Clearing a regular lineup spot for Jurickson Profar is likely on the Rangers' winter priority list.
The Rangers continue to take minor steps backwards since their heartbreaking World Series loss back in 2011. A year after losing the division lead on the last day of the season when the A's completed a three-game sweep to overtake them, resulting in a wild-card spot and a one-game playoff loss to the Orioles, the Rangers failed to make the playoffs altogether in 2013.
Although they finished with a fourth consecutive 90-win season (91-72), they lost to the Rays in a one-game playoff to decide which team will face the Cleveland Indians in the wild-card game. Heading into the month of September, the Rangers had a one-game division lead over eventual AL West champion Oakland and were 4.5 games better than the Tribe.
It wasn't a complete meltdown, but the playoff spot was theirs to lose. And they lost it.
The major league roster remains relatively strong, and the farm system is still very good despite trading away four pretty good minor leaguers for Matt Garza in July and top prospect Jurickson Profar graduating to the big leagues. But general manager Jon Daniels still has some work to do if this team is going to avoid falling even further.
One question that will be answered before the start of spring training is where Profar, who had the tough task of breaking into the majors in a part-time role, will fit into the lineup next year. The 20-year-old infielder didn't put up great numbers (.644 OPS, 6 HR in 85 games), but he gained a wealth of experience and should be in a much better position to succeed in his first full big league season in 2014.
Making a quick decision on Profar would make the offseason picture much clearer. But waiting it out until they're done with their shopping would give them a better idea of where he best fits. Trading Elvis Andrus to open up shortstop, moving Ian Kinsler to first base or left field to open up second base and just trading Profar are all potential options that should make for a very interesting winter in Texas.
Here's everything else you'll need to know before Daniels and his front office team get started.
The Rangers have just over $84 million in guaranteed salary owed to nine players, including mid-season acquisition Alex Rios (pictured), another $1.75 million in buyouts for Lance Berkman and Joe Nathan, who will very likely void his $9 million club option after reaching a games finished clause in his contract, and approximately $12 million that will go to five players (Neftali Feliz, Neal Cotts, Alexi Ogando, Mitch Moreland, Craig Gentry) eligible for arbitration.
So, before the offseason even gets started, we know the Rangers have close to $98 million invested in 14 players, and there will likely be six or seven players expected to make the 25-man roster and are not yet eligible for arbitration with an average salary of around $520,000. That could bump the total to around $102 million, which is more than $20 million under the team's Opening Day payroll in 2013 ($125,340,100, according to Baseball Prospectus).
With no word on where the team expects payroll to be next April, it's hard to predict how much they'll spend this offseason. They were fifth in baseball in home attendance, according to ESPN, but there was a 4,000 person per game drop-off from 2012 (42,719).
It's probably safe to assume they'll at least match the 2013 payroll with a chance to increase it by at least a few million. This would give the team approximately $25-$30 million to spend this offseason.
Several Rangers players are eligible for free agency. Included in that group are corner outfielders Nelson Cruz (pictured) and David Murphy, catchers A.J. Pierznyski and Geovany Soto, designated hitter Lance Berkman, utilityman Jeff Baker, starting pitchers Matt Garza and Colby Lewis and relievers Joe Nathan and Jason Frasor.
Cruz and Garza, who are each expected to sign big contracts this winter, may or may not be in Texas' offseason plans, but the team will certainly have to fill the voids left if they do depart. It's not known if the Rangers will pursue the 33-year-old Cruz, although the fact that they re-instated him from his 50-game suspension for game 163 could indicate that they are open to it.
With a strong track record of success—he has an .843 OPS with an average of 27 homers, 81 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases per season between 2009-2013—the P.E.D. suspension may not have a substantial impact on Cruz's value.
It's doubtful that the team retains Murphy, who had a rough season, or Berkman, who may retire. But expect there to be at least some interest in Cruz, Baker (.905 OPS, 11 HR in 74 games), one of the catchers, Nathan and either Garza or Lewis, but not both.
Outfielder Craig Gentry's impressive season (.759 OPS, 2 HR, 24 SB in 106 games) ensures he's in the team's plans going forward but not necessarily as a starter. It's more likely that the team adds another power bat to the lineup and continues to utilize the 29-year-old Gentry as a part-time player who could share time with Leonys Martin in center fielder.
