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."
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 a 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.