Maybe the prognosticators around Major League Baseball are starting to believe Jon Daniels’ annual off-season claim that the Texas Rangers just don’t have that much money to spend.
Unlike in past off-seasons, the Rangers aren’t the experts’ choice to land the top prizes in free agency, on the trade market or in the yet-to-be-determined posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball.
This isn’t the winter of 2012-13, in other words, when the Rangers were the favorites to sign, among others, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, and acquire Justin Upton and Matt Garza via trade. The winter meetings that year in Nashville revolved around the Rangers, many reported.
Days later a sad trombone was playing at Globe Life Park, as the Rangers missed on all of the above.
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As Daniels prepares to head to Orlando, Fla., on Monday for the general manager meetings, he does so with a bigger list of needs than in any off-season since 2012, perhaps more, and with less money to work with than a year ago.
Daniels doesn’t have to replace a former most valuable player, as he did with Hamilton, but he needs to find three starters and a veteran or two for the bullpen before he can begin to toy with the a lineup that returns mostly in tact, but could be strengthened with a move or two.
The legwork has begun, and the pace will pick up as general managers lock themselves in the Waldorf Astoria for three consecutive days to start the week.
“We’re going to explore a lot of different things this winter,” Daniels said. “We already have been in conversations with both, primarily with clubs, but have expressed an interested in free agents.
“Each situation is very unique, and then the timing is unique as well. At this point in the winter we probably want to err on the side of preserving flexibility.”
Daniels said that the Rangers have the ability to pay a pitcher more than the $17.4 million annual salary they declined to extend to Andrew Cashner via a qualifying offer. The two obvious free agents who would command that salary are right-handers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, who, like Cashner, starred at TCU.
Playing at the top of the market, though, would limit who the Rangers could get to fill out the roster, Daniels said last month. A couple $15 million-per-season starters and a coveted reliever might make more of an impact than, say, Arrieta at $25 million annually and lower-tier free agents.
The reason Shohei Ohtani is so attractive to clubs is that he is a premium talent who will play at a fraction of the cost of Darvish and Arrieta.
The Rangers have been pegged as the favorites for right-hander Lance Lynn, who has spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals, and in the past have been linked in trade talks with former Tampa Bay Rays righty Alex Cobb.
Rays right-hander, Chris Archer, could be had for the right pile of prospects and would jump to the front of the Rangers’ rotation. Jake Odorizzi, yet another Rays right-hander, wouldn’t be as pricey, but wouldn’t be the staff ace.
Daniels is bullish on the talent in the Rangers’ farm system after it was gutted in a series of trades in 2015 and 2016. Almost every top prospect has yet to pitch above Double A, and the Rangers remain open to trading one-time top prospect Jurickson Profar.
The Rangers are hoping to find veteran arms for their bullpen, the weakest link of the 2017 club. A full season of Jake Diekman will help the unit improve, but so too would a proven late-innings reliever who could also help provide leadership to a large group of younger pitchers expected to be called upon in 2018.
Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the top free-agent closers, are likely well out of Daniels’ comfort zone for a reliever. Addison Reed could be as well, but he fits with the Rangers’ need for pitchers who walk fewer hitters while striking out more.
Huston Street, a native Texan and former All-American with UT’s Longhorns, might be of interest to the Rangers and could come at a lower price tag after dealing with injuries the past two seasons.
Only after the pitching staff is put together will Daniels look at upgrading the lineup. He has said that the Rangers are comfortable with Delino DeShields in center field, but they could also try to add a center fielder and let DeShields handle left field.
While the Miami Marlins are looking to unload Giancarlo Stanton, they might also want to shed the contracts of star corner outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, who have both played full seasons in center field.
“We’re focused on the pitching side first and foremost,” Daniels said. “We want to see what we’re going to need from a resource standpoint there before we do anything on the position player side.”