SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It took about 24 hours for manager Ron Washington to see all he needed to see to officially make Andres Blanco the Rangers’ utility infielder, leaving the team with one final bench spot to fill and there’s potentially a new name to add to the mix there.
Washington is convinced that Blanco can cover the Rangers at short, second and even third, meaning the final bench player he’s looking for is a right-handed hitting first baseman. Talk has centered on trying to re-work the offseason trade for Boston’s Mike Lowell and there’s also interest in veteran Kevin Millar, who is in the Cubs’ camp as a non-roster invitee.
Another name to keep in mind is Mike Sweeney, who has been on fire in Seattle’s camp this spring. It’s difficult to see where Sweeney, hitting .556 with two homers and 7 RBIs in 27 Cactus League at-bats, can fit with the Mariners, who signed both Casey Kotchman and Ryan Garko to play first base this winter.
Lowell, Millar and Sweeney are all great makeup players, excellent in the clubhouse and all three qualify as right-handed hitting first basemen who could spell Chris Davis against particularly tough left-handed pitchers.
The Rangers are now hearing that Boston’s ownership is reluctant to part with Lowell for sentimental reasons. Another problem is Lowell’s contract. In the deal the Rangers and Red Sox agreed to this winter before it fell apart because of questions about Lowell’s thumb injury, the Rangers would have sent them minor league catcher Max Ramirez and picked up $3 million of Lowell’s contract. But that was before the Rangers signed free agent DH Vladimir Guerrero and reliever Darren Oliver. It’s doubtful that $3 million is still available now.
There are concerns about how much Millar has left. Scouts say he’s “cheating” at the plate on fastballs because his bat has slowed.
Sweeney has had back trouble for years and hasn’t played over 74 games since 2005, but he still managed to hit .281 last season with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 242 at-bats.
If the Rangers can’t get Lowell, adding Sweeney would be the smart move with Millar as the third option. Any of the three would be a better option for that role than the young players vying for it in camp right now.
What would the Rangers have to give up? Obviously they would like to get something for Luis Mendoza or Joaquin Arias, who are both out of options and will have to pass through waivers if the Rangers want to send them back to Oklahoma City.
If it takes a little better prospect than that, it might be worth it. This is a team that believes it can contend for a division championship and adding a veteran role player who can complement the clubhouse chemistry could be vital.