This weekend, the Texas Rangers came to an agreement with free agent Lance Berkman on a one-year, $10 million contract that includes an option for 2014, which will vest at 550 plate appearances.
In an off-season that can only be classified as disappointing for the Rangers, Berkman represents a potentially solid addition, provided his knees can withstand the rigors of another season. Being used primarily at DH will certainly help ease the burden on the 35-year-old switch hitter.
Even with Berkman in the fold, the Rangers have work to do to finish building their roster. To this point, subtractions from their Wild Card team still far out-weigh additions. The Rangers have lost quite a few impact players, including both hitters and in the rotation. Berkman should effectively replace Michael Young at DH, but the Rangers hope his numbers wind up closer to those of the departed Josh Hamilton. Earlier in the Winter, Texas inked catcher A.J. Pierzynski to replace Mike Napoli, who is still expected to sign with the Red Sox.
Given that the Rangers missed out on seemingly every free agent and trade target they had when the Winter Meetings took place in Nashville in early December, one would hope they’ve not completed their agenda for the remainder of the off-season. Jon Heyman says not to worry, the Rangers could still be in play for many of the biggest names remaining on the market.
#rangers still looking for more after adding berkman. Bourn, upton, lohse could be in play.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 7, 2013
The Rangers still have plenty of money available and they remain interested in acquiring Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks. That said, if they weren’t willing to part with the kind of prospects Arizona was looking for in December, it’s unlikely that Rangers GM Jon Daniels suddenly has a change of heart. Multiple teams remain in conversations with the D-backs about Upton, so Texas is no sure thing to land the outfielder.
In Kyle Lohse, Texas would find the front-half-of-the-rotation starter they lost when Ryan Dempsterleft and that they missed out on when Zack Greinke signed with the Dodgers. Lohse isn’t as young as Greinke, but he’s been better over the past two seasons. Lohse has struggled to find suitors on the open market, in part because of the draft pick compensation attached to his free agency.
We’ve heard for a few weeks now that Michael Bourn could wind up in Texas if only because there is a fit in terms of money and roster space. The only other team that can offer the money and has a need for a center field bat is the Seattle Mariners (who are also in on Upton, but he has Seattle on his no-trade list). Bourn didn’t look like an ideal fit to replace Hamilton, as power is not a part of Bourn’s game, but the addition of Berkman changes the team dynamic enough to make adding a speedy lead-off man more palatable for the Rangers.
Should Texas add Bourn, they could drop Ian Kinsler lower in the lineup, where he would see more run-producing chances with his plus power bat. With Berkman, Adrian Beltre, Kinsler, Pierzynski, and Nelson Cruz making up the three-through-seven spots (though not necessarily in that order), Texas would maintain an elite lineup, though one with a decidedly different feel than in years past.
As is the case with Lohse, in order to sign Bourn, the Rangers would have to forfeit a draft pick and the slot money assigned to that pick. Should they sign both Lohse and Bourn, Texas would lose their top two picks in June’s draft. The Rangers have one of the deepest and most talented minor league systems in all of baseball, so if there is ever a club that can afford to surrender a pick or two, the Rangers have the depth to buffer the impact of such a loss. That doesn’t mean that it’s something they’d like to do, but losing the picks would have less of a negative effect on the Rangers than it would a club without the kind of system flush with talent that the Rangers have.
If they make no further additions, the Rangers have added enough pieces back to the roster to remain competitive in the AL West, but they’ll need healthy and effective seasons from some players who come with considerable question marks in their recent history. Oakland has more young pitching than anyone and their lineup should only be better than they were a year ago. Meanwhile, the Angels have three of the top eight or 10 hitters in the game all within the same lineup. If Texas wants to return to the playoff in 2013, they likely need to make another addition or two to their roster.