The Texas Rangers are sure to make some moves this offseason, which may or may not limit the important players whom general manager Jon Daniels brings back.
The Rangers have several players who are set to become free agents this winter. The list of important players who will ink new deals in the offseason is limited to those who were productive in a Rangers uniform. As a platoon player or an everyday starter, these players must have contributed to more wins than losses for the Rangers in the 2013 MLB season.
One huge factor in determining if these players will be offered fair contracts by Daniels is their offensive production. The Rangers will be looking to add a bat this offseason, and they'll be looking to keep those who can produce. The struggle for offensive production was a theme this season as the Rangers were continuously looking to add a bat to the lineup.
Here's a look at the chances of each important Rangers player returning.
Geovany Soto was clutch in several games for the Rangers in 2013. He proved himself as a valuable backup catcher. Soto also struck up quite the chemistry with ace Yu Darvish.
In a late July blog post, Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News reported what Darvish said about his success with Soto: "'Since I started throwing to him, there have been no problems,' said Darvish, speaking through an interpreter. 'He’s been really good.'"
While Darvish has struggled with run support, Soto had at least one hit in all six of Darvish's September starts. His role to the team is clearly valuable, however, there are several better options from the catching position in free agency that the Rangers could go with. One such player is Brian McCann, whom the Rangers have shown interest in.
With the Rangers looking to add a bat this offseason, Soto's future in Texas is in the air, but he gets slight favoritism because of his success with Darvish.
Chance of returning: 51 percent
A.J. Pierzynski was almost everything the Rangers could ask out of a starting catcher. He hit for a .272 batting average and added 17 home runs. It was a usual season for Pierzynski; he had several games with heroics in the later innings.
But Pierzynski's age from the catcher's position is risky. His one-year contract worth $7.5 million might not be duplicated because of health concerns. However, health is an issue for all catchers, and with the possibility of bringing in McCann, Pierzynski could see an increased designated hitter role. The Rangers would be more likely to sign McCann and keep Pierzynski instead of Soto in order to increase their offensive production.
I suspect the Rangers will go after McCann first and see what they can bring Pierzynski back for. Pierzynski seemed to enjoy his time in Texas and might try to extend his stay. His buddy Alex Rios patrols the outfield, and Pierzynski fits perfectly in the Rangers lineup.
Chance of returning: 75 percent
Nelson Cruz could be the first to re-sign with the Rangers this offseason. Daniels seems to be set on offering Cruz.
In an early October article, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com was able to get Daniels' opinion on Cruz:
Obviously Nellie has been a source of that for the past few years. The first order of business is whether we will extend him a qualifying offer. We haven't made that decision formally, but I expect we will.
In the same article, Sullivan states that Cruz does indeed want to come back, but has a new agent that will be looking to get the best contract possible. It will come down to whether or not the Rangers have the best contract to give Cruz, and after serving a 50-game suspension that puts darker clouds over him and his shaky defending in right field, it's more likely that Cruz will stay in Texas.
Chance of returning: 80 percent
Joe Nathan is expected to seek a multiyear deal. Finishing 55 games this season, he triggered his free-agent clause.
From the previous MLB.com article by T.R. Sullivan, Daniels does not like to invest big contracts on the bullpen:
"That has never been our preference … to invest big money in the bullpen," Daniels said. "I'm glad we did with Nathan, but a couple things were different. One, it was Joe Nathan, we were able to get him coming off Tommy John surgery and we wanted to start Feliz. We were looking at bringing in a starter and also looking at adding a young starter."
With that being said, the Rangers do seem skeptical about bringing Nathan back. The team could also easily move former All-Star closer Neftali Feliz back to his bullpen role. This, the possibility of a multiyear contract and Nathan's age make it easier for Texas to pass.
Chance of returning: 25 percent
Less Important but Notable
Those who did not make the list did not produce or contribute enough to the team to be deemed as important. Here is a quick look at those players' chances of returning.
Lance Berkman: 0 percent
*Matt Garza: 10 percent
Jeff Baker: 20 percent
David Murphy: 30 percent
*While Garza did contribute to four-plus wins, his losing record and high ERA does not label him as an important Ranger.
As for the Rangers looking forward, the Rangers should make a splash this offseason. The Rangers were said to have contacted the New York Yankees early in the 2013 about trading for Robinson Cano, but talks went nowhere. Other trade offers have included deals with the Atlanta Braves for Justin Upton, but ultimately the Rangers could not get through.
With the possibility of trades in the offseason, Daniels opens up his playbook for a wild winter. Bringing in an extra bat and a starting pitcher would put the Rangers right back in playoff contention. If the Rangers can do this while re-signing the top free agents, Pierzynski, Cruz and Nathan, the Rangers will be expected to make a push at the American League pennant come next fall.
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