MLB Trade Rumors has obtained this year's Elias Free Agent Rankings, and as it turns out, the Rangers have 4 Type A free agents this offseason.
That, however, isn't necessarily as positive a thing as one would think at first blush.
Cliff Lee, of course, is a Type A free agent. If he leaves the Rangers get a first rounder* and a supplemental first rounder, should he sign elsewhere.
* This is with the caveat that if the team that signs the Type A free agent is in the bottom half of the MLB standings, the Rangers would get a 2nd rounder. Also, if the signing team signed a higher ranked Type A free agent as well as the Rangers Type A free agent, the Rangers would get the next lower round selection -- for example, a second rounder if they normally would have received a first rounder.
Of course, the Rangers don't want Cliff Lee to sign elsewhere. They want to keep him. If he goes elsewhere, it will be a bitter disappointment, and two draft picks won't do a lot to make up for the disappointment. On the other hand, they will at least help replace some of the prospects the Rangers traded to acquire Lee.
The other three Type A free agents are Frank Francisco, Vladimir Guerrero, and Bengie Molina.
Francisco is an interesting situation, and the Rangers may actually have lucked out with Frankie qualifying as a Type A free agent. Given that Frankie lost his closing job and ended the season on the disabled list, teams may be leery of giving him a multi-year deal and parting with a draft pick to land him. As a result, Frankie, who has been a very valuable member of the Ranger bullpen,* could end up accepting arbitration and coming back to Texas, an arrangement I would be happy with, and I suspect the front office would be fine with, as well.
* One of the most maddening things about this season was the amount of irrational criticism leveled at Frankie, with people claiming that they didn't trust him in a close game, suggesting that he couldn't be trusted to keep a lead, that he was a liability in the bullpen. From the second week of the season through the time of his injury, Frankie was one of the best, if not the best, reliever the Rangers had. His being able to nail down the 8th inning and get the game to Neftali Feliz in the 9th was a tremendous asset for the Rangers. And one of the things that the 8th inning playoff meltdows should be illustrating is how much the Rangers miss Frankie, and how ill-considered the carping about him this season was.
One of the things that Francisco returning for 2011 could conceivably provide for would be looking at Neftali Feliz in the rotation. Right now, if the 2011 bullpen is what we are currently seeing, there's no way you do that...Alexi Ogando is the only guy out there you look at as a potential closer, but they aren't likely to thrust him in that role this soon. But if Frankie comes back and could close in 2011, while Ogando takes over as the 8th inning guy, that would provide a bridge to Ogando as closer, and increase the possibility that Feliz could move to the rotation.
Moving right along...Vladimir Guerrero. If the Rangers offer arbitration, I have to think Guerrero almost certainly accepts it.
Why? Guerrero is likely to get somewhere in the $8-10 million range on a one year deal in arbitration. He's not going to get that with another team on a one year deal, and I have a hard time imagining another team is going to give him a multi-year deal.
And for that matter, there aren't a lot of teams that are going to be in the market for Guerrero's services. All 16 N.L. teams are likely out. Anaheim has Bobby Abreu. New York has a bunch of DH types. Boston is apparently bringing back David Ortiz. Seattle and Cleveland are rebuilding and have DH types already.
Who else is going to spend big money on a DH? Chicago, I guess, would be a possibility. Guerrero would potentially be a fit there. Tampa Bay could be interested in Guerrero, but only on a cheap deal. Is Baltimore going to moneywhip Guerrero? Detroit, maybe?
Guerrero being a Type A free agent hurts the Rangers because no team is going to give up a draft pick to sign Guerrero for more than he'd make in arbitration. If he's a Type B free agent, then maybe they reach an understanding with Guerrero that they'll offer arbitration, he'll decline, and the Rangers get a supplemental pick if he goes elsewhere, which doesn't cost the signing team anything. That's not an option now.
It is also complicated by the fact that you have to wonder if bringing Guerrero back makes the most sense for the 2011 Rangers anyway. Setting aside the fact that Michael Young will likely have to move to DH at some point -- we can assume for this discussion that Young will play 3B in 2011.
Even with that being the case, Guerrero had a poor second half of the season, and his inability to play the field limits your ability to use the DH spot to mix in other positional players. And let's say you could sign a righty-hitting platoon corner outfielder for $2.5 million or so -- Jeff Francoeur, just to use an example. Would you rather spend $2.5 million on a Francoeur-type, or $7.5 million on a Guerrero?
And keep in mind that signing a platoon COF gives you the ability to essentially platoon David Murphy and that Francoeur-type in the DH role, giving you more production than you are likely going to get from Guerrero in 2011. You can go with a Hamilton/Borbon/Cruz outfield, with one of your backup outfielders as the DH and the other on the bench. You can have Craig Gentry as your 5th outfielder, a true CF who can spell Borbon in center. Hamilton can use the DH spot to rest his body and legs from time to time, with the Murphy/Francoeur combo playing the field. You get as much production, and greater tactical flexibility, for a lot less money.
So...the point ultimately is, Vlad Guerrero isn't going to net the Rangers draft picks. And that leaves Bengie Molina as the 4th Type A free agent.
Molina is coming off a bad year with the bat, is slow, doesn't move behind the plate real well. At the same time, pitchers rave about his game-calling, and the Rangers don't have a lot of other viable options right now.
I don't think the Rangers offer Molina arbitration, because if he is offered arbitration (and doesn't retire), he will accept arbitration, most likely, and get a bigger payday than he'd get from any other team. The Rangers may bring himi back, but I don't think they'd do so at the price he'd command in arbitration.
So...the Rangers, with a plethora of free agents, could very well end up getting no compensatory picks in the 2011 draft. If that's the case, then that's fine, because it means Lee, and likely Francisco, are still here, and that helps the 2011 team. But at the same time, I think there was some thought that there would be a bounty of picks in the 2011 draft from free agent departures that would help re-stock the farm system, and that looks unlikely to happen.