The final out of the World Series ushered in the beginning of free agency.
MLB teams have five days to negotiate with their own free agents. Teams must also make decisions on pending club options that if not picked up would make those players free agents.
These five days serve as a warm-up to the main event of the off-season, the hot stove league. The Rangers are expected to cook up more in free agency this off-season, though it will be tough to beat the value signings of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn the past two off-seasons.
General manager Jon Daniels said two days after the season that he will have a bigger budget than in past off-seasons. He didn’t say how much ownership will be adding, but more is better than less.
It might be enough for the Rangers to play at the top of the market, somewhere they haven’t been since signing Shin-Soo Choo before the 2014 season.
“I’ve got an idea,” Daniels said. “The decision we’ve got to make is, is that the right move for us? If so, is it now? Every decision you make has an opportunity cost both this year and in the future. We’re going to keep that in mind.”
The World Series highlighted two key players headed to free agency and a third who might be. Houston Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon are heading to the open market, and Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg will join them if he opts out of his contract.
Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos, formerly of the Rangers, might have made himself some additional dollars in free agency with a nice World Series.
The Rangers will explore upgrades at catcher. However, the positions manned by Cole and Rendon are atop the Rangers’ shopping list.
“We’re not going to limit ourselves to that,” Daniels said. “There are clear other areas where we can improve, and we’re looking at other spots at well. There are multiple areas we can look to upgrade, and we’re going to explore a number of different things.”
The Rangers will also consider trading for upgrades, but free agency will create the buzz. Here’s a look at the positions the Rangers will look for help.
The Rangers will add a right-handed starting pitcher this off-season and possibly two in a division loaded with right-handed hitters.
Cole is the top available arm, right- or left-handed. Strasburg would give him company at the head of the class.
After that, it’s a large pool of pitchers who are known quantities but don’t necessarily bring a wow factor.
Start with Zack Wheeler, who turns 30 in May. His injuries appear to be behind him, and he’s pitched well the past two seasons for the New York Mets.
Other righties include Jake Odorizzi, Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark and Homer Bailey. The pool would get deeper if the club options on Corey Kluber, Julio Teheran and Chris Archer aren’t picked up, and in the unlikely event that Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta opt out of their rich contracts.
What’s not to like about Rendon, other than his likely price tag?
He is a native of Houston, played in college at Rice, won’t turn 30 until June, bats right-handed, and has been one of the best players in the National League the past three seasons. He finished 2019 with a career-best 1.010 OPS, and he has struck out fewer than 90 times in the past three seasons.
For a team looking to cut down on Ks, Rendon would be a shining example.
The Rangers have few internal options for their most glaring position-player need. First-round pick Josh Jung is still a ways off. Danny Santana and Nick Solak played there late in the season, but the Rangers would be more comfortable with a proven third baseman.
Josh Donaldson and Todd Frazier are potential righty-hitting fall backs. Nicholas Castellanos hasn’t played third base since 2017.
Manager Chris Woodward still wants Ronald Guzman to be the Rangers’ first baseman, but the Rangers could target a power-hitting first baseman should they miss out on a difference-maker at third base.
Jose Abreu would be a fit because he bats right-handed, has 30-homer power, and isn’t a liability defensively. He would likely come on a shorter-term deal as he enters his age-33 season.
Abreu is the class of the market at first base.
The Rangers need more production from behind the plate.
Veteran defensive specialist Jeff Mathis batted .158 with a .433 OPS in 228 at-bats. Jose Trevino, another defense specialist, showed a spark with his bat the final two months after a slow start. Nevertheless, he managed only a .655 OPS.
There are catchers to be had, notably Yasmani Grandal at a steep price if the Milwaukee Brewers choose to buy him out. He’s a switch hitter with power, and can also play first base.
Chirinos wasn’t good enough defensively for the Rangers to keep him last off-season, so he doesn’t seem like a fit. The Rangers tried to sign Martin Maldonado last off-season, but he isn’t exactly an offensive upgrade.
The Rangers, though, are going to look for help.