Had some requests for a 2007 team outlook on the Rangers.
Jon Daniels's contract obligations:
C - Gerald Laird - $0.332MM
1B - Mark Teixeira - $9MM
2B - Ian Kinsler - $0.327MM
SS - Michael Young - $3.5MM
3B - Hank Blalock - $4.75MM
IF - Joaquin Arias - $0.327MM
IF - Drew Meyer - $0.33MM
LF - Brad Wilkerson - $3.9MM
RF - Nelson Cruz - $0.33MM
OF - Victor Diaz - $0.335MM
OF - Freddy Guzman - $0.33MM
DH - Jason Botts - $0.328MM
SP - Kevin Millwood - $7.5MM
SP - Robinson Tejeda - $0.33MM
SP - Kameron Loe - $0.34877MM
SP - John Koronka - $0.329MM
SP - Edinson Volquez - $0.329MM
SP - John Rheinecker - $0.33MM
SP - John Danks - $0.33MM
SP - Thomas Diamond - $0.33MM
SP - Daniel Haigwood - $0.33MM
SP - Eric Hurley - $0.33MM
RP - Akinori Otsuka - $1.75MM
RP - Ron Mahay - $1MM
RP - Joaquin Benoit - $0.775MM
RP - Frank Francisco - $0.3315MM
RP - C.J. Wilson - $0.331MM
RP - Scott Feldman - $0.329MM
RP - Rick Bauer - $0.33MM
RP - Wes Littleton - $0.33MM
RP - Josh Rupe - $0.328MM
Buyouts and departed players
C - Miguel Ojeda - $0.025MM
3B - Alex Rodriguez - $7MM
If the 2007 payroll is to include the money for A-Rod and raises for Otsuka and others, the team has between $40MM and $45MM committed. They entered 2006 with a $68MM payroll. This is a team with tons of free agents; the Rangers will look very different in 2007. Forget all this manager talk though: let's get down to the important stuff.
At catcher: do you bring Rod Barajas back, or just let Laird start and find a backup for him? Laird looked lost at the plate as a full-timer in September, but otherwise hit quite well for his position. I think you let Barajas go and use Laird as the starter. This team has needs, and the need for a catcher isn't at the top of the list. That said, perhaps a flexible solution like Mike Piazza would help. Piazza could catch 70 or 80 games and spend the rest of the time at DH.
The Rangers are set with Mark Teixeira, who proved his first half an anomaly with a .291/.394/.604 line after the break. The second half surge means Tex's trade value should remain huge. As a Scott Boras client, he makes quite a bit of money for someone with his service time. Here's an idea: trade Teixeira to the Pirates for pitching. The Paul Maholm/Mike Gonzalez proposal seems a little weak; substitute Ian Snell for Maholm and you might have something.
The Pirates wouldn't be the only team coveting Teixeira entering his age 27 season. How about the Orioles, Tigers, Astros, Dodgers, or Giants? If Tex really does hit the market, you have to figure some top shelf young talent would be offered from some of these clubs.
The middle infield seems locked in, though Young could be the trade bait instead of Teixeira. More likely, the team tries to find something decent for Hank Blalock and re-signs Mark DeRosa to hold down 3B. Blalock slugged just .401 this season, a career worst. That included an awful second half, but his shoulder was bothering him and he had surgery this earlier this month. Blalock will be 26 next year and has two years before free agency; he's marketable. He might have to finish his rehab first though.
If you think the infield is interesting, consider the outfield. It's just a mess. The team wants to retain Gary Matthews Jr. as the center fielder, but this could be the 32 year-old's last chance to test the market. Brad Wilkerson bombed during his first year as a Ranger, but had shoulder surgery in August. He could be cut loose, or he could come back and get $4MM+ in arbitration. I assume he'd play left field in that case. Wilkerson is a passable CF as well. The Rangers may want to see what happens with him in '07 as an attempt to redeem the Soriano trade a bit.
Nelson Cruz may be too old for prospect status, but he's a fair gamble in right field. He didn't hit much with the Rangers but posted a .906 OPS in Triple A this year. He probably deserves a shot, especially if Wilkerson and Matthews are retained.
The DH spot is wide open, with Botts the frontrunner if no one is acquired. Botts broke a bone in his hand in August. Before that, he wasn't hitting enough to maintain a role as the regular DH. He's similar to Cruz in that he's figured out Triple A and has a good chance to become a useful regular for a few years.
Otherwise, Daniels could go a million ways with this vacancy. He could go after the best free agent hitter, Barry Bonds. He could offer Carlos Lee a fat five-year deal to make him a Ranger fixture (he'd play left in '07, but DH soon enough). He could chase Frank Thomas, Nomar Garciaparra, Dmitri Young, Moises Alou, David Dellucci, Cliff Floyd, or Gary Sheffield. Many of those options could bolster an already strong offense.
The area that needs the most work, of course, is the pitching rotation. Millwood and Tejeda are locked in, leaving three vacancies. One of those three spots could go to young talent like Danks, Hurley, Diamond, or Volquez. Even so, Daniels needs to get two starters to have a real rotation.
One of the Big Three - Zito, Schmidt, or Matsuzaka - has to end up a Ranger. The team has scouted Matsuzaka, and he's by far the best choice. The local options both have their flaws; Matsuzaka's only downside is that he's a Major League rookie. I'd take that risk compared to Zito's mediocrity or Schmidt's age. If Daniels can get Matsuzaka signed, he can throw down some additional cash for the likes of Randy Wolf, Gil Meche, Mark Mulder, or Ted Lilly. Or he could hold on to Adam Eaton or Vicente Padilla. Padilla had a solid if not spectacular year, and his acquisition stands in great contrast to Eaton's (Chris Young would look awfully nice slotted as the #2 starter).
The bullpen actually did OK this year, so those guys will get their raises and the group should remain mostly intact. There's been some Kerry Wood chatter, but Wood has said he wants to remain a Cub.
After big seasons by Alfonso Soriano and Chris Young, some of the shine came off kid GM Jon Daniels. To be fair, the Soriano deal only looks bad in hindsight. On the positive side, he did acquire Tejeda, Padilla, Cruz, and Otsuka in 2006. This offseason, Daniels will have his own manager, free cash, and the chance to create the Texas Rangers squad he wants.
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