Playing Sign and Walk with the Texas Rangers Free Agents
The Texas Rangers up-and-down season in 2013 ended with the team missing the postseason for the first time in four years.
Now that the offseason is here, the Rangers will be hoping to have better luck in the free agent market this year than they did last year, when they missed out on players like Zack Grienke, Michael Bourn and their own Josh Hamilton.
Texas has secured four of their five rotation spots after extending Martin Perez on Thursday. Another solid outfielder, catcher and first baseman are most likely the targeted positions this offseason.
The free agent market this year isn't very strong, but the Rangers will be looking to make a splash with a couple of big names. The team has its own free agents to deal with as well. Texas has already re-signed catcher Geovany Soto and reliever Jason Frasor.
Here is a look at the rest of the Rangers free agents who played for the big club last season, and whether or not they should be back in Arlington next season.
Re-Sign Jeff Baker—Utility IF, Outfielder
Jeff Baker’s time with the Rangers in 2013 was his fourth team in two years. He hit .279 last season, with 11 home runs and 21 RBI and had a .360 OBP.
The numbers aren't eye-popping by any measure, but Baker played a vital role filling in for the Rangers' everyday players on their days off.
The super-utility man saw time at five different positions in 74 games in 2013, and was penciled in as designated hitter for 12 games. He committed just one error last season and has a career .985 fielding percentage.
The veteran is coming off of a one-year deal worth $1.75 million, so he’s not expensive. He also spent time on the disabled list last season, and could come even cheaper in 2014.
Baker would be a solid bench piece for the Rangers next season.
Don’t Re-Sign Lance Berkman—OF, 1B, DH
This may be the most obvious, but the Rangers need to part ways with Berkman and may already have.
Texas already declined the club’s $12 million option for 2014, and paid Berkman a $1 million buyout.
Texas signed the 15-year veteran who was coming off of knee surgery last offseason to a one-year deal worth $10 million. Berkman played in just 73 games last season, and spent most of July, all of August and most of September on the DL.
His .242 batting average in 2013 was his worst since his first season in the big leagues in 1999. He hit six home runs and drove in 34 runs in his limited time as a Ranger.
Unless Berkman can prove that he is healthy and is willing to accept a limited role and a much smaller paycheck, he won’t be back in Arlington next season.
Don’t Re-Sign Travis Blackley—SP, RP
The Rangers acquired Blackley from the Astros on Aug. 14 after the team learned that pitchers Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis would not return in 2013.
The Australia native started just three games and made one relief appearance. Blackley posted a 1-1 record and struck out 11 in 15.1 innings of work. He went no more than six innings in any of his starts. Blackley was a reliever all season with Houston before being asked to start by Texas.
His career 5.23 ERA is also something that should keep the Rangers away. Blackley’s ERA was 4.70 in his very limited time in Arlington.He would be a decent middle reliever option, but the team just doesn't have the room.
Although he filled in nicely for the Rangers, the bullpen has plenty of depth, including two solid lefties in Neil Cotts and Robby Ross.
Re-Sign Nelson Cruz—RF
Besides Adrian Beltre, nobody in the Rangers lineup has provided power on a consistent basis like Nelson Cruz. That’s why the Rangers must bring him back to Arlington.
Cruz played in just 109 games last season due to a 50-game suspension for PEDs. Before his exit, he hit .266 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI. He was a vital run producer for the Rangers in 2013 and was missed during the team’s collapse in September.
“Nellie” has hit at least 22 homers for the past five seasons, including a career-high 33 in 2009. The Rangers can sign Cruz to DH with Alex Rios in right field. He could even play left field if the Rangers don't decide to give Craig Gentry an every day job.
He may get signed for another team in this year’s weak market, but with the suspension still fresh in the minds of every GM, he might be cheaper than Jon Daniels expects.
Don’t Re-Sign Matt Garza—SP
The Rangers gave up five players for Matt Garza back in July in hopes of strengthening their injury-wrecked rotation.
However, they didn’t get the pitcher who was 6-1 and had a 3.17 ERA with the Cubs. Instead, Garza went 4-5 in 13 starts during his short time in Texas, which includes three losses in September.
At 29 years old, Garza is going to be looking for a multi-year deal that will most likely require more than $12 million per year. Had he performed like he did before the All Star break, the Rangers may have gone that route.
Texas has a few options in-house that could fill the final rotation spot. Moreover, with the possibility of acquiring David Price or signing Masahiro Tanaka, the Rangers should keep away from Garza.
He wasn’t worth the price of Mike Olt, Justin Grimm and C.J. Edwards.
Re-Sign Colby Lewis—SP
It’s hard not to bring back arguably the best pitcher in Rangers postseason history, even if he hasn’t pitched more than a year. According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that’s what may happen.
The Bakersfield College product hasn’t pitched a big league game since July 18, 2012. He had right flexor tendon surgery later that month. He made seven rehab starts in 2013 before ending his season to remove bone spurs in his hip.
Jeff Wilson says Lewis was offered a minor league deal. This could be another money saver for the Rangers, who could sign the 34-year-old to another 1-year deal. He would be injury insurance and possibly a candidate for the fifth rotation spot.
Given his postseason and overall success in Texas, the Rangers should pull the trigger on Lewis.
Don’t Re-Sign David Murphy—OF
Last season may have been all the Rangers needed to see from David Murphy, who was supposed to take over for Josh Hamilton as a full-time outfielder.
Now, nobody was expecting him to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs, but 2013 couldn't have been more disappointing for Murphy. He hit a dismal .220 and his OBP was lower than .300 for the first time in his career.
The only resemblance to Hamilton that Murphy showed was the inability to be patient at the dish. He only walked 37 times, constantly chased bad pitches and lunged at anything that wasn't straight.
The Rangers already have Craig Gentry, Leonys Martin and Alex Rios and could be bringing back Nelson Cruz. Although a solid glove, Murphy’s bat was enough to finish his time in Texas.
Don’t Re-Sign Joe Nathan—RP
Joe Nathan has been consistent during his tenure in Texas, but it has most likely come to an end.
The 38-year-old has 80 saves in two years with the Rangers after taking over the closer role when Neftali Feliz moved to the rotation. Last season was his best, recording 43 saves, 73 strikeouts and giving up just 10 earned runs in 64.2 innings.
Nathan is looking for a multi-year deal after voiding the Rangers $9 million club option for 2014. Even if it is only two years, the closer will most likely cost Texas $12-14 million per year.
The depth of the bullpen in Texas is one of the best in baseball. The team has multiple candidates who could take over for Nathan, including Feliz, who assumed the role for two years before becoming a starter.
Don’t Re-Sign A.J. Pierzynski—C
The Rangers got Geovany Soto back for just over $3 million and named him their primary catcher.
A.J. Pierzynski, who became one of the Rangers' best free-agent acquisitions last season, will be more expensive than Soto and is also six years older. Pierzynski has started 1,563 games at catcher, a lot of mileage for the position.
He played in 132 games last season, hitting .272 and 17 home runs with 70 RBI. A free swinger, Pierzynski only walked 11 times in 2013, the fewest since 200 when he played in only 33 games for the Twins.
If the Rangers don’t cash in on Brian McCann, this is another position Texas could stay in-house to fill. They have multiple prospects, including Jorge Alfaro, who is still young and developing, and Brett Nicholas, who will be playing winter ball in the Dominican to catch full-time.
Pierzynski was a good catch for the club last year, but will cost too much and be too old for another one-year deal.