The Rangers, it seemed, held the keys to the offseason. They had the money to be aggressive in free agency and the prospects to be creative in the trade market. And coming off a puzzling collapse last season, they had all the emotional incentive to be bold. So, what's happened? To this point, not nearly as much as some might have expected.
And if Internet comment sections are any indication, some Rangers fans see this as a prompt for panic. Frankly, I don't know what to make of the Rangers, as currently constructed, if only because of the way 2012 ended. On the one hand, they still have tremendous depth, and their additions this offseason are all defensible. On the other hand, when you lose your best hitter to a division rival and don't add any of the so-called big names bandied about this winter, fans worry. The Rangers have demonstrated a willingness to improve but not a willingness to improve at any cost. And while that might qualify as a surprise, I can't say I blame them for their prudence in this particular market. Here's the meat of what the Rangers have done this winter: They traded Michael Young to the Phillies, signed 36-year-old catcher A.J. Pierzynski and soon-to-be-37-year-old designated hitter Lance Berkman to one-year deals, and added Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor to the bullpen. These look like net positives. Young is a renowned leader, a tremendous teammate, and those are the reasons manager Ron Washington was so persistent about keeping him in the lineup last year. But statistically speaking, Young might have been the worst-performing regular in the Major Leagues in 2012. Pierzynski helps simplify a catching situation that had been made complicated by Mike Napoli bouncing between catcher, first base and DH. And Berkman, though sidelined the vast majority of 2012, is a proven plus in the lineup and in the clubhouse, provided he can stay healthy. He's an injury risk, but, then again, so was Josh Hamilton -- and while Hamilton's upside is greater, so was his price tag. Point is, Berkman's injury history isn't so lengthy as to be alarming. And the Soria and Frasor signings could prove to be great value pickups in an otherwise expensive relief market. Now, you can understand if people rooting for the Rangers look at this winter transactions list and are a little puzzled, a little peeved. The Rangers, after all, have been attached to some notable names in the rumor mill. They went after Zack Greinke, they hoped/expected to have a chance to counter any offer Hamilton was considering, and seemingly constant dialogue with the D-backs hasn't netted a workable Justin Upton trade. Even general manager Jon Daniels admitted to The Dallas Morning News last month that there was "some frustration" over how the whole process has played out. But you do have to respect this much about the Rangers: They don't make panic moves, no matter what else is going on in their division. They stick to their plan and they spend appropriately. If the overall results the last three seasons are any indication, these guys know what they're doing. Daniels says the Rangers would still like to add a veteran starter, and that might be a worthwhile move. Yu Darvish should settle nicely into a true ace role in his second season, and Matt Harrison is an underrated asset. But the rotation beyond them is loaded with question marks, from Derek Holland's homer-prone problems in 2012 to Colby Lewis likely missing much of the first half to Neftali Feliz missing most of the season to Alexi Ogando and perhaps Robbie Ross converting from relief work to Martin Perez and Justin Grimm getting settled at the Major League level. Clearly, the Rangers' rotation, as it looks now, is long on depth but iffy on dependability. They might still add a veteran who can eat up innings (Shaun Marcum is a possibility) but Greinke was the only true impact free agent who prompted much of a push from them. The other area of concern is the outfield, sans Hamilton. The questions about David Murphy's ability to repeat a career-best slash line (.304/.380/.479), given his well-above-average season against left-handers last year, are justifiable. The center-field setup of Leonys Martin and/or Craig Gentry is something of an unknown, and either way, those guys are table-setters, not producers. That's why Upton, even after a down year in the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field, makes so much sense for the Texas lineup on so many levels. If there's a workable scenario in which to deal for him, you do it. But you don't trade for Upton at all costs. Look at what the Mariners reportedly would have given up to get Upton, before he vetoed the trade last week: right-hander Taijuan Walker, middle infielder Nick Franklin and relievers Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor. At the end of the Minor League season, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo had Walker rated as the No. 4 prospect in all of baseball, with Franklin at No. 29. Not that either is a slam dunk, and the pitching-prospect attrition rate is notably high. But those rankings give you an idea of the kind of package the D-backs are looking for, and, frankly, it's the kind of package they can get given the trade costs we've seen in the likes of the James Shields and R.A. Dickey trades this winter. Jim Duquette, another MLB.com colleague and former Mets general manager, guessed, based off Seattle's proposal, that a Rangers-Upton deal would have to involve something like Mike Olt, Perez and possibly a starter along the lines of Holland. If you're Daniels, do you do that deal? I don't, much as I love Upton's potential. And let's not even bother with yet another Giancarlo Stanton discussion, because that seems fruitless. This is a time of year when it's easy to look at a team's roster and get a queasy feeling about the question marks, but the Rangers have been careful about not throwing good money -- or prospects -- at bad. It's possible they are overvaluing Jurickson Profar and Olt, but it's equally possible those two will make greater impacts upon their full-time arrivals than some of the players the Rangers didn't land. For now, the Rangers still hold valuable trade chips and payroll flexibility -- two assets that could help them in these weeks leading up to Spring Training, or perhaps before the midsummer Trade Deadline.