Rangers Make Handful Of Roster Moves

With Thursday being the deadline for MLB teams to finalize their 40-man rosters -- to protect players from the upcoming Rule-5 Draft -- the Texas Rangers made a flurry of roster moves. Per John Blake, Texas have added catcher Jorge Alfaro, middle infielder Hanser Alberto, and pitchers Luke Jackson and Jerad Eikoff to the major league roster.

To create space on the 40-man roster, they traded outfielder Daniel Robertson, whom they acquired last season from San Diego, to the Angels for cash considerations or a player to be named later, and are in the process of selling RHP Miles Mikolas and LHP Aaron Poreda to Japan. According to T.R. Sullivan, the Rangers are looking to do the same with outfielder Jim Adduci. 

At this point most of you are already familiar with Alfaro -- one of Texas's vaunted trio of top prospects -- and RHP Luke Jackson, the hard-throwing righty who more likely than not is going to end up in the Ranger bullpen, perhaps as early as next summer. Hanser Alberto gets lost in the doldrums of all the infield talent currently in the organization, but from a prospect standpoint the only thing you really need to know is he has a slick glove and no real bat to speak of. Essentially he's a reasonable facsimile for Luis Sardinas, though he isn't the type of prospect Sardinas is. 

Eikoff is a bit of a lesser-known, but from what I can tell from his FanGraphs page he is a fringe-average prospect who is a healthy bet to make a couple spot starts next season. Nothing sexy to see here. 

What I find more interesting is how many players the Rangers are selling. I just did a quick Internet search but couldn't find anything worthwhile, but I'm genuinely curious to know how much money MLB teams get in return for selling players to Japan. From what I could gather, the average salary for professional Japanese baseball players is around $400K (US currency), so if the Texas are selling Mikolas and Poreda, and possibly Adduci, how much would they be getting in return? $200K a pop? If you know the answer, I'd appreciate it. 

Daniel Robertson isn't the type of player or prospect the Rangers could receive anything worthwhile for in return, so my best guess is they'll take the cash over the PTBNL. If they successfully sell the rights of those four players, my best guess is that they'll have another $1 million or so to play with. 

It's not substantial in baseball terms, but given that I can't think of another time the Rangers have sold this many players in one offseason, it sort of highlights what many have believed to be true all along: That Texas are actively pinching pennies this offseason. 

Offseason Hot Stove: Rangers Interested in Ian Kennedy

Calvin Watkins writes that the Texas Rangers are interested in Padres' RHP Ian Kennedy, someone I've noted multiple times that makes a lot of sense for the vacated #3 spot in the starting rotation next year.  Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects Kennedy to earn $10.3 million in 2015, his final arbitration year before becoming a free agent after the season. 

Save about 40 innings with the Yankees between 2008 and '09, Ian has pitched exclusively in the National League -- the NL West, to be specific -- since 2010. Surprisingly, among pitchers who have been in the NL over that time frame, Kennedy has been the 12th-most valuable pitcher in the league, generating +13.6 fWAR (about +2.7/year) in route to a 3.81 ERA (3.86 xFIP). His peripherals don't exactly jump out at you; he has a career 21.3% strikeout rate to go with an 8% walk rate -- in line with most mid-rotation starters -- but he makes up for it in durability: In the last five years he is one of only three NL pitchers to log north of 1,000 innings, along with Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels. 

What Kennedy lacks in the sexy department he compensates for with consistency. In the last five years he's produced +2.9, +0.5, +2.9, +4.9 and +2.4 fWAR, respectively. Given the volatility of starting pitching, we can forgive his replacement-level 2013 campaign in the same vein we can admit he probably overachieved in his 4th-place Cy Young Award +4.9 fWAR season in 2011. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the middle of the Rangers rotation is exactly where Kennedy is supposed to fit in 2015. No one will complain if he produces his typical +2.5-3.0 wins next year. That's what we need him for. 

This goes without mentioning, until now, of course, the perceived relationship between Jon Daniels and new Padres GM A.J. Preller. The marriage just makes too much sense. Texas are clearly in the market for rotation help, and by dealing with the Rangers -- and a farm system he's undeniably familiar with and largely responsible for -- it's beneficial for Preller to pick and choose from there. It helps Daniels that he basically has an automatic trade partner in the opposite league, but it's equally damning that A.J. Preller has more knowledge of Rangers minor leaguers than any other team in baseball. He isn't likely to miss on the prospects he covets in a return for Ian Kennedy, who is, along with Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, the least valuable of the starters on San Diego's trade block.  

Kennedy isn't going to wow you by anything he does on the mound, but if you slot him behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, in front of Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch, at the very least it fortifies Texas's rotation in 2015. Yeah, there's the upside of having a pitcher in a contract year with the thought that he can outperform his projections, but more realistically you're looking at an innings-eater who will generate a couple wins above replacement, giving you something in the neighborhood of a 4.00 ERA over 200 innings. 

