There's still much to figure out as far the roster goes. Will the Rangers sign free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who would likely slide into the leadoff spot? Will Nelson Cruz re-sign with the Rangers?
It's fruitless to delve too deep into the potential lineup until the rest of the offseason plays out. But as of today, the Rangers are prepared to have center fielder Leonys Martin be their leadoff hitter if Choo goes elsewhere.
"It's up in the air," Washington said Tuesday night at the Rangers’ annual toy drive at the ballpark. "Right now we're trying to fill out our roster and look at our options."
As for Martin as a potential leadoff hitter? Washington was quick to point out Martin batted leadoff 31 times last season, so he’s still unproven there.
"We'll have to get him to spring training and try to train him," Washington said.
The Rangers also have traded for outfield prospect Michael Choice this offseason and he could potentially be the club’s starting left fielder. Washington said he has spoken with Choice on the phone and will sit down with him after the New Year.
"He'll come in and show what he can do," Washington said. "Obviously he's a talented player. We're not going to put any pressure on him."
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But make no mistake about it, Scheppers -- last season’s setup man to departed closer Joe Nathan -- has the role in mind he’d like to fill.
“I would love to be a closer,” Scheppers said before signing autographs at a toy drive at Rangers Ballpark on Tuesday night. “That would be a dream come true.”
Scheppers started at Fresno State and has made eight starts for the Rangers in the minor leagues. But he has spent his two seasons in the big leagues as a reliever after injuring his back in spring training in 2011.
Scheppers made 76 appearances last season, including pitching in the Rangers’ final six games as their bid to make the postseason for a fourth consecutive year fell one win short. He had a 6-2 record and 1.88 ERA for the season and was one of the final five picks for the American League All-Star team.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at last week’s winter meetings that it would be a long shot for Scheppers to make the rotation. But Daniels also was the one to reveal that Scheppers is preparing for spring training to be a starter.
It does appear that, given the choice between being a starter and being the club’s eighth-inning man this season, Scheppers’ preference is to attempt to make the rotation.
The Rangers do have two former All-Star closers in Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria who could help replace Nathan -- signed the Detroit Tigers in the offseason.
“I’m prepared for either,” Scheppers said. “I’m going to give it a shot if given the opportunity. Anything can happen. I’ve been preparing my body to throw more.”
Based on last year’s results, Scheppers would make the most sense as the 2014 closer.
“As a player you want to maximize your opportunities,” Scheppers said. “I’m still young. I’m training to start. I have some people in my corner who want me to start and some people in my corner who want me to be in the bullpen."
"I'll be ready for Opening Day," Harrison said.
Harrison, the Rangers' 2013 Opening Day starter, is down to 245 pounds, ridding himself of the excess weight caused by the treatments he received after three surgeries over a five-month span. Harrison has been playing catch for a month, stretching out to 150 feet, and will begin throwing from a mound at about 50-percent effort next week.
Harrison received a big thumbs' up from manager Ron Washington, who was also at the Cowboys Santas Toy Drive Finale at Rangers Ballpark on Tuesday night.
"He's lost that fat from the operations," Washington said. "He looks tremendous."
Harrison made only two starts last season and had two surgeries in April and May to repair a herniated disc. He also had an operation in September to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, which he said he has mostly recovered from two months away from spring training.
Harrison has been working out at his home in North Carolina and will return to Arlington around Jan. 19 to ramp up his workouts.
"The workouts are great," said Harrison, who won a team-best 18 games in 2012. "The back feels good."
As I look around the league, I can see 10 more moves that make a lot of sense and should to get done for their teams to remain viable contenders for 2014. Let's take a look:
1. Los Angeles Angels | Move: Sign free-agent RHP Matt Garza
The Angels have worked hard
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On Monday, we profiled the case for Shin-Soo Choo, one of the two biggest outfield bats left on the market. Today, we'll look at the case for Nelson Cruz.
