In the long run, it's hard to know how the Texas Rangers' decision to dole out over a quarter of a billion dollars to Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will work out. In 2014, though, the team arguably boasts the best lineup in MLB.
What makes adding Choo such a shrewd move for the Rangers is that the 31-year-old is equally at home in both table-setting and table-clearing roles. In 2013, Choo posted a .423 on-base percentage, which was the fourth best in all of baseball. He also clubbed 21 home runs, stole 20 bases and produced a .462 slugging percentage.
That means Rangers manager Ron Washington can plug Choo into the leadoff spot or drop him into a run-producing role. Here's what the Rangers lineup projects to be with Choo leading off:
- Shin-Soo Choo, LF
- Elvis Andrus, SS
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Adrian Beltre, 3B
- Alex Rios, RF
- Mitch Moreland, DH
- Geovany Soto, C
- Leonys Martin, CF
- Jurickson Profar, 2B
The other option would be to utilize Martin in the leadoff role and push Choo further down the lineup:
As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports remarks, "My goodness is the Rangers' potential lineup scary." But is it necessarily the best in all of baseball?
In 2013, the Boston Red Sox could stake a claim to that honor. The World Series champions posted a .795 OPS as a team, which was No. 1 in all of baseball. While the Red Sox retained a major run-producer in Mike Napoli, they lost a big run-provider in Jacoby Ellsbury. In 2013, Ellsbury scored a team-leading 92 runs while posting a .355 OBP and swiping 52 bases in 56 attempts.
In 2013, the Detroit Tigers also had one of the best lineups in MLB. The club's collective .780 OPS was second only to the Red Sox. Like Boston, though, the Tigers have also suffered a major defection this offseason. The club managed to get out from under Fielder's massive contract, but his production will be heading out of town.
Miguel Cabrera will step in for Fielder at first base, and top prospect Nick Castellanos will take over at third base. According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, Castellanos is the 11th-best prospect in the minor leagues. Still, to expect a player who posted a .793 OPS in Triple-A last year to produce at Fielder's level is a serious reach.
It's also worth noting that the Tigers haven't necessarily improved at second base, either. Check out how Omar Infante's stats from 2013 compare to Ian Kinsler's:
- Infante: .318/.345/.450, 10 home runs
- Kinsler: .277/.344/.413, 13 home runs
The Tigers clearly added some major payroll flexibility this offseason but at the cost of weakening the lineup in 2014.
The Rangers, meanwhile, have followed the exact opposite approach. The team opened itself up to some serious exposure by taking on seven-year contracts for both Fielder and Choo. By around 2017, neither one of those deals is likely to be terribly favorable for the Rangers.
In 2014, though, Texas will have the most dangerous lineup in baseball.
Note: Stats via Baseball-Reference.com.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.