The missing piece in the Texas Rangers’ 2014 lineup is no longer missing, and the money general manager Jon Daniels seemed hesitant to commit to has been committed.
And any concerns that the Rangers wouldn’t be contenders to win the American League West and perhaps more are no longer concerns.
The Rangers on Saturday reached agreement with free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo on a seven-year, $130 million deal that gives them an everyday left fielder and a proven batter atop their lineup.
Daniels declined comment, and the Rangers did not announce a move that comes only days after Daniels’ latest warning that the Rangers likely wouldn’t be in on the last major pieces on the free-agent market.
But sources confirmed that Choo, a South Korean who spent last season with Cincinnati, is headed to Rangers Ballpark, assuming he passes a physical, and that Nelson Cruz, a fan favorite and another free-agent target, almost certainly won’t return.
The Rangers also have enough left in the bank to add a right-handed-hitting bench piece and pitching depth. Their payroll before the Choo deal was estimated just north of $110 million and could be around $130 million by Opening Day.
An argument can be made that the Rangers needed a player such as Choo more than Cruz, even though the Rangers’ offense badly lacked power in 2013.
Center fielder Leonys Martin was projected as the leadoff man before Choo’s acquisition, but batted only .238 in 31 games as the Rangers’ leadoff man last season and doesn’t have the plate discipline to be a productive leadoff man.
The Rangers don’t have a hitter such as Choo, who posted a career-best .423 on-base percentage in his only season with the Reds. He took 113 walks and was hit a baseball-leading 26 times to help him reach base 300 times, which ranked third in the majors.
The left-handed hitter brings pop and speed, too, after hitting 21 homers, posting a .462 slugging percentage and stealing 20 bases in 2013. Conceivably, he could bat third but is a better fit atop the lineup.
Choo will bat first, and be followed by Elvis Andrus and Prince Fielder, the Rangers’ first big-ticket acquisition of the off-season. Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland would fit at spots 4-6 in the lineup, and Geovany Soto, Martin and Jurickson Profar could round out the order.
Choo has a few blemishes. He struggled defensively last season as a center fielder and has played only 61 games in left field in his nine-year major-league career. He also has noticeable plate splits, with only a .243 career average against left-handed pitchers.
But he gives the Rangers another proven outfielder to plug a vacancy in left field. Michael Choice, acquired earlier this month for Craig Gentry, was in line for the job or to share it, but he could be headed to Triple A to keep sharp or kept in the big leagues as the Rangers’ fourth outfielder.
Choice can play all three outfield spots, and so can Choo. But Choice, who starred at Mansfield Timberview and UT Arlington, has only 18 career at-bats as a September call-up last season for Oakland.
The decision on Choice will be made in March. The decision on Cruz was made as soon as Choo agreed. Cruz is said to be seeking a four-year deal worth as much as $72 million. Maybe he’ll get something close to that now that he’s the top remaining free-agent outfielder, though he comes with draft-pick compensation and the scarlet letter of his 50-game suspension last season.
But the Rangers made it clear to him that they wouldn’t be the team to max out his contract. He also wasn’t the Rangers’ top priority.
Choo was. He had been a few years ago ahead of the July trade deadline while with Cleveland, but the Indians wouldn’t deal him away.
The Rangers got their man Saturday, rounding out their lineup, ponying up the cash and answering any questions about if they would contend in 2014.