That's nothing special in the modern pitching climate, but it's something the Rangers need desperately, and at around $10 million for only one season, Kennedy provides a reasonable stopgap while Martin Perez's left arm improves.

Yoan Moncada Update: Cuban Infielder a Free Agent

A few days ago, I put up a hot stove piece about Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. Moncada, the toolsy young switch-hitter, has been drooled over by scouts and baseball followers for a number of months now, and over the weekend, was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball.

Now, the only hurdle to Moncada signing with a team would be receiving clearance from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Assuming that happens sooner rather than later, and there's no reason to believe that it won't. Moncada will likely be able to sign a deal well before July 2, 2015, which would be the earliest date that the Rangers would be able to realistically pursue him.

Due to international signing restrictions and the fact the Rangers spent over their budgeted pool previously, they are unable to spend more than $250,000 on any one player during the current signing period. Given that Moncada figures to sign for anywhere in the $30-40 million range, and potentially more, his free agency coming this soon all but eliminates the Rangers from the running for his services.

So, if you were holding your breath for the Rangers to sign the latest Cuban phenom, you should probably go ahead and exhale. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, he won't be headed to Arlington anytime soon. 

Offseason Hot Stove: Torii Hunter? Maybe?

Tonight, or, this morning, technically, I was nearing the end of my shift at the casino -- sorting six decks of playing cards, because that's what dealers have to do before they can go home -- when my manger approached me at the table I was at to talk some Rangers baseball. (He's a fellow Californian Rangers fan.)

"How do you think our boys are gonna do next year?" he asked.

Oh, you know, I'm confident... I think we're going to be really good again, actually.

"Who do you think JD is going to go after this offseason?" he continued.

Honestly, I have no clue. But I do think we're one really good starter away from being legit favorites in the West.

"Yeah, I don't know, man. I feel like ever since Nolan left the whole operation has gone to shit. I think it's going to be a while before we're a playoff contender. The new manager will help, but not until we get a new GM will we..." he concluded, before wandering off into some thought about how Matt Harrison would make a good closer. 

Okay, I'm done. That is all. 

* * * * * *

Ken Robothal tweets that a collection of teams have expressed "preliminary" interest in free agent outfielder Torii Hunter, including Texas, Seattle, Kansas City, Minnesnowta, the Cubs, Giants and a few others. As Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors opines -- which I tend to agree with -- "Given his age, I'd think Hunter's priority would be signing with a team he expects to contend in 2015[.]"

Torii Hunter is an old man by baseball standards (he'll be in his age-40 season in 2015), but given the interest Texas has shown in the past -- both before he signed with Anaheim, and before he went to Detroit -- this could finally be the time he makes it to Arlington and his home state of Texas. 

Last season, Torii was excessively average according to FanGraphs WAR, +0.3, but it was more due to his -24.7 UZR than anything else; he still hit a respectable .286/.319/.446 (113 wRC+) while generating 52 extra-base hits (17 HRs, 33 2Bs, 2 3Bs). Assuming Shin-Soo Choo is shifted to right field and Leonys Martin remains as Texas's center fielder, Hunter's role would be as the designated hitter. That's the only way his addition would make any sense. 

Also, there's the issue of money. As I've mentioned ad nauseam, the Rangers are strapped for cash this offseason -- about $20 million to spend -- so how far would they be willing to commit for a player whose only tool they really value is his bat? On the one hand, Hunter is fresh off a two-year, $26 million contract from the Tigers; on the other, he's a 40 year-old and let's face it: he's nowhere close to what he once was, which is expected for players long in the teeth.

You're not getting middle-of-the-order, Gold Glove-caliber defense Torii Hunter. You're getting contact-hitter Torii Hunter, who, yeah, will provide some pop here and there, but who won't steal you any bases and won't give you anything more than a reputation in the outfield. 

It's tough. 

My guess is he'll be living off of one-year contracts until he finally decides to call it quits. But for 2015, which is the only year that really matters in this context, it's probably going to take around $8 million to ascertain his services. If, as I imagine, his focus is to win a World Series, the Rangers can sell him on that idea, but I doubt Jon Daniels is cunning enough sign him for closer to $5-$6 million, which is what I think he's truly worth at this stage of his career. 

Could Texas sign him on the cheap? I doubt it. However, let's say they sign him for $6 million; after that, they'd still have about $14 million to play with, in theory, and that's right around the spot Texas would like to be in to afford Colby Lewis and a #3 starter on the trade market. That would be ideal.

As you can see from the various posts recently, the Rangers front office can go a bunch of different directions to virtually end up in the same place. If nothing else, Torii Hunter would secure an everyday spot in the batting order and be able to offer some veteran know-how to some of the young bucks already on the roster. 

Offseason Hot Stove: How to fit a square peg in a round hole

On Thursday, it was reported the Rangers have agreed to contract extensions with President of Baseball Operations, Jon Daniels, and Assistant GM Thad Levine, for five years. It comes with decent timing, as Daniels's previous contract was due to run through 2015, and so this new deal is expected to run through 2020. 

