Choo Deal Addresses Last Of Rangers’ Major Needs

Now that the Rangers have agreed to terms with Shin-Soo Choo, most of their offseason maneuvering is complete, as Richard Durrett of notes. Or, at least, it could be complete. Whether or not the Rangers are actually done remains to be seen. At this point, though, the Rangers appear to have addressed all their major needs.

Heading into the offseason, we noted that the Rangers would likely look to try to upgrade the first base and designated hitter positions, and that a trade of Ian Kinsler might make sense, given their infield logjam. The Rangers addressed both issues with one deal, sending Kinsler to the Tigers for Prince Fielder and $30MM. Despite receiving cash from the Tigers, the deal added to the Rangers' payroll burden, but it also gave them a star-caliber first baseman (Steamer projects Fielder will be worth 3.6 WAR in 2014), allowing them to bump Mitch Moreland to DH and open second base for top prospect Jurickson Profar, who will join Fielder, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre in the Rangers' infield.

2013 Rangers catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto were both eligible for free agency after the season, leaving the Rangers in need of two big-league catchers. Rather than signing Brian McCann or making another big-ticket move, the Rangers went cheap at catcher, re-signing Soto with the idea that he would be their primary backstop in 2014. Soto served as Pierzynski's backup in 2013, but at age 31 and coming off a .245/.328/.466 season, he could be a bargain at one year and $3.05MM. With Soto in the fold, the Rangers signed J.P. Arencibia to be his backup. Arencibia hit just .194/.227/.365 in 2013, but his above-average power could play well in Texas.

At the beginning of December, the Rangers sent sabermetric favorite Craig Gentry (who produced a whopping 3.4 WAR in a part-time role in 2013, thanks largely to his defense) and pitcher Josh Lindblom to Oakland for outfielder Michael Choice and infield prospect Chris Bostick. Texas exchanged one excellent role player for an outfielder in Choice with more long-term upside and years of control. The deal also allowed Leonys Martin to move into a full-time role in center field, with Engel Beltre, who is out of options, becoming his backup.

And then came another blockbuster, as the Rangers agreed to terms with Choo on a seven-year, $130MM deal. With Nelson Cruz departing via free agency, the Rangers had a spot open in their outfield (more on Choice's role in a second), and a need for a big bat.

Choo isn't an archetypal slugger, but he's posted on-base percentages north of .390 in four of the last six seasons. As some analysts, such as ESPN's Keith Law (Insider-only), noted, the Rangers are taking a big long-term risk with a contract of this size. Choo is already 31 and is a poor hitter against lefties, meaning there's a good chance he'll need to be shoehorned into a part-time role well before the contract ends. Choo's high HBP totals — he had a career-high 26 in 2013 — make him an injury concern going forward. And as ESPN's Dan Szymborski notes (via Twitter), high-OBP corner outfielders who don't have great power tend to decline quickly. Choo also will cost the Rangers their first-round draft pick next year. In the short term, though, Choo is a huge upgrade at the Rangers' last remaining key position of need.

The Rangers will likely head into 2014 with Alex Rios and Choo as their main options at the corner outfield positions. With Martin in center, that means the only starting offensive position that's even a little bit unsettled is designated hitter. While it still isn't impossible that the Rangers could re-sign Cruz, they now have enough decent options at the position that they could just go into 2014 with what they have. Moreland, a lefty, would likely take most of the at bats against righties, and Choice might be an option at the position as well. What the Rangers plan to do with Choice is unclear. The Rangers could option him to Triple-A to play every day. But as a righty, he would also have value as a bench outfielder and occasional DH, filling in for Moreland or Choo when lefties take the mound.

The Rangers have no obvious needs in their rotation, with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando occupying four spots, Matt Harrison returning from injury to take the fifth one, and Nick Tepesch available as depth. With a variety of options at the closer position, including Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers and Joakim Soria, they don't have to worry about replacing the departing Joe Nathan, either.

The Rangers might not be done making news. If they were to re-sign Cruz, for example, they might then trade Moreland to a team like the Pirates or Brewers. But they don't need to make any more big moves. They've acquired two catchers, cleared the way for Profar and added two big bats in Fielder and Choo. They already appear to be mostly set for 2014.

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