The one week that is perceived to be the busiest of the baseball off-season has arrived, and team executives are bracing for sleepless nights, planning for ways to dodge the media gauntlet, and making sure they have packed their cell phone chargers for the annual winter meetings.
But this off-season marketplace doesn’t feature the heavy amount of free agents and trade candidates that in recent years have lingered well into the winter. Tuesday alone saw the removal of a sizable chunk of available players.
The Texas Rangers have already taken the most sizable player (Prince Fielder, in a November trade for Ian Kinsler), and have taken care of their catching (Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia), a key middle reliever (Jason Frasor) and potentially their starting left fielder (Michael Choice).
General manager Jon Daniels and members of his ever-growing front office will be at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., but with a relatively small to-do list.
They will be looking for what the 2014 club needs — rotation depth and bench help. But, according to Daniels, the Rangers view the remaining big-name free agents as luxury items they feel less pressure to add.
“There are a few things we need to do to round out the team, and then there are some other things that we could look to do,” Daniels said last week at Rangers Ballpark. “The moves we made, we don’t feel pressure that we have to make deals. The deals have to be right for us.”
The popular thought is that the talented but unproven Choice isn’t the everyday answer in left field and that the Rangers can find a more consistent hitter than Mitch Moreland to be their primary designated hitter.
Big bats that could tidy up those spots exist, with Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz among the remaining free-agent outfielders.
Choo might come at the highest price, but he would give the Rangers a more proven leadoff hitter. A left-handed batter, Choo has struggled against lefty pitchers the past two years, but he also has a .389 career on-base percentage and would add pop to the top of the lineup.
Cruz and the Rangers are separated by the length of a new contract. Cruz is seeking as many as four years, while the Rangers would be interested as re-signing the slugger for two guaranteed years and perhaps an option year.
Re-signing Cruz wouldn’t cost the Rangers their first-round choice, but signing Choo would. He and Cruz were among the 13 players who were given one-year qualifying offers by their 2013 teams, and all 13 passed.
That they come attached with draft-pick compensation could be a factor why Choo and Cruz haven’t signed, and that could affect Daniels’ thinking.
“Teams value those picks, as do we,” Daniels said.
Re-signing Matt Garza wouldn’t cost the Rangers a pick, but Daniels said that the Rangers aren’t looking at one of the big-name free-agent pitchers.
The new proposed posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball could lure the Rangers into a bid for right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, but there is considerable doubt that he will be posted.
Instead, the Rangers could try to add a veteran pitcher to either compete with Alexi Ogando and other internal candidates for a fifth spot in the rotation.
That’s not the kind of transaction that will send a buzz through the winter meetings, but that might be the only kind of deal the Rangers do this week. Then again, maybe not.
“Our job is to go out there and improve the club,” Daniels said. “To any degree that we can do that, we will.”