Cruz is 33 years old and coming off a season in which he missed the final 50 games because of a PED suspension. Cruz returned for Game 163 and was held without a hit in the Rangers' loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. One win in the second half of the season would have made the difference between the Rangers having to play in that game or qualifying for the AL wild-card game without having to worry about it. It's tough to convince anyone that had Cruz been in the lineup for those games that he wouldn't have helped this team to at least one more win.
But Cruz made the decision he felt he had to make and his teammates were supportive of him when he returned. This wasn't a case of the club not wanting Cruz's bat back in the lineup, albeit for one, winner-take-all game. Part of the reason: Cruz was productive when he did play. He hit .266 with 27 homers and 76 RBIs. He led the team in homers and RBIs when he was suspended and for a team that did not have Mike Napoli or Josh Hamilton's, Cruz's power and production was important in the middle of the lineup.
In talking with a few folks in the lobby last week, the sense is that the Rangers don't want to go any more than two years or maybe two years and an option year. Why? I think it's more Cruz's injury history than anything else. He stayed healthy in 2012, but missed the 50 games with a suspension last year. Before that, he was on the disabled list six times from 2009 to 2011, mainly with hamstring issues. As he gets older, what's the guarantee that he'll be able to stay in the lineup? I think that's a legitimate concern.
Of course, when Cruz has played, he's shown some crazy good streaks. No one will forget his 2011 ALCS performance against the Detroit Tigers and he has the ability to carry an offense. He would give this team another power bat in the middle of the lineup to add to the production that Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre provide.
Here are the main tenants of the deal, according to MLB's release (the new posting system is for three years or longer, depending on whether one side wants to terminate the deal and renegotiate):
* If an NPB Club wishes to make one of its players available to Major League Clubs, the NPB shall notify the Office of the Commissioner of the NPB player's potential availability and the “release fee” that a Major League Club must pay to the NPB Club in order to secure the NPB player's release. The NPB Club may not set the release fee at an amount higher than $20 million and the fee cannot be changed once it has been set by the NPB Club.
* The Office of the Commissioner shall then "post" the NPB player's availability by notifying all Major League Clubs of the NPB player's availability and the release fee sought by the NPB Club.
* All "postings" of NPB players must be made between November 1 and February 1.
It seems that every year, agent Scott Boras plays the waiting game with one of his more in-demand clients, until one team gets antsy and offers a contract that may be for more than what it had budgeted. This year, that client is Shin-Soo Choo.
There are a few factors that are drawing out the courtship of Choo, of course. With Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury being the position-player free agents in the highest demand, it was natural for Choo to have to wait a little bit. There is also the fact that he received a qualifying offer, which means he will cost the team that signs him a draft pick. Lastly, there are his platoon splits.
As Keith Law stated in his top 50 free agents story in November, Choo has a bit of a platoon split. It's not that his batting eye vanishes against lefties -- his 10 percent walk rate and .333 on-base percentage are still healthy against southpaws. But he becomes a slap hitter. In the past three seasons, Choo has slugged just .293 against lefties.
With all of that said, few players are better at getting on base than Choo -- Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are the only two players to reach safely more times than Choo in the past two years -- and he is still a $20 million per year player.
As we look to where he fits, there are obviously a bunch of teams that could use him, but I've honed in on four realistic suitors who "need" him the most. And there they are.
It's not that Andy Dirks, Rajai Davis and Torii Hunter aren't good players -- it's just that they're not good enough to put the Tigers in the driver's seat for a pennant run. The Indians and Royals both figure to be strong challengers to Detroit again in 2014, and right now the Tigers' corner outfield options pale by comparison.
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The Texas Rangers are still looking around for a bat and two pretty big ones remain on the market -- Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz.
Texas has been linked to both and has shown interest in both players, though the price last week was too high to get anything done. The question now might be whether the price drops on either one at some point in the near future, allowing the Rangers to jump in and grab one. So while that's the case, let's take this time to look at both of them on the blog. Today, we'll deal with Choo.
The 31-year-old comes into this offseason after hitting .285 with 21 homers and 54 RBIs as the leadoff hitter for the Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati is preparing for life without Choo, as Reds GM Walt Jocketty met with Choo's agent, Scott Boras, at the winter meetings and didn't seem to think Choo would return.
