yankees for seven years and $140 million. New York reportedly then pulled its offer off the table and signed Beltran for three years, $45 million.It takes a lot of chutzpah to turn down $140 million, but that’s Boras. Is Choo a $140 million player? That question has a lot of moving parts. The math makes my head hurt, but if you take Choo’s projected WAR over the next seven seasons and multiply by its predicted value, the number comes reasonably close to $140 million. A six-year, $129 million offer would be closer to the projections. The average annual value of the deal would be higher than that of Ryan Braun, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp, but less than Hamilton’s and Ellsbury’s. Which seems about right in this year’s market.The six years will make some people cringe. Some also still can’t get over that Choo batted only .215 against left-handers last season. His on-base numbers and patient approach at the plate, however, are exactly what the Rangers need in the leadoff spot. It would allow manager Ron Washington to put Martin and Profar lower in the batting order, where they could grow into their roles more patiently. More than that, though, what other choices do the Rangers have? Nelson Cruz, while less expensive, wouldn’t come close to impacting the lineup in the way that Choo can. It was a shortage of big-league-ready outfielders in the Rangers’ farm system that led to the Hamilton trade six years ago. If they don’t sign Choo this year, they likely will be back next winter, when the free-agent outfield crop is expected to include Melky Cabrera, Coco Crisp, 36-year-old Michael Cuddyer and 39-year-old Torii Hunter.No, thanks.The question this Christmas, therefore, isn’t whether the Rangers can afford to sign Shin-Soo Choo. It’s can they afford not to?
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton