Is Geovany Soto the answer for the Rangers at catcher in 2014?
Despite the acquisition of first baseman Prince Fielder, the Texas Rangers are still a team with flaws. A number of good free agents remain on the market and should Texas sign them, it may fix some of the areas that need improvement.
With questions still remaining about the team heading into the 2014 season, here are three weaknesses that Texas has and free agents who help fill those holes.
As it stands right now, Craig Gentry is the team's Opening Day left fielder if the season were starting now. While Gentry's performance last season was enough to prove his reliability as a player, the Rangers may want to look for a more proven player to play left field.
Gentry hit .280 with 12 doubles, four triples, two homers and 22 RBI last season while stealing 24 bases in 27 attempts. He proved to be highly effective against both lefties and righties last season, hitting .280 and .281 against them respectively.
Shin-Soo Choo remains a hot name on the market, along with Nelson Cruz, who could still re-sign with the Rangers. Of these two players, who would be the best fit for Texas?
Now that the Rangers have acquired Prince Fielder, their desire for a powerful bat appears to have been met. With that in mind, Texas would be wise to pursue Choo as a corner outfielder for the 2014 season and beyond.
Over the years, Choo has quietly turned himself into one of the best outfielders in the game. No, he doesn't hit for a lot of power, having never hit more than 22 homers in a season, and he's never cracked 100 RBI in a single season, but don't be fooled about his offensive ability.
Last season Choo placed fourth among all major leaguers with a .423 on-base percentage. In addition to his high on-base percentage, he also hit 34 doubles, 21 homers and stole 20 bases.
While Cruz would be a welcomed addition to the team next season, he doesn't have the on-base ability that Choo does. Choo's ability to get on base and steal bases makes him a great catalyst and would be a nice compliment to a lineup that features power hitters like Fielder and Adrian Beltre.
General manager Jon Daniels appears to have already committed to Geovany Soto as the team's catcher heading into the 2014 season, but that doesn't mean it's the best decision.
Soto is a .248 career hitter with a .335 on-base percentage and has had a number of ups and downs throughout his career.
Ironically enough, his best season to date was in 2008 when he hit .285 with 23 homers and 86 RBI, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. The following season, he saw his average drop to .218 with 11 homers and 47 RBI, only to bounce back with a .280 average in 2010 where he hit 17 homers.
He's been a backup for the Rangers since 2012, having played in just 101 regular-season games with the organization since being acquired via trade.
Soto has had his share of success with the Rangers since joining them but has only hit .222 with the club in his first year and a half with the team.
Unfortunately, Pierzynski will be 37 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and Saltalamacchia has a history of inconsistency similar to Soto. Both players could come for a higher price than what Texas signed Soto for, which could lead the Rangers to stick with him as planned. That being said, Texas would be wise to consider all available options at catcher just in case Soto doesn't work out as they are hoping.
First Baseman/Designated Hitter
The Rangers just traded for first baseman Prince Fielder, so how could the position possibly be a problem? The reason for a weakness at these positions is mostly because Fielder could serve as the team's first baseman or designated hitter. If he plays as the team's everyday first baseman, then Texas' problem would be at designated hitter; if he is the designated hitter, then the problem will be at first base.
It appears likely that first baseman Mitch Moreland will fill whatever spot in the lineup that Fielder doesn't fill, however Moreland himself isn't even certain what the future holds.
Moreland set career highs last season in games played (147), homers (23) and RBI (60), but struggled in the second half of the season. His .183 average after the All-Star break was a huge drop from his .266 average at the beginning of the season. Moreland's struggles certainly played a role in the team's decision to trade for Fielder, but why should a trade stop them from looking to replace Moreland via free agency?
What is the biggest need for the Rangers right now?
Looking strictly at first basemen, guys like Mike Napoli, Corey Hart, Kendrys Morales and James Loney are just a few guys who Texas should consider bringing in.
Hart sat out all of the 2013 season due to a knee injury but hit .275 with 30 homers and 83 RBI in 2012. The fact that he is coming back from an injury could make Hart a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Rangers.
Putting the argument for Hart aside, Napoli, Morales and Loney all hit for a higher average than Moreland did last season, while Napoli and Morales both hit 23 homers.
The price for an additional first baseman or designated hitter to permanently replace Moreland may come at a high price, but it could be a move worth making. Replacing him could provide Texas with a more consistent bat and a guy who can be inserted in the lineup every day, as opposed to the situational play that Moreland could be looking at in 2014.
Follow Zachary on Twitter at @ZacharyKrueger