"I think we have to move on," Jocketty told Reds reporters in Orlando last week. "I think that's how we have to plan, anyhow. We have to plan as if we're moving on."
The Rangers also met with Boras and rumors are Choo is looking for something similar to what Jacoby Ellsbury got from the New York Yankees (7 years and $153 million).
Among leadoff hitters, Choo's .432 on-base percentage was tops in the National League. His 21 homers were nine more than any other qualified leadoff hitter in the NL (Starling Marte was second). His slugging percentage of .481 was second among leadoff hitters to St. Louis Cardinal (and TCU product) Matt Carpenter, who was barely ahead of Choo at .483.
Buster listed seven teams that could still have a big move left -- the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers, Mariners and Diamondbacks. With that in mind, here are 10 predictions on what will happen the rest of the offseason.
1. The Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo.
Nelson Cruz without forfeiting the first-round pick they'd lose for signing Choo, but Texas had a mediocre offense last year with Cruz. Why go down that road again? Choo gets on base more and would give the team another table-setter in front of Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder.
The Tigers signed Rajai Davis and appear willing to move forward with a Davis-Andy Dirks platoon in left field. Don't count out the Mariners -- the outfield is still a mess with the likes of Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and possibly Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, although the latter two are best suited for first base or DH duties.
2. The Rays trade David Price to the Mariners.
Robinson Cano and two guys coming off injuries. For better or worse, general manager Jack Zduriencik is all in. Cano's best season in a Mariners uniform is likely to be 2014 and not 2016 or 2017, so there is pressure to upgrade the current roster right now.
To get Price, the Mariners will trade Taijuan Walker despite proclamations from Zduriencik that that won't happen. "I don't have intentions of trading Taijuan," he said during the winter meetings. "You listen to any opportunities that present themselves and you go into discussions with a lot of people. And his name will come up. Why wouldn't it? As do a lot of our guys, quite frankly. But Taijuan is high-profile because he's rated our top prospect."
3. The Angels sign Matt Garza.
Mark Trumbo trade gave the Angels some rotation depth with Hector Santiago from the White Sox and young lefty Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks. Those two would slot in behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards, but the Angels may not be done looking for a starter. As they learned last year, you can never have enough pitching depth, plus it wouldn't hurt to give the 22-year-old Skaggs more time in the minors to help rediscover the form that made him one of the top prospects in the game in 2012.
Can Garza fit in the payroll? Right now, Baseball-Reference estimates it at about $144 million, up from last year's $129 million. The new national TV money is coming in, but signing Garza means the Angels may need to clear some payroll. Leading to this ...
4. The Angels trade Howie Kendrick to the Braves.
Brian McCann and Tim Hudson via free agency. No, signing Gavin Floyd -- he's not expected back until at least May after Tommy John surgery -- doesn't qualify as a major move.
Remember, despite winning 96 games, this team still batted Evan Gattis cleanup in a playoff game and started Freddy Garcia with its season on the line. The obvious position to upgrade is second base, where Dan Uggla posted a minus-1.3 WAR and was left off the postseason roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. Uggla is due $13 million each of the next two seasons, but the Braves have to decide whether they want to count on a guy who may be washed up or whether they want to pay $22 million for two second basemen.
Kendrick is signed for two more years and would cost a couple of prospects, but maybe the Braves could toss in Uggla while picking up the majority of his salary.
5. The Reds re-sign Bronson Arroyo.
Homer Bailey to a long-term extension, but that hasn't happened. So they may shift their priorities back to Arroyo, who has been with them since 2006.
Even though the Twins have signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey, they reportedly still want to sign one more guy as they revamp their rotation. Arroyo is a classic Twins-type pitcher: control over velocity. He's looking for a three-year contract, which may price out the Pirates, but Arroyo would be a nice fit to replace A.J. Burnett if he doesn't return to Pittsburgh.
6. The Dodgers do not trade Matt Kemp.
Dave Cameron wrote this week that we shouldn't assume Kemp's days as an elite-level player are over:
There's some good news for Kemp and the Dodgers, however; age-28 regressions are actually pretty common, even for good young players who had established themselves as high-quality players at a young age. In most of the cases, the guys who took a year off from hitting well bounced back to perform at a high level again.
