COLUMN: For the Rangers to move forward, they need to move on - quickly

Staff Writer
Glen Rose Reporter
A double off the wall

Travis M. Smith

With teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs reeling in the big fish of free agency, the smaller dominoes are undoubtedly ready to begin falling into place – and with the return of the MLB’s annual Winter Meetings to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., those dominoes are likely to start falling rather quickly.

However, fans of the Texas Rangers should not be holding their collective breaths. There will more-than-likely be no big fish landing in the Mark Holtz Lake outside of Globe Life Park in Arlington.

It is very, very unlikely that John Daniels and company can dump one of Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder or Shin-Soo Choo’s large salaries, and to be quite frank, there is no need to desire for such. Depth and platoon-type players should be the focus for Rangers’ brass during the upcoming meetings. Not to mention the fact that Daniels himself has gone on record several times with different media outlets to explain just as much.

Sure, if someone comes knocking and wants to voluntarily eat the majority of any of the three aforementioned contracts – JD and his brain trusts will listen. Keep in mind, the Rangers have already landed a $22 million player for 2016 in Cole Hamels, and while Yu Darvish is only on the books for an approximate and measly $10 million, he will return in mid-to-late May or early June and if on the open market would receive a contract very much in the range of David Price and Zack Greinke.

Quit being greedy this holiday season, ya filthy animals – JD has already landed two big fish for next season, they just arrived a little sooner than Baseball’s Winter Meetings.

There are holes that need to be addressed and you can bet your last bottom dollar that the Rangers’ management will find a way to fill every last one of them. Though there is an elephant in the room, and it needs to be moved before any other pieces of next year’s puzzle can begin to be placed.

The Rangers' domino

Mitch Moreland has to go. There is no question that the 30-year-old first baseman is a wizard with the glove, and his 23 home runs, 85 runs batted in and .278/.330/.482 line from last season were vital to the Rangers unlikely clinching of the AL West. But, and it’s a big one, he is the only real, viable trade chip JD has in his pocket outside of the Joey Gallo’s and Nomar Mazara’s of the world.

Depending on the arbitration projection module utilized, Moreland’s $2.9 million contract from last season will likely increase into the $5.5-6 million range, which makes him extremely easy for a team to fit into their 2016 payroll.

A possible landing spot, as pointed out by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News earlier in the week, is with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Moreland’s left-handed bat slides into Pittsburgh’s first-base vacancy nicely, and his departure would allow for the Rangers to bring Mike Napoli’s right-handed bat back to better balance the lineup and platoon with Fielder, when needed.

Napoli’s return is vital, as he brings the intangibles and clubhouse leadership that Moreland does not – or has not ever been reported to – bring to the table. Not to say Mitch is a loser, but Napoli is a winner, and the Rangers need his clubhouse presence.

The problem with the trade to Pittsburgh is that the Pirates do not exactly match-up well in the trade-piece department with the Rangers. Which is why, almost perfectly, JD can make a few calls to bring either the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres or Cincinnati Reds into the deal.

The Brewers’ right-handed-hitting catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier and nearly half of the Padres pitching staff have all been reported trade targets for Texas, and a deal to bring one of them to the Rangers could be made possibly via a Moreland move to Pittsburgh.

Three-team trades are more complex for obvious reasons, but a week locked in a hotel suite would give all three teams involved a far greater opportunity to walk away pleased than a straight-up trade between Texas and Pitt.

Lineup upgrades

Lucroy is an obvious upgrade for the Rangers at a position they are the weakest heading into 2016 and comes with a team option for 2017. The 2014 All-Star can slot into the seven or eight spot in batting order, and supports a career .282/.340/.430 slash line, but does not provide much in the pop department.

Lucroy has also made appearances at first base, which would give manager Jeff Banister an option to sit Fielder against an unfavorable lefty, start Robinson Chirinos behind the dish, and either DH Napoli and start Lucroy at first, or vice versa.

Frazier stats out to be more of a “what you see is what you get” kind of player. His splits do not differentiate much, if at all, against right-handed or left-handed starters, but has been primarily a third baseman for the Reds. The athletic ability is there to move Frazier around and he has appeared in the starting lineup at first base and left field since making his big league debut. However, he has only made 13 career starts in left field, and has not manned the position since 2013.

Frazier is a two-time All-Star and is coming off a career year where he displayed his ability to drive the ball to the tune of 35 home runs, 89 RBI, and 43 doubles. The 29-year-old is also arbitration eligible for one more season. The extra year of club control makes him even more intriguing and could allow for the Rangers to elect to use him as an heir apparent to Adrian Beltre.

Of course, this would also open up a whole new can of worms regarding Joey Gallo, but that is a headache for another day.

Addressing the 'staff

As for the Padres, this is where an immediate hole could be filled and there are two very viable targets in Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. Ross should be the target, but Cashner may be the easiest to pry away.

Cashner’s 2015 campaign was nothing to write home about. The bearded righty posted a 4.34 earned-run average, served up 19 long balls and issued 66 free passes in 184.2 innings of work en route to a 6-16 win-loss record. Thanks largely in part to his two-seam fastball that runs in the mid-90s, Cashner averaged around 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings, but on the flipside, had his fair share of issues with control – issuing nearly three walks per nine innings over his career.

Ross may require an additional prospect or two, but boy is he a promising talent. The former second-round pick of the Oakland Athletics has been a rock over the last two seasons in San Diego.

Ross has made a combined 64 starts, averaged better than a strikeout-per inning, held opponents under a .235 batting average, and kept the ball in the ballpark more often than not in his first two years as a full-time starter.

With a pitching staff that will feature the left arms of Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez for at least the first month while awaiting Darvish’s return from Tommy John surgery, the Rangers will need to replace Yovani Gallardo’s – and possibly Colby Lewis’ – departure. Ross has proved he can do that, and then some.

To add intrigue to a three-team deal with the Padres, Padres beat writer, Dennis Lin of the Sand Diego Union-Tribune, tweeted out early Sunday evening that, “Rival club says Padres have shopped Matt Kemp, asked about SS. May be reluctant to eat a lot of money. Unclear if they would attach Ross.”

Ross easily slides into a fourth or fifth slot in the rotation, but the addition of Kemp to a possible trade could make the Rangers’ front office downright giddy. A Rangers’ package highlighted by Moreland to Pittsburgh and shortstop Hanser Alberto to San Diego, with an additional prospect or two, may be enough to at least get the trade ball rolling in the right direction.

Kemp – even with the injury history and large contract – can play either corner outfield position, would allow for Hamilton to be the Rangers’ extremely cheap fourth outfielder, has reportedly been on JD’s radar while being shopped by the Dodgers, and has shown he still has a little pop while playing in 304 games over the last two seasons.

However, the Kemp addition could very well be considered a pipe dream. The 31-year-old-right-handed slugger is entering his fifth year of an 8-year, $160 million contract that runs through his age-35 season, and is still owed somewhere in the ballpark of $86 million over the next four seasons, according to Taking on Kemp would require ownership to pony up quite a bit of dough, and I am not sure that will happen.

Regardless of what moves are to be made and what holes are to be filled, I feel that the Moreland domino needs to be the first to fall for Texas. Baseball is a business, and regardless of Moreland’s popularity or loyalty, he is JD’s ace in the hole and is the most, for lack of a better word, dispensable option.