Texas Rangers: Hot Stove
Today's pitcher: Tommy Hanson
According to Jon Paul Morosi, the Rangers and Tommy Hanson's representative are making progress toward a deal. So what does that mean for spring training and the rotation?
If the deal gets done, it's another candidate for the rotation. And with Holland out and some inexperienced and inconsistent internal options available, the Rangers need to exhaust all possibilities.
Hanson, 27, is a classic low-risk/high-reward buy, the kind the Rangers like, especially this late in the offseason. He had a 4.76 ERA the last two seasons in 247 2/3 innings and needs to try to re-establish his value. If you'll remember, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels from the Atlanta Braves for Jordan Walden last year. But after a disappointing 2013, the Angels chose not to tender him a contract.
Hanson, for the first three full seasons of his career, was solid. He had a 3.28 ERA and a 1.175 WHIP from 2009 to 2011 with 431 strikeouts and 148 walks. He pitched in 460 1/3 innings, including more than 200 in 2010. Even though he didn't have good numbers in 2012, he still made 31 starts. Last year, Hanson admitted (in this LA Times story) that he was dealing with "mental issues" in dealing with the death of his stepbrother.
He doesn't come into camp hurt and doesn't have a history of injury issues. So this isn't a case of trying to come back from rehabbing a surgery or anything. It's whether Hanson is mentally and physically ready to go and can return to form this season.
Can he become a viable fifth starter and prove himself better than the club's current candidates? That remains to be seen. But if the price is right, the Rangers may get a shot to see what he can do (maybe a deal that's heavy on incentives) and add another pitcher to the competition. There's nothing wrong with that.
Today's pitcher: Suk-Min Yoon
The Rangers have some interest in free-agent pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, sources confirmed Monday, but he also has a handful of other teams with interest. It's unclear when Yoon might make a decision and if the kind of terms he's seeking even make sense for the Rangers.
So who is Yoon? The 27-year-old right-handed Korean was considered the second-best starter in the Korean Baseball Organization last season (behind Hyun-jin Ryu) and had a shoulder injury that slowed his 2013 season. He had a 4.19 ERA in 11 starts and a 3.60 ERA in 19 appearances as the closer for the Kia Tigers. Before that, Yoon had a 2.45 ERA in 172 1/3 innings as a starter and a 3.12 ERA in 153 innings in 2012. He posted solid strikeout-to-walk ratios both seasons. Various reports have him with a fastball in the low 90s and a solid changeup. Yoon pitched in the 2008 Olympics and in the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics.
This report out of Korea said the Rangers have scouted Yoon for two years. Yoon would not require draft-pick compensation or a posting free, as he is a free agent like anyone else. Scott Boras is his agent and that certainly wouldn't scare the Rangers away. Texas has had many dealings with Boras recently, including the seven-year deal signed with Shin-Soo Choo to be the club's leadoff hitter and left fielder.
Among the clubs also said to be interested: Cubs, Giants, Orioles and Twins.
It's yet another name to at least put on your radar as the Rangers continue to explore all external options before spring training begins.
Today's pitcher: A.J. Burnett
Word broke Tuesday that Burnett wants to pitch in 2014 after initially saying in October that he'd either pitch with the Pittsburgh Pirates or retire.
With Holland likely out until midseason, the Rangers would like to take a mixture of internal and external candidates into spring to compete not only for Holland's job, but to add starting pitching depth to the club.
Burnett was 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA last season and led the Pirates in innings pitched with 191. He also had a team-high 209 strikeouts. He led all National League qualifiers with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. It was the second consecutive solid season for Burnett since leaving the New York Yankees. Burnett was 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 2012 as he made 31 starts and pitched 202⅓ innings, his highest total since the 2009 season. His fielding independent pitching (FIP) the past two seasons is among the top 15 in the league.
Why he makes sense: The Rangers have a lot of young arms that they aren't completely certain about in the wake of Holland's injury. Burnett has shown that he can still eat up innings. In fact, he has made at least 30 starts in each of the past six seasons. He struggled with a 4.79 ERA in three seasons in New York but found his form again in Pittsburgh.
