The offseason has not gone according to plan for the Texas Rangers. Market prices have clearly been higher than the club anticipated in both baseball currencies -- dollars and prospects.
But reluctance to overspend doesn't equal an unwillingness to shake things up. Although "smart business decisions" will never appear on a fan-made stadium banner, prudent moves are guardian angels for passionate fans. Headline-grabbing trades that liquidate a farm system or massive free-agent acquisitions that push the limits of a payroll often become franchise-sinking icebergs.
While they've done nothing to motivate fans to break out their Rangers face paint, they've also done nothing to mortgage an incredibly bright future (with one of the top farm systems in baseball) or hamstring their payroll with a giant, ticking time bomb.
Talk of financial flexibility and "keeping powder dry" go over like a funeral prank, thanks to what the Dallas Mavericks are currently experiencing. But when aging, expensive players fall well short of expectations, the window to contend closes all too quickly. Although this type of financial responsibility talk either puts fans to sleep or causes them to grab a pitchfork and torch, ultimately it's what prolongs their ability to enjoy a true contender in the long run.
Rangers fans might be ready to storm the castle, but paying too much for the fragile, turbo-diva services of Josh Hamilton would have been flat out negligent. No offense, Mr. Dipoto.
That said, the Rangers have a handful of immediate needs that must soon be addressed and the impact free-agent aisles in the baseball store have been picked clean. It's time for a blockbuster trade.
The top prospect in baseball, phenom shortstop Jurickson Profar, is ready for full-time duty. Because of that, the Rangers have three top-notch options and only two middle infield positions to put them. It's a luxury they can't afford. One of the three must go to acquire a piece, or pieces, that address pressing needs elsewhere.
Teams seeking middle infield help have been circling the Ballpark in Arlington like vultures, waiting to see which one will be without a chair when the music stops. The Rangers appear to have four options at this point:
Option 1: Keep Profar, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler
This appears to be the way the Rangers are leaning. If not, Justin Upton would've already been acquired. Going this way, you can pencil in magnetic personalities Andrus (SS) and Profar (2B) as the most entertaining/electric double-play combination in baseball for the short term, and move Kinsler -- who has openly volunteered to play whichever position his team needs him to play -- to first base or outfield.
Kinsler is a phenomenal athlete, and there’s little concern from the team or the player about his ability to learn a new position. Keeping this trio together offers dynamic possibilities as all three know how to reach base, have above-average speed and are exceptional on the basepaths. Kinsler and Andrus have piled up huge run totals atop this batting order for years. Profar projects to be a top-of-the-order guy as well, but would add instant excitement to the 9-hole in 2013.
This option merely delays the inevitable. With Andrus' pending free-agency bonanza lurking in the shadows like a thief in the night, his storyline has reached the critical fish-or-cut bait moment. Although Kinsler has selflessly agreed to be flexible regarding potential position changes, that's not something to take likely. In other words, there's no need to jerk him back and forth from one position to another each offseason. Keeping all three together this season would be very difficult on Kinsler, and is not a long-term solution.
Option 2: Trade Andrus
If the Rangers decide to use the trade route to reallocate their resources, Andrus will likely be the odd man out based solely on the fact he'll be a free agent in two years and his agent is notorious front office headhunter/payroll destroyer Scott Boras.
The idea of paying Boras-bloated free agency mark-up money for Andrus makes little sense for a team with a far more affordable option in Profar, who won’t be a free agent until 2019. Once Andrus reaches free agency, Boras will put on a Darth Vader costume and likely seek an 8-year deal at roughly $18 million per season.
Meanwhile Profar will do the job just as well, if not better, for peanuts by comparison. With two years left on his deal, the 24-year-old Andrus -- a two-time All-Star in a league where elite shortstops are extremely rare -- would be enticing to teams who aren't sure they can resign him because they would potentially still have time to trade him themselves if necessary. The return for trading Andrus should be higher now than it will be at any point moving forward. Having said that, if Andrus were to agree to a reasonable extension in Texas, all bets on trading him are off.
This option makes the most sense. Those who place their hope in Boras negotiating a reasonable win-win extension for both Andrus and the Rangers will quickly realize true hopelessness. It's not going to happen. This is a break-the-bank or make-the-trade crossroads.
Option 3: Trade Profar
As the top prospect in baseball, Profar could headline a package for any of the biggest names in the game thought to be available. If the Rangers decide to shop "the chosen one" (and additional pieces of varying values based on their target), they might soon find themselves in trade discussions for the likes of “untouchable” aces like David Price or Felix Hernandez, or 23-year-old Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, just to name a few. But this option only makes sense if Andrus is signed long term. If not, Profar is basically untouchable.
This option will never happen because of Boras' involvement. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as the prescribed cure for a case of missing Andrus will be consuming large doses of Profar highlights. An ever so slight dropoff defensively, Profar will be significantly better on the offensive end.
Option 4: Trade Kinsler
At 30, Kinsler obviously wouldn’t net the same type of return as Profar, or even Andrus. But he’s a three-time All-Star with 30 HR-30 SB seasons in 2009 and 2011. His contract is team-friendly -- by Kinsler's own design -- as it decreases in annual salary over the final three years.
There would certainly be considerable interest if Texas decided to shop Kinsler, but trading him now doesn’t make the most sense for three reasons:
* He’s coming off a down year for his standards, so his value is somewhat compromised;
* In a new, unfamiliar post-Young environment, Kinsler -- along with Adrian Beltre -- is an important leadership piece in what this franchise hopes will remain one of the best clubhouses in baseball.
The Rangers should ignore this option. Kinsler is about to have a bounce-back season that will make his contract look like a beauty.
Ultimately, that's what this is all about: Avoiding the bad contracts while stacking up the good ones. Keeping that in mind, look for Option 2 to make headlines in the near future.
Which option would you choose?
The Ben and Skin Show airs weekdays from 9 a.m.-noon on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenRogers