Rangers' free-agent approach could benefit DeShields

Working hard this offseason, center fielder will have chance to win job back

Rangers' free-agent approach could benefit DeShields

ARLINGTON -- Free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is off the market, having agreed to a three-year deal with the Indians well beyond what the Rangers were willing to do.

The Rangers could use more offensive help at first base/DH, and Mike Napoli is still available for a team that has an affinity for reunions with former players. Napoli, 35, hit .239 with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs for the Indians this past season, and he is also looking for a substantial multiyear deal.

That may be beyond the Rangers' financial range, despite their unwavering high regard for Napoli and obvious need for his services. Their mantra has been that big-ticket offensive free agents are "unlikely," first base will be filled from within and designated hitter could be a "revolving door" among multiple players. A reunion with Josh Hamilton also looms as a distinct possibility.

Hot Stove Tracker: Free agents and trades

The Rangers' tepid approach to free agency could benefit Delino DeShields, their Opening Day center fielder this past season who is waiting for another chance. The size of that chance could be determined by what other moves the Rangers make this offseason, whether it is Napoli, another first base/DH type or an outfielder.

"I try not to think about it," DeShields said. "I want to control what I can control. The offseason for me is going great. I want to be as ready for Spring Training as I can be, so I can go out and win a job."

The first base/DH situation directly impacts DeShields. The Rangers re-signed Carlos Gomez with the intention of him being their center fielder, flanked by Nomar Mazara and Shin-Soo Choo at the corner spots.

Rangers re-sign Gomez

But a possible alternative to that scenario is DeShields winning back the center-field spot, forcing Gomez to one of the corner spots, with Choo getting most of his at-bats at designated hitter. Even if the Rangers do sign Napoli, he could end up getting most of the playing time at first base, with Choo at designated hitter and DeShields joining Mazara and Gomez in the outfield.

All those scenarios depend on if DeShields can go to Spring Training and prove to the Rangers that he can be an everyday center fielder again.

"That's the plan," DeShields said. "This offseason, I feel better physically than I ever have before, and I'm going to go in there and compete for a job. That's what it's all about. The competition level is higher, and that brings out the best in me. I want to be an everyday player. All the stuff that's going on -- re-signing Gomez -- that's great. It puts a little chip on my shoulder to go out there with some fire and show these guys I can be in the lineup."

DeShields' focus this offseason has been to regain his speed and mobility. He strayed from that last winter, trying to become stronger, and he admitted it was the wrong plan. This past season, he got off to a slow start, lost his job to Ian Desmond and was pushed aside once it was clear that Mazara was going to play every day.

DeShields' two-run homer

"I'm just focused on getting the mental part of my game together, getting back my confidence and get my body right," DeShields said. "The last several weeks, I have been working my tail off, get light again, clear my head a little bit -- not coming into camp looking like a linebacker.

"My offseason program last year was a little different than this year. This year I'm more focused on being more explosive and getting my mobility back."

DeShields began his offseason playing for Obregon in the Mexican Winter League, but that plan lasted just four games. After consulting with Rangers manager Jeff Banister and his father, he decided to go home and take some time off.

"After all the ups and downs this year, I just felt it was best for me to get away from the game and take a mental break, instead of going down there and trying to fix something right away," DeShields said. "It was tough, because I don't like quitting anything that I start. But as far as the development thing, I thought it was best for me to get my body right and clear my head."

He is also working out with his father, a former second baseman who played 13 years in the Major Leagues.

"[My father] has come down here for a week at a time," DeShields said. "He has been my best coach my whole life, so if I can find some time with him and see what we need to do, that's what I'm going to do."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.