The 2013 Texas Rangers season is over. We laughed, we cried, we had some good times and some bad times, and the Rangers won 91 games. It was a good season that could have been better, but also could have been worse.
Yesterday's loss means that today is the first day of the offseason. And while we are going to be looking back at the 2013 season in the coming days, we're also going to start talking about the offseason, and what the Rangers are going to need to do.
The starting point in looking what the Rangers' options this offseason is evaluating what financial commitments they have, and where payroll figures to be. Coming off their second straight year with 3 million in attendance, and with the team being unable to spend big money on the J-2 class next year (due to the spending constraints being put on them by MLB after this year's splurge), I think the team would go to $140-150M in payroll for 2014.
Looking at Cot's Contracts, the Rangers have the following players under contract next season:
Adrian Beltre -- $17M
Ian Kinsler -- $16M
Alex Rios -- $13M
Yu Darvish -- $10M
Matt Harrison -- $8.2M
Elvis Andrus -- $6.725M
Joakim Soria -- $5.5M
Derek Holland -- $5.4M
Leonys Martin -- $3.75M
Adding that up, and you have $85.575M in guaranteed obligations.
In addition, Lance Berkman has an option for next season with a $1M buyout, and the Rangers are obviously going to decline the option and exercise the buyout. Joe Nathan also has a $9M team option for next season with a $750K buyout, but he can void that option due to the number of games he finished, forfeit his buyout, and become a free agent. I suspect that that is what Nathan will do, as I suspect he can get more than $9M guaranteed on the open market.
Then there are the arbitration cases: Neal Cotts, Neftali Feliz, Adam Rosales, Travis Blackley, Alexi Ogando, Mitch Moreland, and Craig Gentry. Cotts, Feliz, Ogando and Gentry will be tendered contracts. Blackley almost certainly won't. Rosales made $700K last year, and the Rangers may try to see if he'll agree to take something similar to be the team's 2014 utility infielder. Blackley is almost certainly going to be non-tendered. Moreland could, I guess, be non-tendered -- he's almost certainly not going to be a starter next season -- but I suspect he'll most likely be brought back as relatively cheap bench depth/insurance.
I'd say that the arbitration cases will come in at around $17-18M. Combined with Berkman's $1M buyout, and that puts the Rangers at about $105M in payroll. If you assume that the Rangers are looking at a payroll of $140-150M next year, then after you factor in the dozen or so minimum salary guys, the Rangers are looking at $30-40M to spend this offseason.
Even if Joe Nathan opts out, I don't see the Rangers spending a lot of money on their pitching staff. A Nathan-less pen would have Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria, Neftali Feliz, Robbie Ross, and Neal Cotts, plus possibly Alexi Ogando. The rotation features Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Martin Perez. The fifth starter is probably, at this point, either Nick Tepesch or Colby Lewis, unless the Rangers put Ogando back in the bullpen.
So, while its possible that they push to bring Matt Garza back (at a cost of $16-18M per year) or Masahiro Tanaka (the stud Japanese pitcher expected to be posted this offseason),* or could bring back Nathan, it seems more likely they'll choose to allocate their free agent dollars elsewhere.
* This scenario is more likely if they end up trading Martin Perez for an impact middle-of-the-order hitter
Heading into 2014, there are six position players under team control who we can say are almost certainly assured everyday jobs: Beltre, Kinsler, Elvis, Leonys, Profar, and Rios. Now, one of those players could be traded -- and I suspect that the Rangers will be quietly listening to offers for Profar and Kinsler this offseason -- but if Profar or Kinsler is dealt, then it would almost certainly be for another position player, which means you'd still have six position players in place.
You also have Craig Gentry coming back next season. Gentry started 69 games in 2013, and posted a 759 OPS for the second year in a row. If the Rangers wanted to, they could go with a platoon of Gentry and, say, Jim Adduci or Engel Beltre, which would give them a cheap defense-first option in left field, and reduce the number of holes to be filled in the lineup to two.
Assuming they don't go with a Gentry/Someone platoon, the Rangers have three spots that need to be filled this offseason -- catcher, DH, and 1B/LF. With $30-40M to spend, the Rangers can afford to throw some money at all three positions, or a lot of money at two of the positions.
Catcher is the most glaring hole the Rangers have at this point -- A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto are both free agents, and while I can see the Rangers trying to bring Soto back on something like a 2 year, $6-7M deal, that would probably be as a backup. The Rangers are expected to go HAM on Brian McCann this offseason, and while its hard to say what sort of contract he's going to get, I'd say, conservatively, you're looking at $15M per year for McCann. If McCann isn't the guy, then the Rangers probably aren't going to spend much on a catcher, because there simply aren't that many other attractive options out there on the free agent market. No McCann likely means someone like John Buck or Kurt Suzuki coming in to share time with Soto.
Then there is the DH/1B/LF conundrum. After what happened this past season, I have to think that the Rangers are going to go hard after a middle-of-the-order bat or two. I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers made a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz this offseason -- if he declines, they'd get a draft pick, and if he accepts, the Rangers have a one year, $14M commitment to a guy who could DH or play RF next season, which provides them with some insurance in case they can't land an impact hitter. That limits the money they have to spend this offseason, but not so much that they couldn't still go get two impact position players.
Shin-Soo Choo is, at this point, the top option as far as hitters go, and he'd be a great fit for the Ranger lineup -- gets on base, has power, steals some bases. Along with McCann, I'd expect Choo to be among the Rangers' top targets. Of course, every team with money to spend and a need for an impact bat is going to be going after Choo, and the Rangers have historically been reluctant to go nuts in bidding wars. Along with Choo, I'm sure they'll make another run at the Braves to go after Justin Upton, will examine the market for Jacoby Ellsbury, and will continue in their efforts to try to pry loose Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion or Giancarlo Stanton.
Bottom line is, though, the Rangers have some cash to spend this offseason, and three clear areas where they're going to likely want to spend it. Jon Daniels' goal for the offseason is going to be to get catching help and a couple of bats. And he's got the cash to do it.