When first asked at these winter meetings about his team’s agenda, general manager Jon Daniels placed the addition a right-handed bat at the bottom of the Texas Rangers’ to-do list.
Pitching (starters), pitching (relievers) and defensive upgrades (center field, catcher) were deemed, and rightly so, of more importance than balancing out the Rangers’ left-handed tilt at the plate.
Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor and Willie Calhoun or Drew Robinson could end up with starting jobs in 2018. Calhoun or Robinson and Brett Nicholas or Juan Centeno could end up as lefty bats on the bench, and the switch-hitting Jurickson Profar will if he isn’t traded.
Should the Rangers carry 12 position players (three on bench), which they did 62 percent of the time last season before September rosters expanded, they could have only four right-handed hitters.
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Just because the addition of another is on the back burner of the Rangers’ hot stove, that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to monitor it. As such, the Rangers became linked to righty bats Tuesday during the second day of the winter meetings.
Gallo, though not the only player on the Rangers’ roster who can move around the diamond, is making that possible.
“He’s got great flexibility as far as where he plays and athleticism in both spots,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Flexibility in looking at other players to add, yes. I think that’s a plus and it’s been one we’ve deliberated a lot in the room.”
The Rangers have kicked the tires on Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, at his best in left field, and free-agent first baseman Mark Reynolds, coming off an altitude-fueled rebound season with the Colorado Rockies.
Gallo rates as the Rangers’ best defender at first and in left, and the Rangers’ unwillingness to commit him to a position this off-season is giving them options offensively.
Ozuna looks to be the latest quality player to get swallowed up by Derek Jeter’s salary purge. A two-time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner, Ozuna batted .312 with 37 home runs in 2017, and he comes with two years of club control.
He is projected to be paid handsomely ($10.9 million) via arbitration, and that might be more than the Rangers want to go. However, they are mindful that third baseman Adrian Beltre, the most potent of their right-handed hitters, might not return for 2019.
Reynolds has a career average of only .237 and was the first player in MLB history to strike out 200 times in a season. He dropped that number to 170 in 2017, but his track record suggests that his strikeouts soar outside of Coors Field.
The Rangers’ off-season plans are built around fewer strikeouts at the plate and more strikeouts on the mound.
Much of that offensively has to come from Gallo, Odor, Mazara and Delino DeShields getting better. The Rangers’ pitching acquisitions so far show that has been an emphasis as well.
“There has to be internal improvement,” Banister said. “I think that number will shrink for all those young guys. It’s necessary. Our guys understand that.”
Pitching is still driving the Rangers, though a baseball source said that they had yet to engage the Tampa Bay Rays on right-handed starters Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi and closer Alex Colome.
The Rangers met with free-agent closer Fernando Rodney, another source said. Rodney is a veteran, a proven closer and an imaginary arrow shooter, though oftentimes his save opportunities will test a manager’s nerves.
Banister should be fairly resilient after watching the Rangers blow save after save in the first half last season, and the bullpen’s inability to close out games rates as the top reason the Rangers failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Banister said that the Rangers want a veteran reliever for late in games, though he doesn’t necessarily need the 39 saves that Rodney has last season for Arizona or the 48 saves he had in 2012 and 2014 for Tampa Bay and Seattle.
“As we look at our options and try to see if there is a fit out there for our ballclub, we’d like to have one of those guys in place,” Banister said. “It puts guys in really good spots where they’ve pitched before. When you think about the guys that are in the bullpen right now, to have the experience and go pitch out of that back end I think is crucial for this ballclub.”
In addition to Rodney and Colome, fellow right-handers Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek could be of interest to the Rangers. The Rangers are considering just about every option other than Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the top two closers on the market who figure to make as much as the Rangers’ preferred ceiling on a starter.
“There’s a number of good guys out there, some of whom we’ve been engaged with, some of whom we haven’t but might be later,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We will add both at the top and the back of our depth chart before spring training. Relievers come from everywhere, so you’ve got to be open-minded.”