The DMN's Evan Grant wrote an article a few days ago regarding the Rangers 2015 payroll expectation, saying it will probably remain in the $133 million range that it was on opening day this year.
Because Texas already have about $105 million of that tied up in nine players -- Prince Fielder ($24 million), Adrian Beltre ($18 million), Elvis Andrus ($15 million), Shin-Soo Choo ($14 million), Matt Harrison ($13 million), Yu Darvish ($10 million), Derek Holland ($7.4 million), Leonys Martin ($3.75 million) and Martin Perez ($1 million) -- it doesn't give them a ton of flexibility to play around with the other $30 million or so which is necessary to fill the remaining gaps.
If we factor in the arbitration bumps Neftali Feliz (who makes $3 million in 2014) and Alex Ogando (who makes $2.6 million in '14) will receive, it lowers the amount of expected available capital down to roughly $20 million. That is, of course, assuming the Rangers do indeed plan on keeping their opening day payroll around $135 million.
Of the notable positions Texas are looking to fill once the season ends are designated hitter and starting pitcher (probably two of them), so as much as it pains me to say it, that would probably take premier free agents Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields off the proverbial table. To satisfy their contract demands the Rangers would have to move someone like Fielder (which isn't going to happen), Choo (who is coming off a bad year with injuries) or Andrus, which I'll get into in a minute.
Because of the limited financial resources that comes with so much money already on the books, it's a certainty that fledgling catching experiment, J.P. Arencibia, gets non-tendered for the second offseason in a row, and the likelihood of Mitch Moreland -- who makes $2.65 million in 2014, a figure that will rise this winter -- being non-tendered is more than likely as well. If the front office was in full Scrooge McDuck Mode, these are players they might be able to keep around, because I'm sure they're great in the clubhouse and all that jazz. But business will always be business.
As the season has progressed, second baseman Rougned Odor has gotten stronger. In September, Odor has generated a .300/.355/.500 (136 wRC+) triple slash line with 2 HRs, 4 2Bs and 2 3Bs, quickly establishing himself as a core member of the Rangers future middle infield.
There was a thought -- something I admittedly grew more comfortable with as the season progressed -- that Texas could trade Elvis Andrus this winter, save the $15 million AAV he'll make over the life of his new contract, and be able to afford some of the more luxurious starting pitching talent in this winter's free agent class.
However, with the recent news of Jurickson Profar -- the de facto replacement to Andrus at SS --having more shoulder issues, trading Elvis has become a near-impossibilty. The Rangers simply can't go into 2015 with Odor at second base and Luis Sardinas at short, not if they expect to compete in any meaningful sort of way. Profar's shoulder threw a wrench into what could have been an especially creative offseason blueprint for Texas.
For the time being, Rangers ownership appears content making 2015 a financial catch-up season. Due to the deficit they've been operating under essentially since they bought the team in 2010, the Fox Sports television revenue -- projected around $80 million annually -- that kicks in starting next year will not be used for any exotic signings, but rather to put the organization in a position where they can increase payroll a year later, in 2016.
Keeping this in mind, fixing the rotation problem will probably come cheap. With Darvish and Holland firmly cemented as the top two starts, and with Nick Tepesch as the odds-on favorite to assume the #5 spot, the goal is to fill the middle. Colby Lewis seems like a reasonable bet to receive a one-year deal in the $3-4 million range, and without any immediate replacements on the farm the other spot will likely have to be filled via trade. With former assistant GM A.J. Preller taking over the reigns in San Diego, it's a safe assumption that the Rangers will be targeting any of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross or Ian Kennedy this offseason. Any of that troika would easily fill the need Texas have in their rotation.
The focus then shifts to the offensive side of things, where the team will need a capable, preferably middle-of-the-order-type bat. Alex Rios is going to get bought out, so right field (or left, depending on if the Rangers decide to put Choo in the less demanding outfield slot) will probably end up as a platoon. Michael Choice, Ryan Rua and Daniel Robertson could conceivably be batting for the club's final two roster spots.
As for DH, it's anyone's guess at the moment. Should Moreland be non-tendered, the Rangers will have to find some sort of lefty bat with punch on the market. Again, like the other outfield hole, it's possible Texas simply decide to go the cost-effective route and make it a platoon, so a hitter with the versatility to play the 1B/DH/COF would be preferable. At this point, though, it's best not to be greedy. There isn't that much money available.
As of now, with three games left in the regular season, with October baseball and an entire winter left to contemplate such nonsense, below is a reasonable lineup and rotation for next season:
1. Martin - CF
2. Andrus - SS
3. Fielder - 1B
4. Beltre - 3B
5. Choo - RF
7. Odor - 2B
Darvish, Holland, Kennedy, Lewis, Tepesch