When the offseason began, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels had a list of priorities. It looked something like this:
Find a powerful left-handed bat for the middle of the lineup.
Eliminate the logjam at middle infield.
Find another bat that could help with the club's lack of consistent run production.
Figure out the catching position.
While many folks are racing to malls and stores to stock up on last-minute Christmas items, Daniels and his staff have nearly all of their presents under the tree. They still need a few stocking stuffers, but the big items are in hand.
Daniels found his left-handed power bat in the form of Prince Fielder, trading for the first baseman before Thanksgiving. The club dealt All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler to Detroit to make the deal happen and received $30 million. Those checks won't come in until the final five years of Fielder's deal, but they offset some of the cost. And taken on an annual average, the Fielder deal doesn't look nearly as out of whack as you might expect (a little more than $18 million a season).
By trading Kinsler, Daniels eliminated the middle infield issue. Jurickson Profar can now play second base, with Elvis Andrus at short. Profar was up and down as he moved around and never really got a chance to have a steady position in 2013. Now, he'll get the opportunity to focus on second base. There are many within the Rangers' organization confident this will make him a more productive player.
While Fielder bolstered the middle of the order, the Rangers' front office knew it needed some more punch. Hitting coach Dave Magadan preaches a disciplined, patient approach. Shin-Soo Choo personifies it. He saw an average of 4.23 pitches per plate appearance, second-most in the National League last year. Choo's .423 on-base percentage in 2013 was fourth in MLB overall and the fifth-highest by any left-handed hitting outfielder over the last 10 years.
Choo is likely the leadoff hitter, giving the Rangers someone who can set the table and get on base with the added bat of Fielder in the middle of the lineup -- and now, perhaps, a chance to drive him in.
So two deals gave Daniels a chance to check off three items on his list. And it was once again a strong signal from ownership. The Rangers have a budget, but it's clear they aren't afraid to increase it when the right circumstance presents itself. They'll add payroll in the form of Fielder and Choo, spending the bulk of their offseason money on hitting, which was the biggest need.
Signing Geovany Soto and then inking J.P. Arencibia to a deal means the Rangers' have the catching situation lined up. Soto is another patient hitter, making this offense look a little more in Magadan's mold before spring training even begins.
The Rangers aren't through. They could still use some starting pitching depth, though that doesn't mean any big names. As we've seen since Daniels took over, you never count the Rangers out of any deal. So I won't sit here and tell you they are out of the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, should the Japanese pitcher get posted. I would think it's unlikely, but they might as well get involved and see where the negotiations go. They have nothing to lose (you only pay the $20 million posting fee if you sign him).
Perhaps Texas finds another right-handed bat that can play some first base or DH.
And here's one big key: The Rangers improved the lineup without parting with any of their top prospects. The Fielder deal cost them Kinsler. Choo is a free agent. And acquiring Michael Choice meant they had to say goodbye to Craig Gentry, but not any of their prospects. Texas still has plenty of assets on the farm to either eventually reach the big league club or be used at the trade deadline or next offseason to make the team better.
So Daniels has nearly completed his shopping, days before Christmas. It's a different offseason than last year, when the Rangers tried to convince Zack Greinke to come to Texas and to get Josh Hamilton to stay, playing the waiting game. Both, of course, signed elsewhere, as did Mike Napoli, leaving the Rangers' lineup a bit depleted in comparison.
That's not the case this year. There was no waiting. Texas saw opportunities and took advantage. Daniels joked last week that he didn't want any kind of negotiations to linger into early next year.
"I'd like to enjoy my January," Daniels said.
Looks like he'll get the chance to do just that.