For Texas, though, this is an action offseason. I'm hesitant to use the word "transitional" too frequently this winter, if for nothing else that I don't feel it's entirely appropriate; purely from a wins-and-losses perspective, yeah, the Rangers need to improve drastically from their 67-win campaign of 2014, but they're far from a 67-win team, if that makes sense. Critically-speaking, they're probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 79 wins right now, with the roster currently intact, so through trades and free agency it's all about making up the dead space to get them up in the range of 87 or 88 wins before the next season begins. 

It's not going to be an easy task, obviously, which is why I'm so convinced something kooky is bound to take place in the coming weeks, or months. Calvin Watkins writes that Jon Daniels "believes Texas will contend in 2015," with encouraging notes of Prince Fielder working out five days a week, Shin-Soo Choo being close to 100% and Elvis Andrus shedding some weight. Having production from those three spots in the lineup will go a helluva long way to make the Rangers contenders next season. 

Bob Nightengale has a story up on Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who is being made available this offseason by one of the most incompetent general managers in MLB. The only reason it's worth mentioning is due to the fact that Hamels does not have a no-trade clause with the Rangers, and that Texas have the type of prospects a team like Philadelphia would be interested in if a trade were ever to go down, which at this point is a total longshot. Because as Nightengale posits, "[the Rangers] have the prospects but not the money." 

Awesome. 

If we concede that Fielder and Choo aren't available -- which team would want to absorb that kind of money? -- and Andrus isn't going anywhere through basic necessity, which player(s) would the Rangers have to dump to be able to afford a guy like Hamels, who is owed $22.5 million AAV over the next four years? 

Adrian Beltre, who makes $18 million in 2015 with a $16 million option in '16 that's probably going to vest, isn't going anywhere. He means too much to Texas. Yu Darvish ($11 million) obviously won't be moved, and Alexi Ogando (who's going to make $7-$8 million in arbitration) and Neftali Feliz (who'll probably make close to $5 million) are the most likely candidates to be shipped, but that will create more holes to fill. It's tough to figure. 

Once we move away from the eight-figures-per-year guys, you have players like Derek Holland and Leonys Martin on ridiculously below-market deals, Mitch Moreland (who's a waste of space but still cheap), and the rest of the roster that is essentially making league-minimum money. Basically, unless the Rangers decide to ship Ogando or Feliz off, or reallocate Andrus's $15 million commitment elsewhere, acquiring Cole Hamels doesn't appear feasible. 

There's also the idea that the Phillies wouldn't let Hamels go without at least one, and probably two of Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro and Nomar Mazara. Going into this article I was going to attempt to rationalize this to the point where it made sense, but clearly that's not happening. I won't put it past Jon Daniels to find a way, though. 

If we know anything about Texas's ownership group, it's that they do make exceptions for franchise-altering players. Hamels is one of those guys, someone you can slot behind Yu Darvish and in front of Derek Holland who is a veritable lock to produce 4-5 wins over 200 innings in a given season. 

But, the further this offseason is going, and really it's only been going for a little over a week now, I'm under the impression that whatever will be done to change the offense will be minimal. The odds of picking up an impact bat probably aren't going to happen, mostly because there just isn't a whole lot out there to choose from. Torii Hunter? Michael Morse? 

No, the real focus this offseason is the rotation. Darvish and Holland are a great start (don't excuse the pun), and Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch should be just fine at the backend, especially considering depth like Chi-Chi Gonzalez and Jake Thompson and Nick Martinez all waiting in the wings. By July, or so, Martin Perez will be available and we'll see what he's got. 

But the critical spot in the rotation, on the entire team, really, is who the third member of the rotation will be. If it's Cole Hamels, it's going to cost a boatload in terms of prospects; I'm not even worried about his annual financial investment because the Rangers will find a way to afford it for him. 

My fear is a boring, mundane offseason. Sure, Texas can get Colby back, absorb around $10 million in a trade for an Ian Kennedy-type, and spend the remainder on some cheap bat like Hunter or something. By doing so, they'd be sacrificing filling all their holes for filling hole really well -- with an ace like Hamels -- and I'm not sure it's going to be enough to compete in a division with Oakland and Anaheim, Seattle and an improved Houston squad. The American League West is going to be so balanced in 2015 that it may only take 87 or 88 wins to come away with the division; gambling on a pitcher like Hamels would certainly look bad if it didn't take the Rangers straight to the ALDS, but gambling is just in my nature, I guess, and turning to a workhorse like him every fifth day would seriously vault Texas into a strong position. Especially if they made it to the postseason.

I want the Rangers to be good for a really long time, just like I'm sure most people reading this want the same. But until Yu Darvish gets extended for six or seven more years, I'm of the small mind that Texas needs to be all-in every year that he's still under control.