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Biggest Questions Facing the Texas Rangers This Offseason

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Biggest Questions Facing the Texas Rangers This Offseason
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers' front office need to make a few moves to reach the postseason in 2014

As the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals get the World Series rolling, 28 other teams are knee-deep in questions about why they didn't get there. It's true that every team's expectations are not the same, but no one is scratching their heads harder than the guys in the front office of the Texas Rangers.

After reaching the postseason for three straight years for the first time in franchise history, Texas fell one game short in 2013.

For many teams, that might be considered a pretty solid season, but that's not what we had come to expect from Texas.

The last week of the season was fun and all, and it certainly helped soften the blow of missing the playoffs. But to put it quite simply, no one within the Rangers organization is satisfied with the way 2013 unraveled.

Just like every other MLB team, the Rangers are left to pick up the pieces and try to put them back together for a run at the postseason next year. 

Texas expects to have another season of 90-plus wins and a chance at the World Series in 2014, and these are the specific areas it needs to address this offseason.

 

Back of the rotation

The Rangers pitching rotation was pretty solid overall last season, and it finished with the seventh-best ERA (3.99) in the American League.

Right now, it looks like the rotation will consist of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and most likely Matt Harrison.

A healthy Harrison is a key for the Rangers and would give them one of the absolute best top four starters in the league.

After that, the Rangers have a whole bunch of options, but most are big question marks.

Let’s start with Alexi Ogando. Ogando looked great as a starter when healthy in 2013. He made three trips to the disabled list, which means he is a far cry from a sure thing to fill that fifth starter’s role.

Ogando appears to be the best option, though, if the Rangers choose to remain within the organization.

Another option is to bring back Colby Lewis, currently a free agent after being on the shelf all year long. It would be a huge plus for Texas if Lewis is able to get even close to the success he had the previous few years. He is regarded as the best postseason pitcher the Rangers have ever had, but his health and free agency makes him just another question mark.

Nick Tepesch started 2012 in the Rangers rotation as a rookie. He showed signs of being a good major league pitcher, but he struggled mightily in May and June and ran into injury troubles as well. Those are some things that rookies tend to struggle with, so expect Tepesch to get another chance as a starter next season.

The Rangers' big trade deadline acquisition, Matt Garza, is a viable alternative, but the team can't be overly enthusiastic about bringing him back. He had several good starts in his short time in Texas, but he was largely a disappointment. 

Garza's 4-5 record and 4.38 ERA were not worth the haul the Rangers had to give up. He also didn't seem like an ideal fit for the Rangers organization. Don't expect Texas to offer Garza a big contract this offseason.

The final option Texas has is to go outside the organization and make a splash with a trade or in free agency.

The top names the Rangers have been linked to are David Price and Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka.

For the Rangers to get either, it’ll cost them. Price would have to be acquired via trade; meaning, the Rangers would likely have to surrender Jurickson Profar and several other top prospects.

And who could blame the Rangers for their interest in Tanaka? Darvish has proved his worth the last few seasons since coming over from Japan, and the Dallas Morning News reported that Tanaka could be even better. 

My prediction is that the Rangers keep their money in their pockets and hope the combination of Ogando, Lewis and Tepesch is good enough to get them into the postseason in 2014.

 

Adding power to the lineup

The Rangers found themselves with a problem in 2013 that they don't often have—a light-hitting lineup.

As a team, they hit .262, which was fourth in the AL, but the power numbers weren't there like they usually are.

2013's slugging percentage was down to .412 (sixth in the AL) and OPS was .735. That's compared to a .446 slugging percentage and .780 OPS in 2012. Home runs were also down from 200 to 176.

There were many reasons for the drop in power numbers: Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli left, Nelson Cruz missed the final 50 games of the season and those bats were not replaced as they had hoped.

Expect Texas to go after a power bat or two in the offseason. The main name that is continually brought up is free-agent catcher Brian McCann. There are reports that the Rangers pursued him at the trade deadline, so expect them to make a play for him again.

Another source of power will be Jurickson Profar—if the team can find him a steady role. It was asking too much for him to move around as much as he did in 2013. When he is given a chance to play every day at one position, his bat will get going.

Nelson Cruz's pending return will make the biggest difference in the Rangers' power numbers next season. Baseball-Reference.com shows that Cruz has 162-game averages of 32 home runs with a .495 slugging percentage. It will be hard for the Rangers to look at those numbers and not want to re-sign him.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Rangers will lose a big power bat if they don't re-sign Nelson Cruz this offseason

If he doesn't return to Arlington, the Rangers will have to shop around for a power hitter like Carlos Beltran or Giancarlo Stanton.

The best solution will be for Texas to bring Cruz back and let him anchor the lineup alongside Adrian Beltre for a few more years. If Cruz is retained, he will likely make the move over to left field. That will allow Alex Rios, who has decent power of his own, to stay in right.

 

Closer

Joe Nathan has been one of the surest things in baseball the past nine seasons when it comes to closing. His 341 saves are tied for the 10th-most in history, and the Rangers are fortunate to have had him the last two years.

But there is a chance the book will be closed on Nathan in Texas. Nathan has a chance to return to Texas if the Rangers use their option on him for 2014, but he also has a right to void that option.

If he does not return, Tanner Scheppers is the leading candidate to step into the closer’s role. At times, Scheppers was unhittable in 2013, but he also struggled at times in the second half of the season.

Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz appear to be the other options at this point for Texas. Both are All-Star closers themselves—Soria in 2008 and 2010 with the Kansas City Royals and Feliz as a rookie in 2010.

Based on all the options Texas appears to have, it's not a matter of having someone capable of closing out games. It's just a matter of picking the right guy.

The best bet is to bring Nathan back. He is the steadiest option and doesn't seem to be slowing down just yet. That move would solidify the rest of the Texas bullpen and perhaps even give Feliz another chance as a starter.

 

Catcher

There would be nothing wrong with bringing the duo A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto back for another season. Together they hit 26 home runs and drove in 92 runs. That is excellent for catchers.

Both are free agents, though, so it will be difficult to do so.

As previously mentioned, Brian McCann is available and the Rangers appear to be suitors. That would be huge move for Texas, but it wouldn't completely shore up the catcher’s position.

McCann has played in less and less games each season for the last four years, bottoming out at 102 this past season. He is obviously an attractive option because of his power and reputation, but for some reason, this smells like a bad contract waiting to happen.

Per Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com, he is rumored to be on the market for over $100 million. That is a steep price for a guy on the back side of his career. The Rangers would be smart to resist dishing out the big bucks for McCann, and instead, they should lock up Pierzynski for one or two more seasons.

Pierzynski doesn't have the same power that McCann does, but he is still one of the better catchers in baseball. At 37, he will go for a much lower price. If he can hold down the catcher's spot in Texas for another year or two, top prospect Jorge Alfaro should be about ready to go.

Texas was just one game away from the playoffs in 2013, despite facing a good amount of adversity. It is difficult to prepare for things like Ian Kinsler's power outage, David Murphy’s forgettable season, Cruz's suspension and a multitude of injuries to starting pitchers.

If Jon Daniels and the front office can slide a few pieces into place this offseason, Ron Washington will figure out a way to lead his team back to the postseason in 2014.

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