Texas Rangers

Desmond, Gomez at the center of Rangers’ position-player plans

Ian Desmond took over in center field for the Rangers in 2016 and became an All-Star. He’ll be a free agent the Rangers will attempt to re-sign after the World Series.
Ian Desmond took over in center field for the Rangers in 2016 and became an All-Star. He’ll be a free agent the Rangers will attempt to re-sign after the World Series. rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

The batting order the Texas Rangers used in all three of their playoff games earlier this month featured soon-to-be free agents in the first three spots, and the seven-hole hitter in two of the games is also going to be a free agent.

For those scoring at home, that’s significant.

Ian Desmond, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland could all be elsewhere in 2017, replaced by young players in the system or free agents. It seems highly unlikely that all four are re-signed.

But Desmond and Gomez rate as the two players most likely to return as each can capably play the position that rates behind only starting pitching on the Rangers’ winter list of priorities — center field.

They share similarities besides their primary position and their roster status. Each is athletic and can hit for power. Each is a plus-runner and has plus-arm.

Then, there’s this: Each player’s Rangers fate will in part be determined by “resource allocation” as rotation help remains the top priority.

“I spent a lot more time around Ian than Carlos,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I’m really impressed with who Ian is as a person and the consistency he brought from that standpoint. Carlos has more experience in center field.

“They have kind of a similar profile. They both do a lot of different things.”

The Rangers continued their pro-scouting meetings Wednesday at the Surprise Recreation Campus, pausing at lunchtime to eat and to watch left-handed prospect Brett Martin pitch in the Arizona Fall League against a team that featured Tim Tebow.

Martin arguably has become the Rangers’ top pitching prospect after a series of trades sent former first-rounders packing. Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez, technically no longer prospects, didn’t do much with the big-league opportunities they were given in 2016.

Starting pitching will consume most of the Rangers’ available funds this off-season, a budget that includes $8.75 million in insurance proceeds for Prince Fielder’s career-ending injury and a $6 million payment the Detroit Tigers owe on Fielder’s contract.

In theory, that $14.75 million, which grows to $15.75 million in 2019 and 2020, could pay the bulk of Desmond’s annual contract through 2020, when Fielder’s contract expires.

Desmond, an All-Star who tailed off in the second half, batted .285 with 22 homers, 86 RBIs, 21 steals and a team-high 107 runs while playing an entirely new position.

Gomez batted .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games to end the season after the Rangers picked him off the free-agent trash heap following his release by the Houston Astros. He managed to restore some of his value ahead of free agency.

So, maybe the Fielder insurance money goes to help sign Gomez and Beltran. Maybe the Rangers re-sign Desmond and Gomez and make Shin-Soo Choo, who was on the disabled list four times in 2016, primarily a designated hitter.

The Rangers are also considering not having a primary DH and using the spot to cycle players through for quasi-rest days.

“I’d prefer not to have a set DH,” Daniels said of an idea also backed by manager Jeff Banister. “Some of it is going to depend on health and what all we do. I think [Choo] takes a lot of pride in going out there defensively, but we need his bat in the lineup. That’s the priority.”

If neither Desmond or Gomez is re-signed, Delino DeSheilds would become the center fielder. DeShields was the Opening Day center fielder in 2016 but fizzled after his breakthrough rookie season in 2015.

The Rangers still like DeShields, who makes a difference with his speed but needs to focus on hitting gap to gap and finding ways to get on base. DeShields is playing for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League.

“He could be a real piece, whether that’s in left or center,” Daniels said. “Somewhere along the way, that intensity and focus was lacking, and he’ll be the first one to say it. It was a learning experience. I expect him to come back better.”

DeShields, who isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet, will be back in 2017. The Rangers are trying to determine if Desmond and Gomez will be back, too.

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