Offseason Outlook: Texas Rangers

The two-time defending American League champions will focus on acquiring pitching this offseason.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Free Agents

The Rangers fell three wins short of a World Series win in 2010 and one strike short of a championship in 2011. There's no time for second-guessing or self pity in Texas, however. GM Jon Daniels will attempt to assemble another pennant winner this offseason by bolstering the team's pitching depth.

It's not that the Rangers struggled to prevent runs relative to other clubs in 2011. Only four American League teams allowed fewer runs than the Rangers, but with their top starter on the brink of free agency, they'll likely search for rotation depth this offseason.

The search could be quick, if they re-sign C.J. Wilson or move Neftali Feliz to the rotation, and it could be drawn out if they bid on Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish or explore deals for other free agent starters. Wilson said recently there's a "great chance" he stays in Texas and the Rangers do have some interest in retaining him. But Jon Heyman of SI.com reported in October that the Rangers probably won't offer the left-hander $75MM, a figure Wilson could probably surpass on the open market. The 30-year-old established a career high in innings (223 1/3) while improving on rate stats such as ERA (2.94), K/9 (8.3), BB/9 (3.0) and ground ball rate (49.3%). Some teams may hesitate to offer substantial contracts because of his postseason struggles, but now that the Yankees locked up C.C. Sabathia, there's no denying Wilson is the top MLB pitcher available.

Darvish is the other available pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential. Though it's not clear how his ability will translate to the Major Leagues, there's no doubt he'll draw substantial interest from MLB teams. Daniels scouted the 25-year-old in person and the Yankees, Blue Jays and Nationals are also frequently mentioned as potential suitors. Agents told MLBTR's Tim Dierkes they predict that obtaining Darvish will require a commitment of at least $100MM.

With $71.45MM already committed to next year's payroll and an expensive arbitration class that will cost roughly $30MM to retain, the Rangers' payroll will almost certainly surpass $100MM in 2012. It's unclear how much the Rangers can spend this offseason — their new TV deal doesn't kick in for another three years — but their attendance increased substantially in 2011 and they played deep into the postseason. It seems likely they'll surpass their '11 payroll of $92MM by a significant margin in '12.

The Rangers have an affordable alternative to Wilson and Darvish in their own bullpen. They entertained the idea of moving Feliz to the rotation in the spring and they're again considering making the 23-year-old a starter. Instead of spending tens of millions on Darvish or a free agent, the Rangers could place Feliz and his electric arm on the mound every five days. The successful conversions of Wilson and Alexi Ogando to the rotation showed the Rangers can and will turn select relievers into starters. However, Feliz is something of an unknown in either role, after a mixed 2011 campaign.

Ogando, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis will return to the rotation in 2012 and Scott Feldman could join them if necessary. It's a solid group that has helped the Rangers reach the World Series in consecutive seasons, but expect Daniels to pursue top-of-the-rotation starters aggressively. If elite arms such as James Shields become available in trades, the Rangers will probably have interest.

If the Rangers move Feliz to the rotation, they'd likely look to restore bullpen depth and might explore a free agent market that features many shutdown relievers. Adams, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara will return to the bullpen, so the Rangers won't be desperate for relief help, especially from the right side. In fact, Uehara, an imperfect fit in Texas' homer-friendly park, could be trade bait. Southpaws Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez hit free agency, so the Rangers are likely to pursue left-handed relief this offseason. If they offer arbitration to Oliver, a Type A free agent, he would likely accept. He told MLB.com he's leaning toward returning in 2012 and it's hard to imagine any team surrendering a draft pick for a 41-year-old reliever, so accepting Texas' offer would be in his best interest.

The Yankees and Red Sox were the only two clubs to score more runs than the Rangers last season and all of Texas' starting position players are under team control in 2012. There's room for improvement at first base and in center field, however. Led by Mitch Moreland, Texas' first basemen posted a .271/.331/.422 line in 2011, which was 23rd in MLB in OPS. Moreland's an effective hitter against right-handed pitching, but the Rangers, a team with World Series aspirations, may be looking for more thump from a traditionally offensive position. While Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols would represent a tremendous upgrade, don't expect the Rangers to spend on a luxury when more pressing needs exist on the pitching staff. Manager Ron Washington can simply rest Moreland against left-handers while playing Michael Young and Mike Napoli.

Free agent switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Carlos Beltran may intrigue the Rangers as center field options if they're interested in upgrading over internal candidates such as Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. Grady Sizemore might interest the Rangers, who showed their willingness to gamble on injured stars when they signed Brandon Webb last offseason.

After erupting for 30 regular season homers and a 1.046 OPS, Naploi is an extension candidate as he enters his final season before free agency. The Rangers could also consider locking up Nelson Cruz or Elvis Andrus, two arbitration eligible players. Even though Josh Hamilton signed an extension last offseason, he's just a year away from free agency.

The Rangers' World Series loss was undeniably painful, but it shows Texas is doing many things right under Daniels and team president Nolan Ryan. By adding pitching this offseason, the Rangers would establish themselves as favorites to win the AL West and begin another playoff run. Maybe next time, it will end with a championship.



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