With just five days to go until we all welcome 2014, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels should feel pretty comfortable with his current team.
After trading Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder and cash in late November, and then signing Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million deal over the weekend, the Rangers should now just be searching to add bench and bullpen depth.
Yes, the frenzy surrounding news that Masahiro Tanaka will be posted tomorrow is incredibly exciting. The thought of a Yu Darvish-Tanaka combo at the top of the Rangers' rotation would be a dream come true. I certainly agree with that, while knowing a rotation of Darvish, Tanaka, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez would probably be the best in baseball.
But the Rangers should ultimately pass on Tanaka. I'm not at all saying that they should simply stand by and watch Tanaka sign elsewhere without even an attempt to negotiate. They should absolutely post the $20 million bid and meet with him once, maybe even twice if they can feasibly get to that point with him.
Perhaps the Rangers can hope that the potential company of Yu Darvish and translator Joe Furukawa might persuade Tanaka to take less money to sign with them. That is a reasonable assumption.
But with the the New York Yankees' desperate need of starting pitching, as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers' unlimited budget, I can't see the Rangers winning a bidding war at all. There are clear incentives to Tanaka signing with Texas—comfort and familiarity with other Japanese players and Furukawa, no state income tax, contending team, etc.— and if they aren't enough to persuade him, JD needs to pass here.
I haven't always felt this way. But I changed my thinking after I really thought about the Rangers' financial commitments over the next seven to 10 years. I was all for handing Choo massive money, and after that I'm a bit more hesitant to do the same for Tanaka.
Fox Sports' Jon Morosi is one of many who believes that Tanaka will command a deal of around $100 million over several years. I contend that Tanaka is looking for at least the six years that Darvish received from Texas prior to the 2012 season.
If Texas signed him, Tanaka would likely be the team's fourth $100 million plus contract. That is asking quite a bit of an ownership group that has just busted open its wallet for Choo. JD needs to let the last remaining big fish go.
Whereas Choo was a clear need for Texas, Tanaka is a desired commodity. The Rangers don't need him. They are at least a playoff team without him. It is acceptable to spend exorbitant amounts of money on players that are needed—not just wanted.
Instead, the Rangers should search for one final right-handed bat to fill out its bench and another reliever to help spread out the bullpen's workload.
The free-agent pool for a right-handed bat is pretty limited—so much so that if the Rangers choose to go this route, their realistic options would seem to be Jeff Baker and Michael Young.
If I'm JD, I'd want to bring back Baker on a one-year deal.
Baker provides a veteran right-handed bat with some pop. In 74 games with Texas last season, he was solid—he did exactly what was asked of him as a bench player. He hit .279 with 11 home runs and 21 RBI, per CBSports.com. For a time, he was leading the league in home runs off of left-handed pitchers. He also posted a .360 OBP, which is fantastic for a bench player in limited at-bats.
As a utility player, he can handle several positions. Assuming that Engel Beltre will be on the 25-man roster, Baker would likely become more of a backup for Adrian Beltre. Jurickson Profar needs to be in the lineup unless he literally cannot feel his legs. If Elvis Andrus needs a rest, that's where Adam Rosales comes in.
I can also see Baker at DH on days when a lefty starts against the Rangers. On those days, Mitch Moreland would be the team's one left-handed bench bat.
Baker's average dipped a bit toward the end of the season, but JD should bring him back to Texas. He filled in admirably for injuries and was a great fit in the clubhouse. Those numbers work just fine in a bench role. Baker would be the fourth bench player—a proven one at that—who could easily fill in while Michael Choice continues to develop in AAA. Baker should be very affordable as well.
I also believe JD should sign a quality reliever, just to have an extra arm who can eat innings. As the saying goes, "you can never have too much pitching."
A strong bullpen this season will be especially important for the Rangers. Matt Harrison is returning from a lower back injury. Martin Perez is blossoming but is still only 22 and is not yet a strikeout pitcher. The fifth spot in the rotation looks to be manned by committee right now between Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch or Colby Lewis.
Ogando should be moved to a full-time position in the bullpen, while Tepesch and Lewis vie for the fifth spot in the rotation. Neftali Feliz is returning from Tommy John surgery and can't be realistically expected to have a 40-save season. While he works his way back into form, the Rangers will basically need to replace his arm.
This team could then use another reliever. Boy, I would love to have Jesse Crain in this bullpen. His addition could very well make Texas' pen the best in the American League.
But I'll try to stay a bit more realistic by suggesting Oliver Perez as a reliever the Rangers should sign.
Perez had a solid year with the Seattle Mariners last season, striking out 74 batters and walking just 26 in 53 innings, per CBSSports.com. His ERA of 3.74 last year seems a bit high, but he only allowed 23 runs in those 53 innings. That's one every 2.30 innings. He is a hard thrower with nasty stuff and a funky delivery that is deceptive to hitters. If he can keep up that pace, he will be perfect for the Rangers.
Again, Texas doesn't need an absolute shutdown reliever here. Those guys cost big money, and a little too much for JD and this front office right now. The Rangers just need someone who can give them a couple innings here and there to limit the heavy loads on lefties Neal Cotts and Robbie Ross.
Perez is also a lefty, so when Ron Washington wants to bring in a lefty out of the pen, Perez could give those two a break while offering the same matchup advantages.
I believe both of these players can be had on one-year deals for a total of around $10 million. The depth they would add to the club is worth that price.
So the Rangers essentially have the vast bulk of their team set and ready to go for next season. No further major moves are needed. At this point, it's all about polishing—transforming a great team into an elite, championship-contending team. These smaller additions would perform that task perfectly.