12/9/2013 5:28 P.M. ET
Power tops Washington's wish list for Texas
Cruz would fit the bill; Rangers also expected to kick the tires around Choo
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington wants another hitter in his lineup.
His preference is a run producer in the middle of the order, but he'll take a leadoff hitter if available. Free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz fits the role of the big bat, while Shin-Soo Choo would fit at the top of the lineup.
There are other bats available but Washington is just simply hoping the Rangers are not done upgrading their offense.
"It would be nice to have a power bat," Washington said. "A disciplined power bat. Any suggestions?"
Cruz and Choo appear to be the Rangers' primary focus at the outset of the Winter Meetings. The club may be hatching other plans while sequestered upstairs in the hotel rooms at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, but offense has been the focus of the Rangers' offseason from the beginning. They are still working on that despite already adding first baseman Prince Fielder, catcher J.P. Arencibia and outfielder Michael Choice.
"Well, nothing really needs to happen," Washington said at his Monday news conference. "We certainly want to try to strengthen our outfield and look at what our options are out there, pitching-wise and maybe DH. But we certainly have until April 1 to make certain to get those things taken care of.
"But we certainly won't be in a panic-mode if nothing happens."
Right now, the Rangers have a lineup that begins with Leonys Martin at the leadoff spot, followed by Elvis Andrus, Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios. Mitch Moreland is the leading candidate to be the designated hitter if he's not traded, and Choice is the leading candidate to be the left fielder, even though he has played in just nine games at the Major League level for the Athletics this past September.
The Rangers could add a more experienced bat in left field or at designated hitter to give the lineup more heft at the bottom of the order. That's why Washington's preference is to find someone to hit in the middle of the lineup.
"Probably middle-of-the-order guy," Washington said. "Run production. Leonys is a leadoff guy -- his job is to get on base and score runs and make things happen. So I'd like production."
Moreland played first base last year and hit .232 with 23 home runs and 60 RBIs in 147 games this past season. He lost his job when the Rangers acquired Fielder for second baseman Ian Kinsler and could be a candidate to be traded here at the Winter Meetings. But the Rangers are trying to add offense and Moreland could still be a big part of their lineup next season.
"Mitch has played a little outfield," Washington said. "He will play some first base, and Prince will get a spell. He can also slide in the DH spot. So there are still at-bats there from Mitch, and we certainly intend on using them."
Moreland is a left-handed hitter with a career .236 average and .362 slugging percentage against left-handers, so the Rangers may just add a right-handed hitter to go with him.
"I think we could use a right-handed bat," Washington said. "It's not necessary."
The Rangers are expected to meet with the agents for both Choo and Cruz at the Winter Meetings. Those may be short meetings if the asking price is too astronomical for the Rangers' budget.
Choo was with the Reds last season and hit .285 with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs. But the numbers that appeal to the Rangers most were the 107 runs and a .423 on-base percentage. That would work at the top of any lineup, but if the Rangers don't sign Choo, Martin would likely hold the leadoff spot.
In his first full season in the Majors, Martin hit .260 with a .313 on-base percentage, 66 runs scored and 36 stolen bases. The Rangers gave him a brief audition as a leadoff hitter in August before moving Kinsler back to the top of the lineup.
"We certainly hope that with what Martin achieved, he can continue to build on it," Washington said. "And if he does, he becomes the guy that we always knew he was. But this year was quite an experience for him to learn how to play the game of baseball under control and contribute. He certainly did that as the year progressed. We're looking for big things out of Martin."
Cruz has been the Rangers' starting right fielder for the past five seasons before becoming eligible for free agency. He hit .266 with 27 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .506 slugging percentage in 109 games before being suspended for 50 games for violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
His return would give the Rangers three proven power hitters in the middle of their lineup. That would appeal to Washington, but at this point, he is not particularly choosy about whom the Rangers acquire.
"I'll be open to whatever makes our lineup work better," Washington 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.