Unless the team moves Ian Kinsler or Mitch Moreland to the outfield, or possibly the designated hitter spot, to open a spot for Jurickson Profar, left field is a clear need for Texas. If the hole is filled by either of those aforementioned players, the team could still add a bat to the regular designated hitter spot that Lance Berkman filled early on before injuries derailed his season.
With A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto each eligible for free agency, finding a catcher is also at the top of the priority list.
Mid-season acquisition Matt Garza (pictured) could leave as a free agent, leaving a projected rotation of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. It could be argued that they're fine without Garza, but rotation depth can go away quickly, as they found out this season. Re-signing Garza or Lewis, or adding another starting pitcher, would not only provide the much-needed depth, but it could allow the Rangers to move Ogando to the bullpen to help make up for the potential loss of Joe Nathan.
While Nathan is still one of the elite closers in the game, he'll be 39 years old next season and is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. With two former All-Star closers as possible replacements, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, and Tanner Scheppers also looking like a potential closer of the future, the Rangers might decide to spend their money elsewhere this winter.
How will Texas utilize their projected $25-$30 million to spend on the 2014 roster? Here's a look at some projected free agent targets that could help fill their needs.
Brian McCann, C: It would be costly—likely in the five-year, $70 million range—but the 29-year-old McCann (pictured) is a seven-time All-Star and one of the best all-around catchers in the game. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who played with the Rangers from 2007-2010, would be the next best option and the only other catcher who could provide strong value with his glove and bat.
Mike Napoli, 1B/DH: The Rangers like to utilize the designated hitter spot in a rotation where veteran players can rest occasionally. But if Mitch Moreland moves to the outfield for any reason, the Rangers could try to bring Napoli back to Texas to play regularly while splitting at-bats between first base and designated hitter. The asking price could be two years and $32 million.
Nelson Cruz, OF: The fact that Cruz's value could drop because of the P.E.D. suspension might make him an even better fit for the Rangers. If a team is willing to give him four years and at least $56 million, they could let him walk. But if all it takes is three years and $39 million, it could make sense for both parties if he stays in Texas.
Matt Garza, SP: Giving up four prospects, all of which have big league potential, for Garza could give Texas extra incentive to re-sign him. The 29-year-old, who had a 4.38 ERA with a 2.3 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9 in 13 starts after he was acquired from the Cubs, could command a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $15-$18 million per season.
Dan Haren, SP: After a poor start, the 33-year-old proved that he was still one of the better starting pitchers around by posting a 3.29 ERA with 18 walks and 84 strikeouts in 87.2 innings over the past three months of the season. He also won't be nearly as costly as Garza.
Filling four or five roster spots effectively via free agency is possible if you have the payroll space that the Red Sox had prior to the season. But since the Rangers aren't likely to be in that position, here's a look at some projected trade targets that could help fill out their 25-man roster.
David DeJesus, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays may pick up DeJesus' $6.5 million club option for 2014, but that doesn't guarantee that he'll be with them on Opening Day. With four potential starting outfielders under contract, they'll be able to shop one, and DeJesus should have plenty of interest from around the league, including Texas. The 33-year-old had a .732 OPS with six homers in 84 games this season.
Carlos Quentin, OF/DH, San Diego Padres: The open designated hitter spot in Texas could help turn an injury-prone player like Quentin back into an All-Star, as he was with the White Sox in 2011. In his two seasons since being traded to the Padres, he continues to produce at a high level (.866 OPS, 29 HR, 90 RBI) but has only played 168 games due to injury. A trade to the AL could be the best move for both sides.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Rakuten Golden Eagles (Japan): Acquiring Tanaka wouldn't officially qualify as a "trade," but it's close enough. As was the case with Yu Darvish, the 24-year-old Tanaka is likely to be posted this offseason, and the highest bidder, barring any potential changes in the posting system, will have exclusive negotiating rights for a period of 30 days. If they come to terms on a contract, he will technically be "purchased" from Rakuten, and they'll be awarded the amount of the winning bid.
While Tanaka doesn't have Darvish's overpowering fastball and reporetedly won't be pursued as aggressively by the team, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, he's still considered to have top-of-the-rotation potential, and any talks—as of now—could be considered posturing because of the way the posting process works. Teams are not aware of how much others are bidding, so it's important for teams to not show their hand.