Jon Daniels made the Texas Rangers the envy of the league when they went to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011.
Now, everyone's asking what the heck is going on in the house that Daniels built. The Rangers have been a hub for activity this winter, but they've seen more talent go out of Arlington than come in. Their status as the unquestioned kings of the American League has been chipped away.
The bright side is that there's still time for Daniels to salvage this winter. He has some important moves to make, to be sure, but he has the luxury of having both a healthy amount of assets and a reasonably healthy amount of options.
Daniels' plan for the rest of the offseason probably looks something like this.
Phase 1: Acquire One More Impact Bat
The Rangers have lost a significant amount of power from their lineup with Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli leaving as free agents. So far, the only move they've made to replace this power is the signing of veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
According to Anthony Andro of FoxSportsSouthwest.com, Daniels has said that there's a "decent chance" the Rangers will add one more bat in addition to Pierzynski, who shouldn't be expected to hit 27 home runs again like he did in 2012.
Adam LaRoche would be a fit at first base and would certainly be a good power source, but he's not a realistic target. Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM has heard that the Rangers have yet to be "in" on LaRoche, as they're not interested in a lengthy deal for him and don't want to surrender a draft pick to sign him.
If so, then the Rangers should also be considered out of the running for Michael Bourn. He'd be a fit at the top of their lineup, but it would take a longer contract to sign him than it would to sign LaRoche, and the Rangers would have to surrender a pick to sign him.
Besides, Bourn's skill set isn't that different from Craig Gentry's. He's a lot like Bourn in that he's an excellent defender with decent on-base skills and speed to burn on the basepaths. He's younger and a lot cheaper than Bourn, so the Rangers may as well just stick with him.
The club's need for an impact bat is more likely to be filled via the trade market, and it's no real secret who their top trade partner is.
The Rangers had dealings with the Arizona Diamondbacks this winter, with their top target being right fielder Justin Upton. Bowden noted this week that the Rangers have had "great conversations" about Upton, and the D-Backs could be more inclined to trade him now that they have too many outfielders after their signing of Cody Ross.
If the Diamondbacks continue to play hard to get with Upton, the Rangers could always target Jason Kubel instead. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that he's more likely to be traded than Upton, and he could be a fit for the Rangers in either left or right field.
Kubel could also fit in Texas as a DH. He's coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 30 home runs, and he could improve on that with regular action as a DH at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The Rangers have the assets to acquire either Upton or Kubel, but it's fairly clear that Daniels isn't going to be talked into overpaying for either one of them. He's too protective of his young players to allow himself to get robbed.
If Daniels does sell the farm to acquire a star hitter, it will be for a hitter with far more upside than either Upton or Kubel. As Joe Frisaro of MLB.com has acknowledged, the Rangers may be the one team that could talk the Miami Marlins into trading Giancarlo Stanton.
Granted, that's unlikely to happen. But regardless of who the Rangers bring in, it's a virtual guarantee that Pierzynski won't be the last big-name hitter they acquire this winter.
Phase 2: Shore Up Back End of Rotation with Veteran Arm
Lineup help isn't the only thing the Rangers need to worry about from now until pitchers and catchers report. They also need to worry about shoring up their rotation, which is thin beyond the top three spots.
The plan, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, was for the Rangers to sign Zack Greinke to shore up the top of their rotation. That ship sailed, and then Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster and Edwin Jackson all got new jobs as well, leaving the Rangers with a short list of options.
They could take a chance on Kyle Lohse, but Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine told Bowden this week that the club has not discussed Lohse internally.
Like LaRoche and Bourn, signing Lohse would require the Rangers to give up a draft pick. In addition, he's no spring chicken at the age of 34, and there are serious question marks about how successful he can be outside of St. Louis.
After Lohse, the free-agent market doesn't have much in the way of starting pitchers. They'd have to take a chance on somebody, with the lone intriguing options being Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Brett Myers and Jair Jurrjens.
Instead of picking up one of those guys for pennies, the Rangers could look to use some of their lesser assets to acquire a hurler with a little more upside on the trade market.
