For all the holes the Texas Rangers have to fill this off-season, with nine players headed toward free agency or retirement, they continue to have one too many middle infielders.
Jurickson Profar isn’t going anywhere, barring another team making general manager Jon Daniels a deal he can’t refuse.
Profar was in the lineup often this season, but not every day as the Rangers’ super-utility man. Incumbents Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus continued to get the majority of the playing time, and rightfully so.
But the Rangers want Profar to play every day in 2014, at one position, and something is going to have to give to make that happen. Though Kinsler still has four years and $62 million remaining on his contract, if any Rangers player is going to be traded his off-season, it’s him.
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The Rangers might have to eat as much as half of the money owed to their three-time All-Star to move him, and other teams in need of a second baseman might first try to get free agent Robinson Cano and Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips, who is said to be available.
If Kinsler isn’t traded, the Rangers think they can get Profar regular at-bats with the same role he had in 2013. But the preferred route is regular at-bats at second base, one of several positions in flux as the Rangers reshape the roster the next few months.
“In an ideal situation, he would not be in that role,” Daniels said earlier this month. “Are we confident he can handle it better next year? Yeah, but in the same perfect world he won’t be. A lot of that will depend on what we do with the club this winter.”
No one can argue with the production of A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto in 2013. Rangers catchers, including a few at-bats from Robinson Chirinos, combined for 23 homers and 85 RBIs while batting .259.
Pierzynski and Soto, though, are free agents, and the Rangers don’t have anyone in the organization who is ready to shoulder the catching load. Soto seems more likely than Pierzynski to return if he is OK being a backup again.
But Pierzynski isn’t entirely off the table if the Rangers miss out on one of the top free agents. He is durable, but he’s also a free swinger and has raised some concerns about his skill as a receiver.
No matter what was said at the Surprise Recreation Campus, where many scouts continued to back Mitch Moreland after a dreadful second half, the Rangers will look to upgrade after their first baseman batted .223 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs in 2013.
The majority of that was from Moreland, who had a career-high 23 homers and 60 RBIs, but he hit only .232 and just .185 with runners in scoring position.
The Rangers contacted Cuban slugger Jose Abreu but balked at his high contract demands. The top free agent is a familiar face, Mike Napoli, but if the Rangers passed once on his free agency, it seems they would do so again.
Moreland isn’t all bad. He has improved defensively and has been productive the past three seasons before suffering an injury. In 2013, he batted .288 and was playing every day before a groin injury June 5. Once off the disabled list, he batted .189 and became a platoon player.
More production is needed in 2014.
Elvis Andrus mans one of the four positions that won’t be touched this off-season.
He overcame a lackluster first half to finish as one of the Rangers’ best hitters, batting .313 after the All-Star break to finish at .271 with all four of his homers and 36 of his career-high 67 RBIs.
He also stole a career-best 42 bases, and his defense again was at times spectacular.
Here’s another spot that is set for 2014 after a third straight 30-homer season for Adrian Beltre, who faded in September after carrying the team in July and August.
Beltre and the Rangers believe there is more there after another year in which he was bothered by leg injuries.
He avoided the disabled list, but he seemed limited from his usual high standards defensively and caused most to hold their breath every time he tried to beat out an infield grounder or go to second on a double.
The lone uncertainty for 2014 is left field, where David Murphy didn’t produce in his first chance at playing every day. He’s a free agent, and a return for the popular native Texan seems unlikely.
Nelson Cruz is the biggest question mark. He is a first-time free agent, and all signs point toward him declining a qualifying offer from the Rangers and trying to cash in on the open market.
The money might be a little short after the stain of a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but Cruz rates as one of the top available power bats. He also wants regular time in the outfield, and would be willing to play left field for the Rangers.
Center fielder Leonys Martin, who started playing every day in late July and wound up stealing a career-best 36 bases, is a lock along with Alex Rios in right field.
The Rangers want to see more patience at the plate and better routes in the outfield, but otherwise are content with Martin. Rios was a nice addition in August and fits in nicely with the run-happy Rangers. He has one career game in left field, so he’s not the answer there.
The Rangers aren’t ready to give full-time duty to Craig Gentry, who flourished down the stretch and is an ace defender.
The Lance Berkman experiment failed miserably as his body failed him, but at least he has an $11 million cushion to soften the blow. The Rangers, meanwhile, are left to plug another hole.
They like the idea of moving players in and out at DH as they need rest, and keeping Profar in his super-utility role is one way to fill the spot. If Cruz re-signs, he could see ample time at DH as well.
Otherwise, a DH will have to be found this winter.
The Rangers have five pitchers who they could plug into the 2014 rotation today: Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. As the saying goes, though, a team can never have enough pitching, and the Rangers learned that again in 2013.
Harrison was the big loss. The Opening Day starter pitched twice before a back injury shelved him the rest of the season. Ogando was on the DL three times, but showed enough in September to have the Rangers thinking he will start again.
There is a movement to bring back Matt Garza, who didn’t meet expectations after being acquired for four prospects in July. He has the support of manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux, but Garza won’t come cheap as one of the top starters on the free-agent market.
Don’t forget about Colby Lewis, who could come to spring camp on a minor league deal and find a way to make the team and contribute at some point in the rotation.
Joe Nathan is headed toward the open market, barring a last-minute agreement, and the Rangers could be faced with having to find a closer.
There are internal candidates, beginning with Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers. Ogando is a dark horse candidate because most believe he can handle the job, and that’s not entirely the case with the other three.
Soria has the long track record, and Feliz held down the job in the two seasons the Rangers went to the World Series. But both are coming off Tommy John surgery, and neither showed enough in 2013 to convince club officials that they are back to their pre-operation form.
Scheppers, coming off his first full pro season, hasn’t shown that he can miss enough bats to be a closer.