ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have secured the services of one of the top leadoff hitters in the game at least through 2017. The Rangers agreed to a five-year, $75 million contract extension with second baseman Ian Kinsler on Monday that includes an option for 2018. An official announcement is scheduled for Wednesday. Still to be determined is how this deal will fit long-term on a club that is working through contract issues with multiple players and also possesses one of the top middle infield prospects in the game in Double-A shortstop Jurickson Profar.
During the protracted contract negotiations that were finally completed on Monday evening, the possibility was broached of Kinsler at some point in his career moving to the outfield. That's not likely to happen anytime soon but the Rangers have to keep all their options open as they look to the future. The Rangers started an outfield of David Murphy in left, Josh Hamilton in center and Nelson Cruz in right against the Mariners on Monday. Hamilton can be a free agent after this season while Murphy and Cruz are eligible after 2013. There is still a possibility the Rangers could reach an agreement on a contract extension with Hamilton, who is 8-for-16 with two home runs in four games to start the season. The Rangers are amenable to conducting contract negotiations during the season although they would prefer they be done in private. They have also suggested at least publicly that they might be interested in doing something with Cruz, who signed a two-year, $16 million contract in the off-season. Like Kinsler, both Hamilton and Cruz have been huge in leading the Rangers to two straight World Series appearances. The biggest obstacle to a long-term contract for both is their history of injuries. The biggest risk in losing them is the Rangers are short on outfield prospects. The Rangers have Leonys Martin, another top prospect, playing center field at Triple-A Round Rock and they still have Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon. All three were in competition for the center field job in Spring Training until the Rangers decided to go with Hamilton in center and Murphy in left. But the Rangers are thin at the upper levels of their farm system as far as corner outfield prospects. Profar, who is playing shortstop at Frisco, could be ready at some point in the next two years or by the beginning of 2014. He is being blocked at shortstop by Elvis Andrus, who signed a three-year deal with the Rangers this past off-season. Kinsler, besides his outstanding offensive production, has also developed into one of the premier defensive second basemen in the game. But if the Rangers are eventually looking to get Profar into the Major League lineup and find themselves short in the outfield, it could ultimately mean Kinsler switches positions. The other unknown is Andrus, who is represented by Scott Boras, can be a free agent after the 2014 season. If the Rangers can't keep Andrus in Texas beyond that, Profar would also likely be the best candidate to replace him at a premium defensive position. What is clearly important to the Rangers right now is having Kinsler at the top of their lineup for an extended period of time no matter what defensive position. Kinsler, while avoiding the disabled list for the first time in his career, finished the 2011 season hitting .255 with 121 runs scored, 32 home runs, 77 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. He finished with 89 walks against 71 strikeouts, marking the first time in his career that he has had more walks than strikeouts. He has also performed at a high level during the playoffs the last two years. In 33 post-season games, Kinsler has a .303 batting average with 17 runs scored, four home runs, 20 RBIs and six stolen bases. The Rangers expect there are more playoff games in Kinsler's future. That's why they are willing to make this commitment. They just still need to figure out how this contract will fit with others that may or may not get done in the near future.
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.