Burnett is a ground-ball machine, posting a 2.62 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, the best in the NL and second in the big leagues to only Alex Cobb. With a very good Rangers infield, that would certainly make Burnett suited to Texas.
The other plus is that Burnett might consider a one-year deal -- possibly loaded with incentives -- which is just the type of contract the Rangers would want as Holland continues to rehab.
Why he doesn't make sense: The bidding could get interesting for Burnett if more teams get involved. Reports suggest the Phillies, Orioles and even the Pirates are interested, and other teams could jump in as well.
Bottom line: This makes a ton of sense if the contract terms stay reasonable. Burnett would give the club innings and a veteran presence on an otherwise young staff. And he was just on a playoff team, which wouldn't hurt, either. He could help this pitching staff.
General manager Jon Daniels said as much Tuesday, reiterating that the club is looking at lower-priced arms rather than the top-dollar guys.
Daniels watched as some of the organization's young pitchers threw off the mound for pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, among others. It was a chance to see some of the internal options for the recently-opened rotation spot and get a look at the future. Derek Holland's injury -- no word on how boxer Wrigley is holding up after tripping Holland on the stairs of his home a few weeks back -- means the club is in need of more arms.
That can come from the organization, but also from outside.
"We’re looking at guys we think can come in and provide us with depth and maybe competition in camp," Daniels said. "There are always guys signed this time of year that end up playing big roles on good clubs. You have to trust your scouts, trust your people and make good evaluations."
Baseball's hot stove has been chilly the past few weeks. Tanaka was probably the reason. There are a group of pitchers out there that could help the Rangers from a short-term, low-risk, incentive-based perspective. But those players were waiting to see where Tanaka goes and how much he gets.
"We’re not really pursuing the top-of-the-market guys, but I think as some of those guys sign, I’m hoping we’ll see it thaw out a little bit," Daniels said.
Now that Tanaka has signed, look for things to pick up a bit on the rest of the pitching market. There are some arms out there that can compete for a rotation spot on the back end and we've talked about them here on this blog. That includes Paul Maholm, Jerome Williams, Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez and others. Stay tuned.
Today's pitcher: Paul Maholm
ESPN.com's Jim Bowden tweeted Wednesday that Maholm, who was on Bowden's radio show, said the Rangers have checked in on him.
Maholm, 31, is coming off a season in which he pitched 153 innings (26 starts) for the Atlanta Braves, who acquired him at the trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs in 2012.
The left-handed pitcher had a 4.41 ERA last season with 105 strikeouts and 47 walks. Opponents hit a whopping .280 against him, the seventh-worst figure among National League starting pitchers last year (Barry Zito had the highest opponent batting average at .317). He did hold left-handed batters to .226 average.
Last year was a rare season in which Maholm didn't pitch at least 175 innings. He's done that in six of his eight full seasons, including 2012, when he was 13-11 with a 3.67 ERA for both the Cubs and Braves.
Maholm is likely looking to re-establish his value, which makes signing him attractive for the Rangers in that he could compete for a rotation spot and likely do so on a short-term contract loaded with incentives.
Today's pitcher: Bronson Arroyo
Various reports suggest that Arroyo wants a three-year deal. But whether he can get one remains to be seen. Arroyo does not require draft-pick compensation, which only adds to his value and increases the number of teams willing to consider that third year.
Arroyo, who turns 37 in February, has pitched at least 199 innings in each of the last nine seasons. He made 32 starts last season for the Cincinnati Reds and was 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA, 124 strikeouts and 34 walks. He allowed 32 homers, so he does give up the long ball.
But with Arroyo, you have a good idea of what you're getting. He had a 4.05 ERA in his eight seasons with the Reds and started an average of 33 games a year. He was a workhorse and has pitched 202 innings in each of the last two seasons, so he hasn't shown any signs of slowing up because of age. And it's worth noting that most of his numbers were put up at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, known as a hitter's park.
At 37, getting three guaranteed years might be difficult. What about two years and a vesting option for a third?
