As of the final out of the World Series on Wednesday night, Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez, Colby Lewis and Mitch Moreland were no longer members of the Texas Rangers.
They are baseball free agents, though not free to sign with any other team until after the Rangers’ five-day window of exclusive negotiating rights closes Monday night.
The Rangers have four spots in the lineup to fill — center field, left field, first base and designated hitter. Each can be filled with an internal candidate, but not necessarily with the same caliber of player.
The American League West champs also have two rotation spots to fill, voids created by Lewis and Derek Holland after he was told the club will decline the option and are hoping to trade him. If they can’t, Holland would become a free agent Monday night.
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The rotation, as Daniels has said multiple times since the Rangers’ season ended Oct. 9 in the AL Division Series, is the top off-season priority. The problem, though, is that the free-agent market doesn’t have the kind of arms that would be overwhelming upgrades over Lewis or Holland when they are at their best.
But they weren’t at their best for the whole 2016 season, thanks to injuries. While there’s no ace in the free-agent pool, there might be better back-of-the-rotation options.
5 Rangers players who became free agents after the final out of the World Series (Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond, Carlos Gomez, Colby Lewis, Mitch Moreland)
“Here’s how we’re looking at it ... to really put our best club out there for 2017, we need at least one starter, if not multiple, and we need at least one outfielder, ideally a center fielder,” Daniels said. “It’s not the greatest free-agent market, and I think that might lead to some more creativity and some different kind of deals.”
The free-agent starters aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, but neither are most No. 4 and No. 5 starters. Left-hander Rich Hill tops the list and would be more of a front-end starter, but he will open next season as a 37-year-old and with two 2016 injuries on his résumé.
Former TCU star Andrew Cashner is a free agent after two subpar seasons, but the Rangers have long had interest in the right-hander and believed before the Aug. 1 trade deadline that pitching coach Doug Brocail could get through to him.
The others atop this off-season’s class: Jeremy Hellickson, Ivan Nova, Jon Niese, Jorge de la Rosa and, potentially, Edinson Volquez.
The Rangers, though, saw the rotation drop off while Lewis and Holland were injured in June. Some of that was a lack of performance by the depth in place, but that kind of decline is something Daniels wants to avoid in 2017 and something he thinks can be remedied via free agency.
“When Colby got hurt, that was such a key point in the year for us,” Daniels said. “From that point on, it was pretty inconsistent at the back end. From that standpoint, yeah, I do think there are opportunities for us to get better out there.”
But part of the Rangers’ work last week during meetings in Arizona was to target pitchers who might be had in trades. Fans were drooling near the trade deadline over the chance to acquire Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale and, to a lesser extent, Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer.
A trade of that magnitude isn’t cheap, in dollars or players. The Rangers might be more inclined to trade young major leaguers than minor leaguers after raiding their farm system the past two years at the trade deadline.
“There might be some better players available, but the cost is all what it’s going to depend upon,” Daniels said.
The Rangers have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents through Monday, when they must either trade Derek Holland or make official their decision to not exercise the club option on his contract.
The mound issues can’t take up all of the Rangers’ money, as they have significant holes to fill in the lineup and could turn to familiar faces via free agency to fill two of them — center field and first base.
None is bigger than center field, where Desmond left a positive impression. He signed after spring training started, switched positions, switched to another position, became an All-Star and went about his work as a top-flight professional and teammate.
Daniels declined to name Desmond as the Rangers’ top target, but said that he will be the only eligible free agent to receive a one-year qualifying offer, which is worth $17.2 million.
Gomez made a splash, too, albeit over only five weeks. He played left field down the stretch and batted in the leadoff spot, but has played center for the majority of his career and could be a fall-back option if Desmond goes elsewhere.
Mike Napoli is a free agent again, and, conveniently, the Rangers also need a first baseman as Moreland tests free agency for the first time. They could try to lure the fan favorite back to Arlington for a third stint after he blasted 34 home runs on a one-year deal with the AL champion Cleveland Indians.
With money being maneuvered for starting pitching, though, the Rangers could be more inclined to turn to affordable internal candidates Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar or Joey Gallo to take over for Moreland.
Daniels said that just about everything is on the table, including adding a top-line reliever and key bench players from the free-agent pool.
The rotation is the top priority, and the Rangers could try to fill it through free agency or via trades.