12/3/2013 9:30 P.M. ET
Rangers not done heading into Winter Meetings
After acquiring Fielder, Choice, GM Daniels hopes to continue to upgrade roster
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers weren't kidding around when they said they were looking for offensive help this winter.
The Rangers haven't even made it to the Winter Meetings and they have already acquired one of the top power hitters, as well as one of the best young hitting prospects in the game. Texas accomplished that when the club traded second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit for first baseman Prince Fielder, and then picked up outfielder Michael Choice in a four-player deal with Oakland.
Fielder, who has 285 home runs and 870 RBIs in eight-plus seasons in the Major Leagues, goes right into the lineup as the Rangers' No. 3 hitter.
Choice? Right now he is theoretically the leading candidate to be Texas' starting left fielder. But nothing is guaranteed, and as general manager Jon Daniels pointed out, this is only the first week of December. Opening Day is still more than three months away.
In an offseason that just revved up into high gear this week, the Rangers may still have a card or two left to play when the Winter Meetings begin on Monday at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
It may be the Rangers making the best deal possible for displaced first baseman Mitch Moreland or simply signing Kurt Suzuki to be their backup catcher. They could also try for something bigger, like taking a serious run at pitcher David Price if the Rays are serious about trading him.
But the Rangers could also renew their quest for more offense by getting involved in some of the big bats left on the free-agent market. Jacoby Ellsbury is apparently headed to the Yankees on a seven-year deal, but the available bats still left include outfielders Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz, and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. The acquisition of Choice has not eliminated that possibility by any means.
"We're open to any way we can upgrade our club," Daniels said. "I don't feel we have to sign a big name. There are a variety of ways we can do it. We could supplement what we already have or we could go after a big name. We don't feel it's an urgency and an absolute must to add a big name. We may do it, but it has to be the right fit."
The Rangers acquired Choice both for now and the future. But they don't have to push him in to the lineup right away. Alex Rios, who is set as the right fielder, is a free agent after the 2014 season, so Texas could wait until 2015 before opening up a full-time spot for Choice.
The Rangers could instead add a more established offensive player in left field. Agent Scott Boras will likely try to convince them of that wisdom and get the Rangers interested in Choo. But the reported $153 million contract that Boras negotiated for Ellsbury with the Yankees also suggests Choo won't come cheap.
A lineup card that begins with Choo, Elvis Andrus, Fielder and Adrian Beltre might seem impressive -- at those prices it should -- but it tapers off after that unless Moreland, Jurickson Profar and/or Leonys Martin have breakthrough offensive seasons. Much would depend on how deep the Rangers want to commit financially at a time when they are expressing a desire to stay away from the high-rent district of free agency and instead do a better job of managing their financial resources.
If the Rangers signed Choo for something in the neighborhood of what Ellsbury is getting from the Yankees, they could be paying $60-65 million to the first four hitters in the lineup. That the Rangers backed off on Brian McCann after acquiring Fielder and let the Yankees have him is evidence they are serious about being cautious shoppers, as well as protective of the first-round Draft pick it would cost them to sign Choo and Beltran, among others.
The Rangers wouldn't mind having Cruz back, especially since it won't cost them a Draft pick. Cruz also wants to return to Texas, but if he is looking for four years and $76 million, the Rangers will likely walk away.
Daniels has made it clear the Rangers need more offensive help, but if the price doesn't drop on some of the high-profile free-agent outfielders, the club may turn to alternatives as it did by acquiring Choice. Daniels said Texas may focus on adding "depth" to what the team already has.
The Rangers could also make a big move for pitching if the Rays start shopping Price. If nothing else, the Rays are willing to listen, and the two GMs involved -- Daniels and Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman -- are close friends, even though they have never pulled off a trade with each other. The Rays are looking for a first baseman and have talked to the Rangers about Moreland.
That could be a starting point for discussions concerning Price, although the Rangers would likely have to send starting pitching in return, most likely Alexi Ogando, as well as be forced to dip deeply into a farm system that has been stretched to the limit by multiple trades over the past few years.
The Rays may want Profar, or they could covet highly regarded catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. Given the premium on catching in the game, the Rangers probably don't want to go there with Alfaro.
The Rangers need to add an experienced catcher to go with Geovany Soto. They have had interest in John Buck in the past, but are also strongly considering Suzuki, who was the Athletics' starting catcher in 2008-12. He is considered an excellent defensive catcher, works well with pitchers and has shown occasional power at the plate.
It wouldn't be the most glamorous move of the winter, but Daniels has made it clear the Rangers aren't trying to "win the offseason." But so far they have been serious and moved quickly when the right opportunity has presented itself.
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.