UTL Jeff Baker.
The Texas Rangers may not be as interested in utility man Jeff Baker as they were just a few weeks ago.
Since their massive Shin-Soo Choo signing on December 21, it's believed that the Rangers have been searching for depth—particularly a right-handed bench bat and additional arms. Two of the main right-handed bats available on the market have been Baker and former face of the franchise Michael Young.
On January 7, Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Rangers would like to bring Baker back this season.
But news out of the Rangers' Fan Fest Saturday in Arlington, Texas, is a bit surprising, to say the least. According to this tweet from ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett, both guys might be out of the question now:
Daniels asked about bringing back Michael Young. Says club has talked about it, but expects the utility spot to be internal.— Richard Durrett (@espn_durrett) January 25, 2014
Many Rangers fans generally believed that Baker was the better option for the team's need—a capable righty bat who could step in and man infield positions when regulars got injured or needed a day off.
Adam Rosales is the lone utility infielder on the Rangers roster right now, and while he might be more defensively polished than Young or Baker, his bat doesn't have nearly the same punch.
There aren't many viable internal candidates to be the team's second utility infielder this season. Robinson Chirinos and Luis Sardinas are the two 40-man roster candidates who immediately come to my mind.
But Chirinos is primarily suited as a backup first baseman, and Sardinas doesn't appear ready for even utility action. He spent most of his time at High-A Myrtle Beach last season and had just cracked into Double-A Frisco's lineup at the end of the year. Neither is even close to ideal candidates to be on the Rangers' 25-man roster.
This could possibly be general manager Jon Daniels just playing the market out a bit. That, along with revealing absolutely nothing to the media, is his M.O.
Regardless of the poker language, the Rangers must make a serious push to sign Baker. He's a proven major league player with a potent bat and decent infield defensive skills.
Last season, Baker, 32, was an excellent player for Texas in limited time. In 175 plate appearances in 74 games, he hit .279 with 11 homers and 21 RBI while finishing with an OBP of .360—an impressive number for for a utility player.
Baker's main role with the Rangers in 2013 was as a lefty masher, and he proved that status with a smoldering .314/.407/.667 line against them. For the first three months of the season, he also led all of baseball with the most home runs off left-handed pitchers.
Ideally, Baker would form a DH platoon with Mitch Moreland. Against righty starters, Moreland would get the call, while Baker would get in the lineup against lefty starters. Both are also perfect pinch hit candidates if Ron Washington wants to play the matchup in the late innings.
Finally, Baker has that whatever-it-takes-to-win mentality that fits in so well with the Rangers clubhouse and with Washington. His work ethic and hustle reminded me a lot of David Murphy last season. A team can never have too many blue-collar guys like those two.
I haven't heard anything definitive on Baker's asking price. But realistically, it can't be out of the Rangers' sights. Signing him would essentially close the door on the 2014 offense, making it 100 percent ready for the upcoming season.
Baker is the final piece to the puzzle on offense. Then Daniels can resume his search for pitching depth.
*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com