Selling now on Kemp means selling low. Yes, he has that monster contract, but the Dodgers would be wiser to hold on to Kemp and hope he rebounds and gives them a huge middle of the order with Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. There is the concern that he shouldn't be playing center field, but it's not like Andre Ethier is that all much better out there. Puig is probably the best option for center if the Dodgers want to move him.
As for Ethier, maybe a trade market develops for him once Choo and Cruz sign. The Dodgers can afford to be patient.
7. The Mariners sign Nelson Cruz.
What would the Mariners look like with Cruz and Price? Something like this:
SS Brad Miller
LF/1B Corey Hart
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
DH Logan Morrison
1B Justin Smoak
C Mike Zunino
CF Michael Saunders/Dustin Ackley
SP Felix Hernandez
SP David Price
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
SP James Paxton
SP Erasmo Ramirez
8. The Orioles sign Grant Balfour.
Jim Johnson, a hole in left field after losing Nate McLouth, and no obvious candidate to take most of the DH at-bats. It appears they are most concerned with finding a closer.
Several teams still need (or desire) a closer, but it could come to AL East rivals. While the Yankees can ultimately just put David Robertson in the ninth-inning role, the Orioles' top relievers (Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz) all have platoon issues. Balfour will turn 36 later this month but is seeking a three-year contract. My bet is the Orioles give it to him.
9. The Dodgers sign Ervin Santana.
just decide to keep Tanaka.
Even if the Eagles do post Tanaka -- he's an unrestricted free agent in two years, so they may just decide to cash in regardless -- the Dodgers also have to sign Clayton Kershaw to a long-term contract. With Zack Greinke and eventually Kershaw, do they want three starters being paid mega-millions? Probably not. So look for them to seek a cheaper alternative like Santana, who would fill out the rotation as a durable No. 4-type starter.
10.The Cubs will keep Jeff Samardzija.
So maybe he just remains with the Cubs because of the high asking price. And then the Cubs will hopefully sign him to a 10-year extension so we don't have to go listen to all these rumors again in July.
In addition to the generous free-agent signings, blockbuster trades dominated the news, re-sculpting several teams in a single move. Here's how each American League team has done this winter, thus far. Mind you, there's still a long way to go, several big-name free agents to sign and blockbuster trades to make.
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Wolf had cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minors on Nov. 4. He re-signed with Texas that same day on a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.
Wolf, 31, was 1-3 with a 4.15 ERA in 22 appearances (three starts) for the Rangers last season. It was the first time he had pitched in the majors since 2007. He was on the Rangers' 25-man roster for much of the final four months of the season.
Today's player: Shaun Marcum
Marcum, who turns 32 on Saturday, is attempting to make a comeback after Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. He missed half of the 2013 season after experiencing numbness in his pitching hand.
Marcum was 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 appearances (12 starts) for the New York Mets last season. He had 60 strikeouts and 24 walks, but managed just 78 1/3 innings because of injuries. The Mets scored three or fewer runs in seven of his 12 starts, which partially explains the rough record.
Jayson Stark lists the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals and the Rangers among the teams with interest.
Why he makes sense: The Rangers don't have any problems taking chances on players coming back from injury and Marcum would be a nice buy-low candidate. If healthy, he could give the club some starting pitching depth, which is something they could use. Don't forget, Marcum has won 12 or more games in three seasons, and from 2007 and 2012 he had a 3.67 ERA and a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio. So, if healthy, perhaps he can revert back to something similar to those numbers.
Why he doesn't make sense: It would depend on the contract. With at least two other teams in the mix, perhaps the bidding gets higher than it should. Marcum hopes to be back and ready to go in spring training, but if something happens with that plan this offseason, maybe that changes the approach.
Bottom line: The Rangers like these types of deals, and I think, if the money is right, that it makes sense to try it. You can't let the fact that the club has failed on some of these in the past stop you from looking in this kind of direction. Marcum could give them some depth if healthy, and you can never have enough arms.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.