The potential end for Hamilton was sour in Texas
The Texas Rangers entered this free-agency period in an interesting situation: They're still talented enough to compete for a World Series title, but there was something intangibly missing from their roster down the stretch in 2012. Caught and then passed by the surprising Oakland A's on the last game of the regular season, the club flamed out in the one-game wild card, losing to Baltimore at home to bring a season of promise to a quick and almost expected end.
So now, general manager Jon Daniels and president Nolan Ryan have to look at a landscape that could see them lose two of their biggest cogs: superstar outfielder Josh Hamilton and gritty power-hitting catcher Mike Napoli.
While both struggled in comparison to 2011, they were each still productive and their losses would be blows to a Ranger team that figured to battle the Los Angeles Angels for supremacy in the American League West. But all is not necessarily lost, particularly given the often maddening lapses in focus from the enigmatic Hamilton.
That said, Texas would have to move in a different direction to offset those possible losses. Here are five ways I think they can do just that.
Pierzynski (right) is the classic player you hate, unless he's on your team.
Quickly, who had the better 2012: A.J. Pierzynski or Mike Napoli? Offensively, you'd think Napoli. And you would think wrong. Here are the splits for both players:
While Napoli is probably the better option in terms of age (31 vs. soon to be 36 for Pierzynski), the possibility is, if Napoli bolts, Texas is largely hoping Geovany Soto can be a full-time starter or they can make a play for someone like Russell Martin.
I don't think either of these is a great option because if Napoli leaves, chances are the Rangers would only need a short-term replacement at catcher. Why? Because there may not be another team in baseball that has the catching prospects Texas does, with Jorge Alfaro at the top of that list. Pierzynski would be a more than capable bridge to the future.
Sanchez would only enhance the Rangers' rotation.
Last we saw of Anibal Sanchez, he was brilliant in the 2012 postseason, compiling a 1.77 ERA in three starts. After the rental of Ryan Dempster flamed out in Arlington, it is time to address that slot in the rotation with someone who has more power and is capable of pitching in the Texas heat. Sanchez fits that description perfectly.
Texas is not going to be shy about spending, and with Hiroki Kuroda setting the market for starting pitchers, Sanchez won't come cheap. But he can definitely be had. And this is a situation that works two-fold as the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels are also in the mix for Sanchez's services. The last thing the Rangers want is another power arm to face in a division stocked with them.
Buck could be had for cheap in Texas.
On the surface, losing Mike Napoli and having him replaced with someone that hit .192 and slugged just .347 in 2012 seems outrageous. And no, John Buck is not the caliber of player Napoli is. But after being an ancillary part of the colossal trade between Miami and Toronto, Buck could be an interesting target of teams in need of catching.
Toronto suddenly has a surplus at the position with incumbent J.P. Arencibia, Buck and highly-touted prospect Travis d’Arnaud all looking to be the starter in 2013. And oh yeah, Texas has been linked to them (via rantsports.com) in terms of being interested in acquiring a catcher. What Buck represents is a guy who hit appreciably better in the American League (.243/.301/.421) than two years with the Marlins in the National League (.213/.308/.358).
Slated to make just $6 million in 2013, that pales in comparison to the figures Russell Martin and Napoli have been asking for and gives them leverage to go after a pair of the biggest fish in the free-agent market.
Bourn would be the anti-Hamilton in center field.
In a way, signing Michael Bourn would make a lot of sense for Texas. He is the premiere defensive center fielder in baseball and could be a great leadoff man for the Rangers with his speed. Bourn's addition would move Ian Kinsler down in the lineup and help somewhat offset the potential loss of Hamilton and Napoli by allowing guys like Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre to move up in a still potent lineup.
Of course, the offensive production of Hamilton simply can't be replaced. But as much of Ranger Nation saw, when Hamilton struggles, it can be maddening to watch, as his performance in Oakland and against Baltimore in the playoffs exemplified.
Bourn also immediately strengthens a defense that was relatively good in 2012, to elite in 2013. It is a classic swap of offense for defense.
With the need for pitching and good gloves becoming more and more of a necessity in baseball, this would be a good first step. But to replace top-tier production, even more bold strokes are often necessary.
Pairing "King" Felix with Yu Darvish puts Texas on another level
The easy thing to say is that Texas should go sign the top pitching free agent available, Zack Greinke. And while Greinke can be very good, he does come with a lot of question marks. No team understands how a fragile state of mind can wreak havoc on a superstar better than the Texas Rangers. And ultimately, I think Greinke is a very good No. 2 starter, but not someone that can carry you to a title.
That means they will need to reach out to another organization, and there is no better pitcher to go after based on age, salary and having the right assets to use than the Seattle Mariners' Felix Hernandez.
Simply put, Hernandez is right there with Justin Verlander as one of the best pitchers in baseball. The only difference is, King Felix has languished with the mediocre Mariners for the better part of the last four years. Now entering his prime, there is no better time to strike for a deal.
And while Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik goes out of his way to tell people Hernandez is not available, the reality is, Seattle needs more than just an ace to be competitive. Jon Daniels has the opportunity to make a Godfather-type offer to Seattle to land the guy who would offset any losses he might have this winter.
First and foremost, the Mariners would want and have to get Jurickson Profar. Profar is going to be a star. No one who has observed him will deny that. But Texas has had the Achilles' heel of not having a dominant pitcher. Cliff Lee flamed out in the 2010 World Series and the lack of a true ace probably cost the Rangers a world title in 2011.
That would no longer be the case with the acquisition of Felix Hernandez. Granted, it would likely cost Texas either Derek Holland or more likely, Matt Harrison and another pitching prospect like Justin Grimm. But that is what you have to do to land perhaps the best starter in the game. That is how you do more than make a splash, that's how you become a big winner.
Ryan and Daniels have some interesting moves to make.
Ultimately, there are moves to be made for Texas. Even if they lost both Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, they would remain a very competitive team. But I have outlined the ways they can go right back to being the elite team in the American League. San Francisco showed that winning a title can still be done with good old fashioned pitching and defense with timely hitting involved.
For the Rangers, that means beefing up their starters not just for the regular season, but in the postseason when it really matters. As an A's fan, I'll be the first to admit that the chances are much more likely that normalcy returns and the Rangers and Angels go back to slugging it out with each other for AL West supremacy. But that only happens if both clubs make the right moves.
That means more of this for Texas and less of this. They have the brains and the capital to rebuild. How they manage to do that dictates not just their season, but in reality, those of their closest competitors in 2013.