The Hot Stove League has begun and, if you know anything about the Texas Rangers, it is this: Whatever you’re hearing in terms of buzz, it’s mostly speculation. Because once the Rangers make a move, it tends to be a surprise to everyone.
Last year in the off-season, the speculation was whether Cliff Lee would re-sign with the Rangers. Texas put on a hard-court press to get Lee to re-up with them. That IS what was reported. What nobody saw coming was what followed losing out on the Lee sweepstakes: the trade with Toronto that brought Mike Napoli to Texas and the signing of Adrian Beltre to a 5-year contract when just about every media source pegged Beltre as going to the Angels.
Jon Daniels is a cagey GM who is constantly thinking three moves ahead. If Plan A doesn’t work out, Daniels already has Plans B, C and maybe even D in mind. He also has a penchant for hammering out double moves, such as two years ago when he shipped Kevin Millwood and much of his salary to the Baltimore Orioles and used the salary savings and immediately signed Rich Harden to a one-year deal.
With new ownership having deep pockets and a team that’s been to back-to-back World series, it’s inevitable the Rangers are considered to be in the mix for just about every free agent out there this off-season. Already, Texas is being mentioned as a suitor for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, two of the biggest names out there. It makes sense from the standpoint that first base is the Rangers’ weakest offensive position. I’m almost willing to bet we will NOT see Pujols or Fielder in a Rangers uniform.
Even with more money to work with (ownership has already as much as committed to a $100 million plus payroll in 2012), I’m pretty sure Daniels is smart enough to know it’s still all about spending money smartly and that doesn’t always translate into the big-dollar guys.
First, let’s take a look at the Rangers’ own free agents and the likelihood of being re-signed.
Endy Chavez: Chavez was a great comeback story, returning from two years of injuries to ably replace Julio Borbon when he went on the DL in May. Chavez probably did better in 2011 than Borbon would have had he not been injured. Still, Chavez is unlikely to return to the fold. The Rangers still have Craig Gentry as a back-up outfielder, Borbon will be back and Cuban defector Leonys Martin is already knocking ont he door waiting for his chance to roam center field. Good luck, Endy. Hope you get a good contract from someone.
Mike Gonzalez: The lefty was acquired from the Orioles and was on every Rangers post-season roster. Odds are pretty good Texas makes him an offer to stick around and, if Gonzalez wants a chance to win instead of the most dollars available, he’ll be glad to ink a new contract.
Darren Oliver: The Rangers’ designated LOOGY and the old man of the bullpen at 42, Oliver lives in Dallas and has indicated he’s leaning towards returning instead of retiring. If so, I’m positive he’ll re-up with Texas at a hometown discount to give himself one more shot at a World Championship.
Matt Treanor: I was a Treanor fan in 2010 and was happy when he came back for the stretch run in 2011. However, Treanor won’t be back unless Texas decides to part ways with Yorvit Torrealba, which I hope they don’t. Maybe he’ll sign a minor league deal with Texas, much like the one that brought him the Rangers way in 2010.
CJ Wilson: This is the multi-million dollar question. Will CJ come back or head for much greener pastures. Wilson is a West Coast guy, so speculation is rife for the Angels to be after him. Obviously the Yankees are going to be in the mix and will likely offer him the most money. Reports also have the Nationals interested, which I understand. He’d be a nice complementary piece to Strasbourg. I put the odds at 50-50 for Wilson to return. texas wants him back, but even with more money to play with, they don’t want CJ to break the bank.
That brings us to everyone else’s free agents. If Texas doesn’t go after Pujols or Fielder, who will they court? Here’s how I look at it. This year’s free agent class isn’t the strongest to begin with. In addition, Texas has VERY big decisions to make after the 2012 season, when Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Colby Lewis can all walk away to other teams. I think the Rangers are going to play small ball this year in the free agent market, looking for bargains and trying to fill specific needs. With that in mind, here are a few under the radar types I think Texas could be very interested in.
Mark Buerhle: This would be the highest dollar guy Texas could go for. Buerhle is a proven innings eater who would fit in well with the rangers pitching staff. I don’t think texas would sign both Wilson and Buerhle, so I’d say if they don’t get Wilson, they put their cards on the table for Buerhle.
Octavio Dotel: If you can’t beat ’em, get ’em to sign with you. Dotel has a World Series ring, a high strikeout rate and would be a great ROOGY for the Rangers.
Casey Kotchman: This is one of the most intriguing names out there. If the Rangers aren’t sold on Mitch Moreland as the answer at first base, they could package him in a trade and sign Kotchman. He might not have the sock potential of Moreland but he’s a great defensive player at first with just enough pop to make for a good fit in the Rangers line-up.
Roy Oswalt: He has Texas ties, he’d be very popular with the fans. He also has a history of back issues and is no spring chicken at 34. There is a possibility Texas will go for him, but I don’t know if they’re willing to pay the dollars Oswalt probably wants.
Jose Reyes: I don’t think this will happen, but it would be a classic Daniels move to trade the popular Elvis Andrus and pick up one the game’s most exciting players. The only reason I don’t really see this happening is because teen phenom Jurickson Profar may only be a couple of years away from the bigs, so texas wouldn’t want to commit more than two years for Reyes.
Joel Zumaya: This is another prime Jon Daniels possibility: signing a former All-Star who’s had physical problems to a low dollar contract. If he comes back to close to his former self, it’s a great investment. If not, you’re not out a lot of money.
There are a few other names out there Texas could conceivably have interest in: Todd Coffey, Kerry Wood, Heath Bell, Jonathon Papelbon, Matt Capps and maybe Hiroki Kuroda. The ones above, though, are my best bets to get strong interest from Texas.