Rangers need key pieces healthy in 2015

Rangers need key pieces healthy in 2015

The Rangers never have a dull offseason, and this winter should be far from the exception.

"We have a number of questions first and foremost with some of our injured players and what we can expect from them," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We expect most of them to be at full strength, but not all. Then there are decisions internally and externally about how we can add to our nucleus."

Before the Rangers start making player decisions, they'll have to come up with an operating payroll budget. The Rangers spent approximately $133 million in 2014, and it's not likely to go up.

Although a new television deal begins in '15, the Rangers have already committed some of that money to players on long-term deals, and the significant decrease in attendance also means less revenue.

In order to create some financial flexibility, the Rangers are not expected to pick up the $14-million option on Alex Rios and instead will let him become a free agent.

The Rangers also will have to make tough decisions on their arbitration-eligible players. First baseman Mitch Moreland and pitcher Alexi Ogando are foremost. Both played big roles in the club's past success, but their constant injury issues will make it difficult for the club to go into arbitration with them. Both made approximately $2.6 million this season.

The Rangers have six players eligible for arbitration, including reliever Neftali Feliz who figures to be back as closer. Catcher/first baseman J.P. Arencibia won't be back, and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff's future is unclear after undergoing two back operations this season. Adam Rosales has increased his value as a utility infielder.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Feliz; 1B Moreland; RHP Ogando, 3B Kouzmanoff; C Arencibia; IF Rosales.

Free agents: RHP Colby Lewis; OF Rios [Club has $14 million option with $1 million buyout], RHP Scott Baker; LHP Neal Cotts.

Rotation: It starts with Yu Darvish and Derek Holland at the top, and the Rangers hope to bring Lewis back. Darvish is expected to be healthy again next year after missing the final seven weeks because of mild right elbow inflammation. They would just like him to stay healthy for a full season and assimilate himself better within the overall framework of the team concept, which remains a challenge for him.

That leaves two spots with four internal candidates in Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, Lisalverto Bonilla and Miles Mikolas. Matt Harrison remains a complete mystery because of his uncertain back issues but is determined to do what he can to get back. Still, it appears that the Rangers will add at least one free agent starter, but it is doubtful they will compete for the top prizes like James Shields, Jon Lester or Max Scherzer. Martin Perez is recovering from Tommy John surgery and isn't expected back until mid-season.

Bullpen: Feliz appears to have reclaimed the closer's role and the Rangers should have plenty of arms to build a bullpen around him. It starts with right-handers Shawn Tolleson, who was a tremendous find, and Tanner Scheppers, who will return to the bullpen. So will left-hander Robbie Ross. Then it is a matter of sifting through the many young arms that paraded through Arlington this year. Ogando appears to be a prime candidate to be non-tendered.

Catcher: Robinson Chirinos has established himself as a Major League catcher. The Rangers will try to find a veteran to share the duties with him. Tomas Telis probably needs more time in Triple-A. Arencibia isn't expected back, although he is arbitration eligible and not yet a free agent.

First base: The Rangers desperately need Prince Fielder back at full strength. This is No. 1 on their off-season wish list. Nothing else comes close. The Rangers have a tough decision on Moreland as their DH -- can he stay healthy, or do they need to find another bat?

Second base: Rougned Odor has the job. The Rangers have almost no idea what will happen with Jurickson Profar and his chronic right shoulder. Rosales or Luis Sardinas could return as the utility infielder.

Shortstop: Elvis Andrus begins his eight-year, $120-million contract extension, a deal that would make it difficult to trade him. This is an overwhelmingly favorable contract for Andrus. There is always the possibility of a big swap of contracts as in the Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade, but that is difficult because Andrus is still quite reliable as opposed to what they may have to take on in return, and Profar's situation leaves them with no proven alternative.

Third base: Adrian Beltre returns, and if he gets another 600 at-bats in '15, he will be back in '16. Right now, that is a pleasing prospect. All in all, Beltre is holding up well. He turns 36 in April. Prospect Joey Gallo needs more time in the Minors, even if he lights up Arizona in Spring Training.

Outfield: The Rangers are not planning to pick up Rios' option. Instead, they are planning to move Shin-Soo Choo to right field. They have five candidates for left field in Jim Adduci, Jake Smolinski, Ryan Rua, Michael Choice and Daniel Robertson. All had some success this year but are still relatively unproven. Adduci is the only left-handed hitter. Rua's ability to play first and third increases his value significantly.

Designated hitter: If the Rangers don't bring back Moreland, they will likely need one more experienced hitter. Rua could be an option here. The Rangers at some point may have to pin Choo to this spot to help him stay healthy over the next six years of his contract.

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.