The current construction of the Texas Rangers, the club’s general manager and field manager say, is good enough to be a contender in the American League West for the sixth consecutive year and possibly its champion for a third time since 2010.
Better players can be added, they agree, but there is no pressure to make a knee-jerk deal because of the work already done this off-season. Upgrades are luxury items at this point.
But that posturing didn’t stop Rangers brass from exploring the acquisition of the two pre-eminent free-agent outfielders, including one who is very familiar, on Monday during the first day of the annual winter meetings.
General manager Jon Daniels confirmed that he met with Nelson Cruz’s agent at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort and acknowledged the club’s interest in Shin-Soo Choo.
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Cruz appears to be more of a realistic target to upgrade an outfield that could use more power in left field, but both would come at luxury prices. That could very well keep the Rangers out on both players.
“There’s nothing really to report, but conversations are amicable in nature,” Daniels said of the talks with Cruz’s agent, Adam Katz. “I don’t know if anything will come of it. We feel that we’ve probably made our biggest move already. We’d still like to do some things with the club, but it has to be the right fit.”
Cruz is seeking at least a three-year deal in his first crack at free agency, and the Rangers would prefer a two-year contract with an option year. A baseball source said that Baltimore and Seattle have shown interest in Cruz, but no team had presented a formal offer.
The Rangers can re-sign him without losing draft-pick compensation, but other teams would lose a first-round pick for signing him. That, along with the lingering baggage from the 50-game suspension, could help the Rangers in their pursuit of Cruz.
Though manager Ron Washington said he would rather have a middle-of-the-order hitter like Cruz than a leadoff man like Choo, the Rangers could look for platoon pieces to pair with players already on the roster.
Michael Choice, acquired last week for Craig Gentry, is the front-runner to start in left field, but the Rangers could add a veteran left-handed hitter to split the time. Engel Beltre also could form a platoon with the righty-hitting Choice.
“Whether it’s an everyday guy or somebody that complements who we already have, we’re looking at those options,” Daniels said. “It’s probably more of the latter out there.”
Daniels again said that starting pitching is not high on the Rangers’ priority list even though several big-name free agents remain. A change in the posting system with players from Japan also could push the Rangers toward Masahiro Tanaka.
The Rangers have scouted the right-hander heavily. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA this year in Nippon Professional Baseball’s regular season. He just turned 25, the same age as Yu Darvish when the Rangers bid a staggering $51.7 million to negotiate with him in 2011.
But the posting system changed last week and is expected to become official at these meetings. Now, the most a major league team can bid on a posted player is $20 million, and if more than one team posts the maximum, the player can negotiate a contract with every team.
The Rangers have considered putting up the $20 million, which they would get back if Tanaka were to sign elsewhere. But they fear that Tanaka’s contract will soar with teams competing to sign him.
Tanaka would slide into a rotation that was hit hard by injuries last year. Daniels, though, believes more depth is already in place to better handle a repeat rash of injuries, and the reports on Darvish (back) and Matt Harrison (back) have been positive.
Daniels also said the Rangers have been looking to pitchers who are said to be available in a trade, with Tampa Bay ace David Price chief among them, but he doesn’t see a deal coming together.
“I’d love to have some of the guys that are rumored out there, but I’m not sure that makes sense for us,” Daniels aid. “Pitching has not been our focus.”
Outfielders were on Monday.