One guy who would be a good fit is Detroit Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello, who Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com says has drawn interest from the Rangers. He has very mediocre career numbers, but those are a symptom of him pitching for the wrong team.
Porcello is primarily a ground-ball pitcher, and he's had the misfortune of having to pitch in front of generally subpar defensive infields as a member of the Tigers. He would be much more at home with Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and possibly Jurickson Profar playing behind him.
Once Daniels has added some depth to his starting rotation, he can look to add another puzzle piece to his bullpen.
Phase 3: Add One More Reliever to Bullpen
The Rangers made one of the best low-risk, high-reward signings of the offseason when they brought in former Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria on a two-year deal. In addition, getting Josh Lindblom from the Philadelphia Phillies for Michael Young was a minor coup.
However, Daniels still has work to do regarding his bullpen. After all, this is a bullpen that has lost both Koji Uehara and Mike Adams, as well as hard-throwing right-hander Mark Lowe.
T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com wrote last week that the Rangers are looking to add "at least one veteran proven setup reliever." To this end, they have plenty of options on the free-agent market.
It's doubtful that the Rangers will be the ones to break the bank for Rafael Soriano, but they could go for former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson or former Tigers closer Jose Valverde. Either one of them would be a good low-risk, high-reward investment along the lines of the Soria signing.
The Rangers could also pick and choose from a list of right-handers that includes names like Francisco Cordero, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch and Francisco Rodriguez. The list of free-agent left-handers includes names like J.P. Howell, Rich Hill and Manny Parra.
Howell is a particularly intriguing option for the Rangers. Bill Ladson of MLB.com has reported that the Rangers have kicked the tires on Howell, who is coming off a season in which he held lefty hitters to a .612 OPS. He could be a weapon for the Rangers to use against the top lefty hitters in the AL West.
You know, like that one guy on the Los Angeles Angels who used to play for the Rangers.
Phase 4: Figure Out the Jurickson Profar Dilemma
Once Daniels has his lineup, rotation and bullpen squared away, he can look to address internal matters.
Assuming he isn't traded—and it seems highly unlikely that he will be—priority No. 1 for Daniels will be figuring out how the heck he's going to make an everyday player out of Jurickson Profar.
As things are arranged now, there's no obvious fit for Profar. He's a shortstop by trade, but he can't start at short so long as Elvis Andrus is in town. He could slide over to second base, but he can't do that until Ian Kinsler is moved.
There's a fair chance that will happen even if a trade isn't made that shakes up Texas' infield. Kinsler could find his way to the outfield, and the Rangers have also acknowledged that moving him over to first base is a possibility.
If Profar is everything the scouts say he is, he could end up being the biggest addition the Rangers make this winter. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and others have him billed as a plus defender with speed and developing power. If he opens the 2013 season as an everyday player, he'll be one of the top Rookie of the Year candidates in the American League.
One way or another, the Rangers will find a way to make it happen.
Phase 5: Prioritize an Extension for Matt Harrison
Once Daniels has figured out the Profar situation, he should turn his attention to Matt Harrison. His place on the team is secure, but what's not so secure is Harrison's place in Texas' future.
Free agency is fast approaching for Harrison, as he's currently slated to hit the open market following the 2014 season. If he maintains the success he's enjoyed in the last two seasons—32 wins, 3.34 ERA, 399 innings, etc.—he's going to be a highly sought-after commodity.
With prices for pitchers rising fast, that means Harrison could be yet another star who could depart Texas for greener pastures. The Rangers seem to realize this, as Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in November that the Rangers had started "preliminary negotiations" on an extension with Harrison.
There's no hurry to get a deal done right away, especially with so many other outstanding needs left to be filled via trades or free agency. But once the club's roster is set, it would be wise for Daniels and his underlings to get something done with Harrison in spring training or early on in the season, as they did with Kinsler in April.
Yu Darvish and Derek Holland are both locked up through 2017. If the Rangers lock up Harrison through 2017 (or longer) as well, they won't have to worry too much about the top of their rotation on a year-to-year basis.
All teams should strive to be so fortunate.
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