The Rangers lost significant contributors this past offseason, and while they countered by adding some newcomers, the gap between the Rangers and the rest of the AL West has disappeared.
Major League Signings
- Lance Berkman, 1B: one year, $10MM. $12MM Club option for 2014.
- Jason Frasor, RP: one year, $1.5MM.
- A.J. Pierzynski, C: one year, $7.5MM.
- Joakim Soria, RP: two years, $8MM. Club option for 2015.
- Geovany Soto, C: one year, $2.75MM.
- Total Spend: $29.75MM
- Todd McDonald, OF: $475K.
Notable Minor League Signings
- Nate Robertson, Jeff Baker, Kyle McClellen, Evan Meek, Randy Wells, Scott Olsen, Neal Cotts, Chih-Hsien Chiang, Derek Lowe, Zach Simons.
Trades and Claims
- Acquired P Josh Lindblom and P Lisalverto Bonilla from Phillies for IF Michael Young.
- Acquired P Cory Burns from Padres for P Wilfredo Boscan.
- Acquired P Jake Brigham from Cubs for P Barret Loux and PTBNL.
- Acquired P Tommy Hottovy from Royals for PTBNL.
- Claimed P Jeff Beliveau off waivers from Cubs.
- Claimed C Eli Whiteside off waivers from Blue Jays.
- Claimed C Konrad Schmidt off waivers from Diamondbacks.
- Claimed P Coty Woods from Rockies in Rule five draft.
- Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Mike Adams, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Koji Uehara, Tommy Hottovy.
It's easy to focus on what the Rangers lost — Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Ryan Dempster, among others — and overlook their offseason additions. In fact, GM Jon Daniels added two prominent free agents. While neither player figures to become a long-term piece for the Rangers, both add value for 2013.
In Lance Berkman, the Rangers obtain an aging but accomplished hitter who projects as their primary designated hitter. The club considered other DH options, including Mike Napoli and David Ortiz before adding the 37-year-old Texan. Though Berkman missed most of the 2012 season with knee problems, he hit 31 home runs with a .301/.412/.547 batting line as recently as 2011. If healthy, he’ll offer power and on-base skills (more on Berkman’s deal later).
If a team had signed Pierzynski to a lucrative, multiyear deal on the basis of his career-best 27 home runs, I would have criticized the move. A repeat performance seems unlikely at the age of 36. However, a one-year, $7.5MM commitment for a catcher as durable as Pierzynski seems more than reasonable. The longtime White Sox backstop has averaged 132 games played since becoming the Twins' full-time catcher in 2001. At that price, Pierzynski will be a worthwhile addition provided he stays healthy and comes reasonably close to matching his career norms.
The Rangers also re-signed Geovany Soto days after non-tendering him. It's a $2.75MM deal, approximately $2MM less than Soto would have made through the arbitration process in the estimation of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. The Rangers are paying Soto more than most backups earn, and getting more upside in return.
Joakim Soria continues rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but that didn't stop the Rangers from signing the 28-year-old to a two-year, $8MM contract that includes a club option for 2015. Soria has successfully limited home runs and walks at the MLB level, while averaging more than one strikeout per inning. Given his pedigree, age and the frequency with which pitchers make full recoveries from ligament replacement surgery, Daniels did well to sign Soria for these terms.
Daniels also signed Jason Frasor to a one-year deal worth $1.5MM. The veteran reliever generates lots of strikeouts and should continue to add value as a middle reliever. Josh Lindblom can also strike out lots of hitters and, unlike Frasor, he's under long-term control. Acquiring Lindblom made sense, even though it meant moving a fomer star in Michael Young. The Rangers didn't have a role for Young, and they got salary relief by sending him to Philadelphia.
Early in the offseason, most questions about the Rangers centered around potential acquisitions. Now that Spring Training is well underway, many questions relate to a potential loss. Nolan Ryan, the club’s CEO, could leave the organization as a result of a change in the team's power structure. Should the Rangers let him go, or work to retain him? That’s for others to determine. What’s apparent is that an internal conflict went public and created an unnecessary distraction for the team.
The Rangers appeared to consider major acquisitions this winter. Name a prominent free agent and he was probably connected to the Rangers during the 2012-13 offseason. Outfielders such as Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton were viewed as potential fits in Texas. Free agent starters like Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse seemed like possible targets for the rotation. Others, such as Adam LaRoche, negotiated with the team, but none of the players signed in Texas. The Rangers maintained a disciplined approach, choosing not to overpay for players whose asking prices exceeded their own valuations.
Texas had the most prolific offense in the American League last year. After losing Hamilton and Napoli the lineup seems less potent. In particular, center fielders Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry project as below average offensive contributors. In my view it would have made sense to sign a free agent (Bourn, Upton and others were available) or complete a trade (Denard Span was on ther market) at a time that the center field market was unusually flush with options.
The Rangers’ rotation also seems vulnerable. Not only did Dempster and Scott Feldman depart as free agents, Martin Perez will miss the beginning of the season. Trading for a pitcher like James Shields, David Price or R.A. Dickey would no doubt have meant surrendering top prospects. At the same time, teams such as the Cubs, Royals and Blue Jays remade their entire rotations. Surely the Rangers could have managed to add one pitcher as insurance to round out an offseason of relatively modest spending. Instead, they'll await the return of Colby Lewis, who should provide the rotation with a midseason boost once he recovers from flexor tendon surgery.
Some wonder if the Rangers will trade from their enviable shortstop depth sooner, rather than later. Daniels maintains that he’s content to keep Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, and that stance makes sense given that Profar just turned 20.
Deal of Note
Games played often correlate pretty well with free agent paydays. To play in lots of games, players must be healthy and reasonably productive, which increases their earning potential. Last offseason 22 position players signed for $10MM or more (including club options exercised). All but one of those players had appeared in at least 90 games in 2012. The lone exception obtained a one-year, $11MM contract from the Rangers following a season in which he appeared in just 32 games: Lance Berkman.
The deal stood out at the time, because teams so often pay players based on their most recent performances. Berkman had an unproductive, injury-plagued walk year and obtained a substantial guarantee nonetheless. This doesn’t make the Rangers’ decision a poor one, though. The switch-hitting 37-year-old had a heavyweight offensive season as recently as 2011 and seems capable of reaching base and providing power as he nears his 40th birthday.
The Rangers are a good team, even though they now seem vulnerable. They lost significant pieces this past offseason, and there’s no doubt that the Athletics and Angels represent serious threats. Expect the Rangers to contend in 2013, but don’t count on them to stand apart from the competition.