Arroyo apparently has interest from a few teams, including the Orioles, Twins and others, according to various reports. Of course, like most free-agent pitchers left on the market, Arroyo could be waiting until after Masahiro Tanaka makes a decision. Tanaka has until Jan. 24 to do so.
Any interest in Arroyo? Are you OK with two or three years for him?
Today's pitcher: Jerome Williams
The Rangers have shown interest in Williams this offseason as a depth pitcher in a short-term contract and the club has had discussions with Williams, according to a source. Those discussions could heat up even more with Holland out. Williams makes sense on a one-year deal.
I know what you're thinking: Can Williams, who was 9-10 with a 4.57 ERA in 37 games (25 starts) for the Angels, take the place of Holland? Obviously, Williams didn't put up close to the numbers that Holland did in 2013. But this isn't simply about plugging someone in for Holland. It's also about building depth. The Rangers want to do that in a way that is cost-effective as well. That's where Williams makes sense.
If the 32-year-old is willing to take a one-year deal with incentives, why not see what happens? Bring him to spring training and see what he's got. It's a low-risk situation and, at the very least, Williams would be a candidate to give the club some starts before Holland returns. If other internal candidates show the club more than Williams, he could be a long-relief, spot-starting option.
His numbers aren't overwhelming -- he had a 4.46 ERA in his two-plus seasons with the Angels. But under the right kind of contract, he could give the club some depth and another option in the rotation. And you'd think Williams would be motivated to show he's still got something left so he could try to get one more multi-year contract after the 2014 season.
What do you think of Williams? Any interest?
Today's pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez
In his final 13 starts after the All-Star break, Jimenez was 6-5 with a stout 1.82 ERA (in 84 innings). Opponents hit just .223 against him and he had 100 strikeouts to 27 walks with a 1.14 WHIP.
For the year, Jimenez ended up 13-9 for the Cleveland Indians with a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts. And he's hoping that his strong second half lands him a nice deal on the open market.
But there are reasons Jimenez is still available. Like the rest of the free-agent pitching crop left on the market, nothing much is expected to happen until Masahiro Tanaka makes his decision. Tanaka has to decide where he's playing in 2014 by Jan. 24. Also, any team that signs Jimenez surrenders a draft pick. The Rangers have already given up their first-round selection to sign Shin-Soo Choo. Is Jimenez worth a second-rounder? Perhaps.
Jimenez, though, is attempting to get a new deal off one good season recently. His 3.30 ERA is his best -- by far -- since he was an All-Star in 2010. Jimenez had a 5.40 ERA in 2012 and a 4.68 ERA in 2011. So does 2013 mean the All-Star Jimenez is back or is it a bit of a fluke? That's one thing teams must ask their scouts and figure out.
But Jimenez is another pitcher who has had past success that is available as the Rangers look around for rotation depth.
Today's pitcher: Matt Garza
Garza was supposed to give the rotation a boost and help the club down the stretch. But in 13 starts, he sported a 4-5 record and a 4.38 ERA. He had a 1.316 WHIP, much higher than it was the first half of the season in Chicago. Garza wasn't the same pitcher that was 6-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 11 starts (he missed the first part of the season with a muscle strain in his left side) with the Cubs.
Garza missed the second half of the 2012 season with a stress reaction in his elbow. But the fact that he made his starts and stayed healthy from May on last season likely means club's won't allow health issues to keep them from signing him.
Despite the rough starts in Texas last year, Garza has averaged a 3.76 ERA in his past six seasons. And in five playoff starts, Garza has a 3.48 ERA and a 2-0 mark, though his last win came in 2008.
The biggest hurdle is that Garza wants a long-term deal, and based on his performance last year and the fact that, at this point, the Rangers are planning on Holland coming back at midseason, Texas will likely want a one-year deal with incentives if they consider Garza.
But he's one of the arms still on the market that projects as a mid-rotation guy and would allow the Rangers to utilize internal candidates like Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman, Nick Tepesch and Colby Lewis as more depth options. We'll take a look at those guys in this series soon as well.
What do you think about Garza? Any interest?
