After already addressing their need for a big bat in the middle of the lineup by trading for Prince Fielder, the Texas Rangers got one more gift in time for Christmas by reportedly signing free agent Shin-Soo Choo.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports broke the news, reporting Choo's deal with Texas will be for seven years and $130 million:
Shin-Soo Choo has deal with rangers. 7 years. details to come.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 21, 2013
Choo deal is for $130M with texas— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 21, 2013
If you are keeping track at home, the addition of Choo will give the Rangers a 2014 lineup that looks something like this:
|1. Shin-Soo Choo||RF|
|2. Elvis Andrus||SS|
|3. Adrian Beltre||3B|
|4. Prince Fielder||1B|
|5. Alex Rios||LF|
|6. Mitch Moreland||DH|
|7. Jurickson Profar||2B|
|8. Geovany Soto||C|
|9. Leonys Martin||CF|
The possibilities for that group are incredible because of the combination of established stars (Choo, Andrus, Beltre, Fielder) and young players who should continue to grow (Profar). However, I would caution before proclaiming the Rangers favorites in their own division, let alone the favorites to reach the World Series.
One thing everyone has associated with Rangers baseball is offense. They play in one of the best hitting environments baseball has to offer.
But last season saw a regression from the lineup that hindered their ability to keep up with the Oakland A's in the American League West and Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians in the wild-card race.
The Rangers finished seventh in batting average (730) and slugging percentage (.412), eighth in runs scored (730) and 10th in on-base percentage (.323). Those are numbers most teams would love to have, but they're unacceptable by Texas' standards.
With Choo and Fielder, the Rangers have added two players whose collective on-base percentage in 2013 was .392. Choo finished fourth in baseball with a .423 OBP.
The Rangers boast a lineup that should be able to compete with any team over 162 games, so what's the problem?
For starters, the American League is insanely deep right now. The A's are still, at least on paper, the best team in the division. Billy Beane has been working his magic, assembling one of the deepest bullpens in the league and replacing Bartolo Colon with Scott Kazmir.
The A's finished fourth in runs scored in 2013, despite injury-plagued seasons from Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.
The Boston Red Sox may have lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but they brought back Mike Napoli and will have a full season from Xander Bogaerts. That offense was so much better than any other in baseball last year, scoring 57 more runs than the Detroit Tigers.
Who is the best team in the AL right now?
The Tigers may have lost Fielder, but they'll get better on defense with Miguel Cabrera moving to first base, Jose Iglesias entrenched at shortstop and, presumably, star prospect Nick Castellanos taking over at third base. Their top three starters (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez) are as good as it gets.
Even a team like Tampa Bay, which sits behind that big trio at the top, is in the mix. The Rays will have their first full-season look at what Evan Longoria and Wil Myers can do in the middle of a lineup.
Then there are teams that have made upgrades this offseason, like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angeles and Seattle Mariners. The Mariners and Angels are still behind Oakland and Texas in the AL West, but the gap has closed between those teams in the last two weeks.
The Yankees are going to have a very good offense, assuming Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira can stay healthy and, in A-Rod's case, avoid a year-long suspension. But that pitching staff has the potential to explode in spring training.
There are also significant flaws remaining in the Rangers' lineup that could easily come back to haunt them.
For instance, Choo gets destroyed by left-handed pitching. He had a .612 OPS against southpaws in 2013, compared to 1.011 vs. righties. Mitch Moreland has had a similar problem throughout his career, hitting just .657 against lefties.
Leonys Martin has a career .306 on-base percentage, as well as huge platoon splits (.738 OPS vs. RHP; .569 vs. LHP).
The catching tandem of Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia could slug .450, but they'll also post a collective on-base percentage of .320, which is probably optimistic.
Jurickson Profar has to be close to the player everyone expected him to be in 2013. That didn't happen largely because manager Ron Washington didn't give him regular playing time.
Profar seemed to lose a lot of fans last year, despite entering 2013 as the consensus top prospect in baseball and being just 20 years old. He would have more value as a shortstop, but the Rangers are set at the position, and Profar isn't going to be a slouch at second base, with plus defense, 15-18 homers (at peak) and a .290/.360/.450 slash line.
Choo's ability to get on base, combined with the solid performance of Andrus in the No. 2 slot, will ensure that Beltre and Fielder each drive in at least 100 runs. (I shudder to think about the number of sacrifice bunts Washington will have Andrus lay down in 2014 with Choo getting on base 40 percent of the time.)
Moving onto the pitching side of things, I'm not sure how confident the Rangers should be with their current group.
Yu Darvish is a monster in the No. 1 spot, but there are a lot of questions in the rotation behind him. Derek Holland had his best season in 2013, posting a 4.8 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement, a 3.42 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 213 innings.
Consistency has never been Holland's friend. The 27-year-old did learn to trust his slider more in 2013, throwing it a career-high 24.4 percent of the time. If that adjustment yields more results like we saw last year, it gives the Rangers a strong one-two punch.
Martin Perez won't turn 23 until April and has shown signs of being a quality starter in his brief MLB tenure, but he has just 162.1 innings of experience under his belt and isn't missing as many bats as you would like from a young lefty who averages 93.6 mph with the fastball.
Matt Harrison threw just 10.2 innings last season, while Alexi Ogando has never shown the ability to last as a starter and has more upside out of the bullpen.
The team also lost closer Joe Nathan to the Tigers and figure to go with a combination of Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, both coming off Tommy John surgery in 2012, at the end of games next year.
Choo's deal certainly addresses one of the two biggest holes the Rangers had at the end of 2013, but it does not make them World Series favorites. They still have a lot of questions to answer, and teams to climb over, before we can put them in that category.
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