The Rangers are likely to improve their team through trades rather than free agency this winter.
But the Rangers are limited financially and do not expect to be leading the charge toward the top free agents. Remember the Rangers were the only team last winter not to sign a free agent to a Major League contract.
The Rangers will talk trades with other clubs and have some pitching depth to offer, including right-hander Brandon McCarthy.
A good trade is always a good trade.
With that said: before the Rangers begin making offseason trades, here's how they could approach 2010 with the current personnel. It can be done, and done successfully.
Winning is a priority. Developing players is a bigger priority. All can be accomplished. A goal of winning in 2010 ought not jeopardize an upcoming decade of winning.
Offensive priority: pitch selection. If Rangers contend in 2010 at cost of failing to improve their offensive pitch selection, then 2010 is a failure.
Worst offenders in 2009: Hamilton, Davis, Saltalamacchia.
All have an option remaining. In April 2010, send them to OKC to work on pitch selection. Send Clint Hurdle to OKC once a week to monitor progress.
April 2010 Line-Up
(keeping pressure off of Cruz and Elvis in April and May - until they get their timing down and build confidence during 2010)
1. Borbon CF
2. German DH
3. Young 3B
4. Kinsler 2B
5. Murphy 1B
6. Cruz RF
7. Boggs LF
8. Pudge C
9. Elvis SS
Bench: Teagarden, Arias, Metcalf (1B and 3B)
Note 1: it's a tragedy that Vizquel will be gone. I love him as a technician, as a strategic player, and as a leader. The Rangers ought make him Player/Manager, effective immediately.
Note 2: leading off and playing CF is asking a lot of rookie Borbon. If Borbon stumbles, you ought have Hamilton arriving in May, or at any time, really. Gentry is an emergency (and hopefully emerging) option.
Note 3: Esteban German, while not a seasoned veteran of MLB, is a seasoned veteran of professional baseball, and is a professional and selective hitter. He's a tiny guy who is difficult to pitch to: he has no holes in his swing.
Rangers fans always demand a player with a track record of major league success. They do not recognize when a guy like German has spent years preparing himself, and is ready to succeed. German is an OBP guy who controls his strike zone: this means he ought not require an extensive adjustment period to the major leagues. I've confidence in German.
However, if German fails, there are lots of options to hit #2 in the line-up: Murphy, Elvis, Arias; or move Cruz to clean up, Kinsler to #3 and Young to #2.
Note 4: Question: why coddle Elvis and Cruz, yet allow top-of-the-line-up pressure on Borbon and German? Answer: you can depend on Borbon and German to rebound from failure. Both are tough scrappers.
Elvis is less likely to fail - is less likely to fail than Borbon or German. However, it's also true that Elvis has never failed. If Elvis does fail: how will he respond? Elvis is still a bit young and tender. Best to coddle him until he grows tougher skin. No sense taking a chance with a still young psyche.
Hunter, Holland, Harrison, and Feliz need their innings managed a bit, and - early in the 2010 season - need their psyches coddled a bit. They need to get into rhythm and gain confidence. They ought not be tossed to the wolves during the first month of the season.
I would put them into my beloved 4 man bullpen rotation of young pitchers who pitch 2+ innings every 4th-5th day - including closing games where possible.
April Starting Rotation:
Beloved 4 Man Bullpen Rotation:
April Situational Bullpen
(Start the season w/12 fielders and 13 pitchers):
A.J. Murray or Eyre
OKC AAA Pitching:
OKC AAA Defense:
.... LF Smoak ... CF Golson ... RF Hamilton
3B Davis .. SS Lemon ... 2B Osuna ... 1B Tracy
.................C/DH Max Ramirez ....... DH/C Saltalamacchia
Frisco AA Starting Pitching:
Martin Perez, aka Marpez
Either: Hyatt, Murphy, Roark, or Tatusko
Injury recovery in Frisco: Hurley, Schlact (Benoit?)
Bakersfield High A Starting Pitching
Everybody. Massive Talent. Yowzah!
Possibly Brigham or Castillo.
GM Jon Daniels is apparently ready to trade pitching for hitting. At this exact moment: mistake. I would sit on the primary pitching talent this offseason.
First, the hitting improvement simply must come from within - including from hitters such as Young and Kinsler. One or two hitting acquisitions will not magically transform the current line-up of players who swing too wildly. The change must come from within - must be embraced by current players. Otherwise, you cannot win with these players, and you ought make wholesale changes: trade Hamilton, Davis, Saltalamacchia, to start with. Wipe out your line-up and start over.
Second, regarding the stock of available pitching talent:
If you can trade non-elite prospects* (players like Omar Poveda, Kennil Gomez, Tim Murphy) for Milton Bradley, fine.
However, this is the moment to sit on the primary pitching talent: to let the primary talent be culled via injury and failure; to let success arise via performance in the arena. This is the season to have numbers and depth, to let things play out, to let talent rise and become apparent. This is the season to hone your pitchers via competition with each other.
If Jon Daniels is truly ready to trade McCarthy and Nippert, that must mean:
1) Daniels is confident that some of Moscoso, Kiker, Beavan, or Poveda will be ready in July. If you trade McCarthy and Nippert, you could easily incur injuries and have one or more of the younger group on your staff in July.
2) Daniels wants to trade, and needs to clear salary in order to add salary via a trade. McCarthy is arbitration eligible, and will earn maybe $2-$3 Millionish. Nippert might be arb eligible, depending on how the league rules.
I would keep the powder dry and the talent stockpiled all the way through the spring. You can always trade McCarthy and Nippert in July. Every contending team is looking for pitching in July.
It is possible Daniels is priming the pump: is dropping McCarthy's name and Nippert's name, in November, as prelude to making them available in July. Putting their names out might help build their value later in the year. Teams will not be suddenly suspicious when the Rangers make them available in trade. Further, it helps Daniels gather intelligence: he can better determine what McCarthy and Nippert ought be worth in a future trade; he can get some ideas about which teams might be interested in trading for them.
*Rangers have some players who ought not be traded. These are players who have huge upside potential, and about whom the Rangers do not yet know how good they will eventually be. A franchise which thinks big will keep such players.
Don't trade the franchise's Magic Johnson/Derek Jeter spiritual leader:
Don't trade hitters who are touched by God:
You don't yet know how good these guys might be. Keep them.
Don't trade pitchers with massive upside:
In the right deal: trade the rest, b/c you know approximately what their upside will be. For instance: Feldman, Hunter, Harrison are very valuable. However, you know approximately what their upside will be, and therefore can dependably trade them for equal value. Same with Moscoso, Kiker, Beavan, Poveda, Kennil Gomez. These are good good players. However, you know approximately what their maximum upside is, and therefore can trade them for fair value.