The most likely scenario is Choo leading off for this team, taking the role of what was going to be Leonys Martin. The young outfielder has struggled in winter ball and in Choo, they would get a veteran bat to set the table. He's patient. He gets on base. And he sets a tone. Seems right to lead off the Rangers' lineup. So if Choo does, in fact, lead off, how might the lineup look? Here's one possibility:
LF/RF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
SS Elvis Andrus (R)
3B Adrian Beltre (R)
1B Prince Fielder (L)
LF/RF Alex Rios (R)
DH Mitch Moreland (L)
C Geovany Soto (R)
CF Leonys Martin (L)
2B Jurickson Profar (S)
Check out the balance in that lineup, which would make it difficult for opposing managers late in games. I put Profar at the bottom because he can get on base and help turn the lineup over, but if Martin starts hitting, he could go there too.
I didn't give Rios or Choo a set position because both have played the corner spots. It could be as simple as seeing where each is comfortable. Choo has played a lot more right field than left in his career (when not in center), but Rios is more comfortable in right. We'll see.
So what if Martin lights it up at spring training and appears ready to handle the leadoff spot? What about this option:
CF Leonys Martin
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Prince Fielder
LF/RF Shin-Soo Choo
LF/RF Alex Rios
C Geovany Soto
DH Mitch Moreland
2B Jurickson Profar
You could also put Choo third and Beltre fifth. Like I said, plenty of options.
I still think Choo as the leadoff hitter makes the most sense, but he brings the attributes the Rangers wanted on offense to help them go about producing more runs on a consistent basis. He can be a tone-setter, which wouldn't hurt Fielder and Beltre in the middle of that lineup.
It took a seventh year and about $130 million to agree to terms, but the Rangers determined that a big bat in the outfield was something they had to invest in this offseason. Honestly, I thought unless Choo came down to six years that Texas wasn't going to get this done, but we don't know all the contract details. If you take a big-picture approach and look at the hitting options in free agency next season, it doesn't wow anybody. Perhaps that's one reason the Rangers decided to go the seventh year on Choo. They did stick to their belief that they weren't going to give him the Jacoby Ellsbury deal; Ellsbury will earn nearly $22 million on average each year, and Choo is looking at something around $18.5 million on average over the same time span.
Before the Choo deal, Texas was looking at Leonys Martin at the leadoff spot, but that would have put a relatively unknown quantity at the top of a lineup that struggled to score runs consistently last year. Now, Choo can slot right in, Martin can move down the order and the Rangers get appreciably better. If that's the route they choose.
It also gives the Rangers some options. They could slide Choo over to right field and move Alex Rios to right or just leave Rios in right and have Choo play left with Martin in center. Choo played mainly center field last year, but, when he has played the corner spots, it's been much more right field (588 career games) than left field (61 games). So, Washington and his staff can take a look and figure out where each player is comfortable.
What will be interesting to watch is how Choo's contract looks down the line. His splits against left-handed pitchers are well-chronicled, as he hit just .215 against them last year and, in his career, his average has been considerably lower versus southpaws than right-handed hurlers. Will that make him a long-term platoon player? Texas is betting it won't because of his high on-base percentage. But that's something to watch.
Kudos to Scott Boras, who waited a bit on Choo and still got the seven years he wanted. But this was also no Ellsbury deal in terms of salary.
Choo makes the Rangers better in 2014. There's no question about that. And they had to step a bit out of their comfort zone to get it done. It's another reminder that you never count Daniels, the front office and this ownership group out -- no matter what the budget looks like.
It would stand to reason that this dramatically lowers the club's chances at Masahiro Tanaka. But there's no way I'm going to tell you they're completely out on him, either. You never know what the Rangers might do.
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.
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.
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.
"He was already at the complex and I had to explain to him what happened," Rodgers said. "He knew something was up for me to call that early. He was excited."
Rodgers said more than anything, Wilson was "captivated by the idea that baseball hadn't forgotten him."
So much so that Wilson expressed a desire to go to spring training, something Rodgers reiterated late Thursday.
"I guarantee you'll see him at some point in spring training," Rodgers said. "I don't know for how long, but he'll be there. And he'll probably take grounders and hit. He won't do something crazy, but he won't just hang out."
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.