Rangers likely to make Cruz offer, but unsure on Nathan
GM Daniels targets power bat for Texas, admits preference to not invest heavily in 'pen
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are planning to make a qualifying offer to free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, appear reluctant to exercise their option on closer Joe Nathan, and manager Ron Washington will likely get a contract extension at some point this winter.
General manager Jon Daniels also admitted pitcher Yu Darvish was dealing with nerve irritation in his lower back over the final month of the season, which affected his strength and endurance. Darvish had an injection Wednesday to alleviate the problem, but did not want one in September, because it would have forced him to miss a start.
Those were the real news flashes as Daniels and Washington held a formal press conference Thursday to answer questions about the past season and the Rangers plans for 2014.
There were the usual questions about Washington's use of a bullpen that finished with a 2.89 ERA, the fewest blown saves and the third fewest relief losses in the league, and the Rangers aggressive running style that has been in place for seven years. There were also questions about the lack of power on a team that lost Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency, and Cruz to a 50-game suspension, and why a team that had such a favorable schedule in August had a difficult time against much tougher opposition in September.
But once all the post-mortems were rehashed beyond recognition and reality, the real issue is what the Rangers plan on doing to get better after their past two seasons came to an abrupt end after the 163rd game.
"One and done is not good enough," Daniels said. "We have been through this two years in a row, and it hurts. We are not satisfied. We want more. We want to get back to our roots and remember what we are about. We are a scouting and player development organization ... make good, solid baseball decisions and block out all the other stuff that shouldn't factor in."
The Rangers know they need to upgrade their offense. They know they need to find two big bats in a free-market that is thin in that regard, figure out how to get more production out of first base and address their catching situation.
One solution is to re-sign Cruz. Despite his 50-game suspension for violation of Major League Baseball's drug policy, the Rangers want Cruz back and are planning to make him a qualifying offer after the World Series. Cruz said he wants to come back, but hired a new agent to represent him. The goal will not be to grant favor to an organization that has stood behind him, but to get the best contract available on the market.
"We are going to need some corner run production, we're going to need some power," Daniels said. "Obviously Nellie has been a source of that for the past few years. The first order of business is whether we will extend him a qualifying offer. We haven't made that decision formally, but I expect we will."
Cruz, despite his suspension, finished the season with 27 home runs, making him one of only three unrestricted free agents to finish the season with more than 25 home runs. And Cruz, Robinson Cano, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Beltran, Raul Ibanez and Napoli are the only unrestricted free agents with at least 450 plate appearances and a slugging percentage of over .470.
That shows how limited the free-agent market is, although there are others who could be of interest. Most notable is Braves catcher Brian McCann, but also outfielders Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, and designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Choo could be attractive because of his .423 on-base percentage, which allowed him to score 107 runs. The Rangers would prefer more power in their lineup, but certainly wouldn't hesitate to add a player with the ability to simply get on base.
"The best teams are balanced," Daniels said. "That's what you strive for. We want talented offensive players, but there's no doubt our power component was lacking."
Daniels admitted this is not a strong free-agent market, but that is still not an excuse.
"You hear that every year that the free-agent market is down," Daniels said. "There are a lot of good players out there, some more heralded than others. There are some players playing in October that weren't at the top of the list last winter. It's about good decisions. I don't expect us to be extremely active in the top end of the market, but that doesn't mean we're not going to make some good moves and be better."
The Rangers are happy with their pitching, as Daniels said the staff as a whole was "outstanding." Darvish, despite his current problem, is expected to be back to full strength to head a rotation that will also include Derek Holland, Martin Perez, a healthy Matt Harrison and most likely Alexi Ogando.
The Rangers hold an option on Nathan for $9.5 million next year, and he has the right to void that option. Nathan wants a multi-year deal, but the Rangers are reluctant to go in that direction, given the other options they have at closer.
Two years ago, the Rangers were willing to give Nathan a two-year deal because it allowed them to move Neftali Feliz to the rotation. They viewed it as two moves for the price of one. Now Feliz is among the options to close, along with Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers, if they decline to keep Nathan. It comes down to how the Rangers want to allocate their money.
"That has never been our preference … to invest big money in the bullpen," Daniels said. "I'm glad we did with Nathan, but a couple things were different. One, it was Joe Nathan, we were able to get him coming off Tommy John surgery and we wanted to start Feliz. We were looking at bringing in a starter and also looking at adding a young starter. It's not our preference when you're looking at finite resources, but we'll continue to talk about it."
The Rangers have much to talk about. Daniels, Washington, CEO Nolan Ryan and their staffs have already had three days of meetings with more to come. The scouts are coming in next week. Desired players will be identified, plans will be made, and the Rangers will proceed in a fluid manner.
There are 29 other teams trying to get better, with the potential of disrupting the Rangers' best laid plans. Also, the Rangers' best moves have often happened during the summer rather than the winter.
The Rangers have still averaged 90-plus wins over the past five years, which suggests they have been right more often than wrong, regardless of the calendar. A strong core of talent remains intact. But having their season end after 163 games two years in row is a reminder it's time to get a few things right in a hurry.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.