Top-ranked Rangers face tough decisions
August, 23, 2012
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com
ESPN.com decided to go back and revamp its MLB Future Rankings (insider) to reflect any changes from the amateur draft and the trade deadline. And when all the numbers were crunched, the Texas Rangers still ended up on top. The rankings look at five key categories -- majors, minors, finance, management and mobility -- when determining how teams are set up for the next five years. Texas was on top, ahead of the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals, who were second and third, respectively.
|Innovative technology takes Ben and Skin inside Josh Hamilton's mind during an at bat earlier this week against the Orioles.
* Josh Hamilton. The 2010 AL MVP is a free agent after this season and has said that Texas is his first choice. The Rangers would certainly like to have him in that No. 3 spot in the order, but the question is how many years they're comfortable guaranteeing. The Rangers have other players who will be getting raises and are coming up for free agency in the coming years, and while they've got lots of financial resources, there isn't a big money tree growing at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. In other words: There is a budget, though it's a large one. The Rangers must decide how far they are willing to go to try to keep Hamilton and what the market bears for the slugger. That will be interesting to watch.
* Jurickson Profar. He's one of the top prospects in the game (check out Keith Law's list if you don't believe me) and is inching closer and closer to the big leagues. The club has discussed bringing him up, and you can bet his name will be brought up again when they sit down to talk about September call-ups. But the bigger question is when the Rangers feel he's ready to get a starting nod at the top level. If that's 2013, that means making room for the shortstop. With Elvis Andrus still under contract, perhaps that means sliding second baseman Ian Kinsler to the outfield (Kinsler said when he signed his long-term deal that he'd be willing to do that at some point) and putting Profar at second base. And how well Profar performs could have an impact on whether Andrus is here long-term.
* Catcher. It's been a bit of a revolving door, though the club is building that position at the lower levels of its farm system. Part of the appeal of acquiring Geovany Soto one day before the trade deadline was that he's under contract next season. If he performs well down the stretch, he can solidify the starting spot. So what happens with the backup position? Mike Napoli is a great presence in the clubhouse and clearly wants to be in Texas. He's battled injuries and inconsistencies in 2012, though, and we'll see what kind of response he gets when he hits free agency.
Mike Olt. The Rangers want to make Olt as versatile as they can so they can try to find a spot for him. He has shown maturity at the plate early in his big league career since getting called up on Aug. 1, but he has work to do defensively at first base and right field. The club still believes in Mitch Moreland, and the first baseman has hit the ball better since coming off the disabled list. It will be interesting to see how all the pieces come together there.
* Rotation. Texas has some key starters under contract -- Derek Holland and Yu Darvish have long-term deals and Matt Harrison remains under club control. But after that, there are questions. The club still doesn't have that "ace" and is constantly looking for one. Ryan Dempster is a free agent after this season. Veteran Colby Lewis, a free agent after this season, had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow and must go through rehab and show he can return. Neftali Feliz is also out for the year, and when he returns, the club must decide if he'll do so as a starter or reliever. Alexi Ogando might be given a chance to start, but he was a valuable bullpen piece late last year and in the postseason. There are others in the minors who have shown flashes at the big league level this season (Martin Perez, Justin Grimm) and they could deserve a look at spring training next season.
* Scott Feldman. It's highly unlikely the Rangers will pick up the $9.25 million option on his contract for 2013, but the question is whether he returns to Texas. Feldman got that contract after winning 17 games in 2009. He has looked much more like that pitcher the past few months than he did in 2010 and 2011; most of that time was spent dealing with a knee injury and rehabbing from surgery. But is he a guy who could crack the Rangers' rotation in coming years?
* Bullpen. Mike Adams, the club's primary eighth-inning setup man, is a free agent after this season. Other pieces could exit as well. But the Rangers have shown the past few years that they don't mind filling bullpen spots in the offseason. They made a big financial commitment to Joe Nathan that has paid off. We'll see what they can do with Adams and how they'll fill some of those key late-inning roles.
* Coaches and front office. When you're a good team, other teams want your personnel (see: pitching coach Mike Maddux's options to be a manager, the Angels' hiring of Scott Servais, the Astros' interest in Thad Levine). That's not likely to stop, and ownership will do what it can to try to retain the quality management it has in place.