The decision to not exercise the club option on right fielder Alex Rios has actually created a hole in left field that the Texas Rangers need to fill, not to mention a hole in the lineup.
With Rios now a free agent, Shin-Soo Choo will slide to right field, where he is more comfortable, and someone else will get to battle the early-game sun and occasional bad hops of the fence in front of the out-of-town scoreboard at Globe Life Park.
Someone else will have to add punch to the lineup, which figures to have Choo, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder in the middle of the order.
But that player is unlikely to be Yasmany Tomas, the latest Cuban defector, and also probably won’t be Carlos Gonzalez or Matt Kemp.
Instead, think more along the lines of Michael Choice, Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski or even Mitch Moreland.
Jon Daniels said as much Tuesday during the first full day of the annual general managers meetings, held this year at the posh Arizona Biltmore Hotel. He recognizes the need, but price and the need for starting pitching again are dictating the Rangers’ off-season.
“We could use another bat,” Daniels said. “We’re focused more on the pitching staff. I think we have a better chance of putting a lineup out there that we can be confident in.”
The Rangers are high on Rua for his athleticism and versatility, which he showed in a small 105-at-bat sample in September. Smolinski is the better defensive outfielder and is hitting well in the Mexican League.
Choice, the Rangers believe, can still be an everyday player and is a better defender than he showed. One theory for his poor 2014 season is the pressure he might have felt as the hometown player coming home again.
Moreland wouldn’t be an everyday option in left field, with him also serving as the designated hitter and as relief for Fielder at first base, but the Rangers are optimistic that the reconstructive surgery on his left ankle would help him hold up in the outfield.
“We’ve got some competition,” Daniels said. “If we can upgrade we will.”
An upgrade usually means a high-priced free agent or trade target, and the Rangers are unlikely to add either. Two sources said that the Rangers are likely out in the sweepstakes for Cuban slugger Tomas, whose agent, Jay Alou, has been told that the Rangers’ first priority is a starting pitcher.
Tomas, who worked out for the Rangers in September at their Dominican academy, could fetch as much as $100 million but is certain to clear the highest contract given to a Cuban defector, the seven-year, $72.5 million deal Boston gave to Rusney Castillo.
The Rangers could swing a trade for an outfielder, though they would need their partner to take on a chunk of a large contract and are also guarded against surrendering too many high-end prospects or young, controllable big leaguers.
There isn’t much interest in Gonzalez, the Colorado Rockies star who has dealt with injuries in recent seasons and has been inconsistent offensively away from hitter-friendly Coors Field. He is also owed $53 million through 2017.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have an outfield surplus, with Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford potentially available. Kemp would be hardest to acquire after a strong second half, but his injury history and contract ($107.5 million through 2019) make him a longer shot.
Ethier ($56 million through 2017) and Crawford ($62.25 through 2017) aren’t exactly cheap.
A potential trade target could be Atlanta outfielder Justin Upton, coveted by the Rangers two off-seasons ago. Braves vice president of baseball operations John Hart said that he would listen to offers for an outfielder if pitching is the return, so the pitching-starved Rangers and Braves would have to find a third team to supply the arms.
The problem then becomes if the Rangers want to trade for a player with one year left on his contract. Upton is owed $14.5 million in the final year of his contract.
• Adrian Beltre, who posted team bests in average (.324), homers (19) and RBIs (77), is the Texas Rangers Player of the Year for the third consecutive season. He will be honored at the annual Dr Pepper Awards Dinner, Jan. 23 at the Dallas Omni Hotel.
• The Rangers continue to search for a third-base coach. They have eliminated former Houston coach Pat Listach from consideration, as well as Triple A coach Spike Owen.