'Right fit' leading Rangers' decision process
As Winter Meetings approach, Daniels carefully weighing all potential moves
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' last major decision of the offseason may come down to whether they want to throw big money at free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, do what they can to lure back Nelson Cruz, take a chance on someone like Franklin Gutierrez or commit to Michael Choice -- acquired from the A's for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom -- as their left fielder.
There are other possibilities out there as well five days before the beginning of the Winter Meetings. The Rangers still want to address their needs at backup catcher and starting pitching, but left field still seems to be the biggest question confronting the club in its final preparations for four days at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"It's all about the right fit," general manager Jon Daniels said Wednesday in a pre-Winter Meetings media briefing. "There are a lot of good players out there. They all don't fit. Some may. If they do, we're going to pursue those guys. If not, we're going to go with what we have."
What the Rangers have right now is Choice -- a terrific prospect but one who has just nine games of Major League experience -- as the leading candidate to be the left fielder and Mitch Moreland, who hit .233 with 23 home runs and 60 RBIs this past season, as their designated hitter.
The Rangers went into the offseason looking to improve an offense that was seventh in the American League with 730 runs scored in 2013. Acquiring first baseman Prince Fielder from the Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler was a major step in that direction. But there should be room for another big bat -- either at the top or middle of the order -- if it fits into Texas' overall design.
The Rangers have flirted with Choo, a left-handed hitter who had a .423 on-base percentage at the top of the Reds' lineup last season. But his financial demands could be steep after his agent, Scott Boras, negotiated a seven-year, $153 million contract for Jacoby Ellsbury with the Yankees this week. If the Rangers want to go into the stratosphere, they will be doing so for a player who does not have good numbers against left-handed pitching and does not grade out well defensively.
If the Rangers believe Leonys Martin is ready to seize the leadoff spot, then Cruz might fit better in the middle of the order behind Fielder and Adrian Beltre and ahead of Alex Rios and Moreland. Daniels has remained in contact with Cruz's agent, Adam Katz.
There is still the matter of price as well as giving up a pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft in the compensation round for signing a premium free agent. There are 13 players who were extended qualifying offers by their former teams, and signing one would require the Rangers surrendering that Draft selection.
Catcher Brian McCann and Ellsbury are the only two who have signed. Cruz is on the list, along with Choo, outfielders Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Cruz would not cost the Rangers a Draft pick, but Daniels pointed out they will get a Draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that only two of 13 have signed," Daniels said. "Teams value those picks. So do we. Those things matter when you balance the long-term between here and now, not wanting the pipeline to dry out."
The alternative is players who would not cost a Draft pick but who also would not be considered a "sure thing." The Rangers have discussed Gutierrez, once considered a high-ceiling outfielder for the Indians and Mariners but a player who has been set back by a series of injuries the past three seasons. The free-agent market is saturated with similar players, including Corey Hart, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, Nate McLouth and Michael Morse.
"I'm pretty confident when you look up in July next year, there are going to be a number of guys who haven't signed yet who are going to be viewed as quality investments," Daniels said.
Choice is prominent in the Rangers' plans. It comes down to whether the club wants to commit now, find somebody else more proven or at least supply a backup plan.
"Regardless of those scenarios, he has a chance to make the club, but he has to earn it," Daniels said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.