It is going to be a long offseason but potentially an exciting one. There are not many good free agents but there are some exciting ones and some of the best are in positions that might interest the Rangers. Players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo are top tier free agents that would fit in positions of need in Arlington.
Last year Jon Daniels and the front office opted to not pay players like Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, instead bringing in veterans like A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman. Most of us were surprised that Texas failed to make the kind of splash a Hamilton or Zack Greinke signing would have made. A few bullpen arms, an over the hill DH and a solid catcher sounded a lot like a team trying to stand pat. It seems clear to me that Jon Daniels believed that the team he had without Hamilton and Napoli would be good enough to get to the playoffs.
One of the traits I like best about Jon Daniels is that he sticks to his evaluation of a player and will not overpay for someone. He has shown over and over that he has a price based on an evaluation of a player and that he will not over reach for a player. He did this with C.J. Wilson. He did this with Josh Hamilton. He did this with Zack Greinke. He did this with Mike Napoli.
It is arguable that Texas lost more than any other team last year. It is not clear that Hamilton would have played at his MVP level instead of replacement level but the production lost was high. It has to make Daniels look good that Hamilton did not appear worth his contract in Anaheim. While Daniels was questioned about his decision to not bring back Hamilton, based on Hamilton’s poor play I would have to back Daniels in the decision. Texas certainly missed that middle of the order power to go with Adrian Beltre but it is not clear that Hamilton would have provided that. It is hard to argue with those who say Daniels cost this team a playoff birth by not
bringing in an impact free agent. The key thing to remember is that Jon Daniels is making decisions to keep this team in the hunt for the next five years as well as next year.
My one concern is that prices rise over time. I know I would not have signed Anibal Sanchez at 80 million over 5 years but now that he received that contract it has become a benchmark contract for comparable players. I expect that Matt Garza will require a similar contract and thus, Daniels will not bring him back because he probably does not think Garza is worth that kind of contract. The Rangers will be tied to many of the big name free agents this year. McCann, Ellsbury and even Robinson Cano will be discussed as Texas targets all throughout the hot stove season. All three of these players are set to receive large contracts and I expect Texas to fall out of the race for each of them.
Brian McCann is potentially a great player and Texas needs a catcher. Daniels would probably love McCann to fill the gap until Jorge Alfaro is ready. McCann is easily the best catcher on the market and is a good bat. I see McCann as the most likely acquisition of the those mentioned above for Daniels and the Rangers. He fills the most immediate need but I still see this as somewhat unlikely because many teams are likely to need a catcher and McCann has an injury history.
Outfielders Ellsbury and Choo are also going to get paid as elite players because they are the best available but neither is a truly elite player. Ellsbury is likely to get paid something like 5 years and 100 million and while he is an amazing baserunner and above average defender, his offensive production has not been elite aside from his one MVP caliber year. Choo is a similarly good but not great player and will likely be overpaid.
As exciting as it would be to acquire one of the best hitters in baseball by roping in Cano I do not see Daniels adding to an already clogged middle infield. This is conventional wisdom for sure and if any team would add the best hitter into a overfilled position, in this case second base, it would be Jon Daniels’s Texas Rangers. In the end, even though Texas has a huge TV deal coming, teams that need a second baseman and have similar money to spend, the Dodgers and Yankees, will offer Cano a better deal.
The trend in Texas has been to trust the core they have built and to do nothing more than add complementary pieces. I expect more of the same this year. Based on Jon Daniels’s past behavior he is likely to grab someone young with upside, like Masahiro Tanaka, and avoid overpaying for middle aged guys with significant questions.