Footprints in the Snow: Texas Rangers

Footprints in the Snow is FanHouse's look at the paths to be forged by MLB teams this winter as they look ahead to 2009.

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When you're the Texas Rangers, and you have a grand total of one playoff win in 47 years of existence, there's little place to go but up. Thanks to GM Jon Daniels' dilligent work in the draft and in last year's Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne deals, that's just the direction in which they're headed.

There are a lot of things to feel good about in Arlington these days, actually. The Rangers had the best offense in the American League last year and could conceivably be better in 2009. The farm system is overflowing with talent and almost certainly one of the five best in the game. There's even optimism about the return of Nolan Ryan as the team's president.

If you're looking for a club that could make a Rays-like rise in the near future, the Rangers might be the best candidate. The question isn't if, but when they make their presence felt, and the answer to that query will determine in part how aggressive Texas is this winter.

Who May Leave?
Milton Bradley, DH, free agent
Jason Jennings, SP, free agent
Ramon Vazquez, IF, free agent
Jamey Wright, RP, free agent
At least one of the four major league ready catchers, trade

What Do They Need?
As prolific as their offense was last year, the Rangers' pitching staff was equally putrid. They ranked dead last in the American League with a 5.37 team ERA in 2008. Not one pitcher maded 30 starts for them last year and Vicente Padilla and Kason Gabbard were the only pitchers who started more than 10 games and maintained a sub-5.00 ERA. The bullpen wasn't much better.

You can blame an awful lot on their home ballpark, but performance that poor is unacceptable, and it's the area they'll need the most help in to make noise in the AL West.

Bradley, who stayed healthy and put together a monster season in 2008, leaves a sizable void at designated hitter, but Texas is planning to fill it primarily with Hank Blalock, meaning the hole it will be looking to fill this winter is actually at third base.

What Should They Do?
First, about third base: there aren't many hot corner players available in free agency, but the solution seems very simple and obvious for Texas. Casey Blake is easily the best third baseman on the market and he'd fit perfectly into a very flexible roster. Blake won't command a ton of money and he can play in the outfield too, joining a number of Rangers player who can play multiple positions. In short, he's ideal for a team that probably can't afford to make a splash on a big bat and doesn't need to anyway.

As for the pitching, there's plenty of it out there to be had on the free agent market. How much the Rangers decide to scoop up depends on how close to catching the Angels they think they are. They're going to clear up their logjam at catcher this winter, and they should get a cost-controlled major league ready pitcher in return that could potentially slide into the rotation right away in 2009.

With Padilla and Kevin Millwood penciled into the rotation already and a glut of young arms either on their way to the majors or that can't possibly be worse than they were in 2008, the safe move would probably be to stay out of a long-term commitment to a free-agent hurler. But this class of pitchers is very good -- the best in many years and perhaps the best for several years to come. The Rangers are about to be very good. Why not swoop in for one, and only one, of the better pitchers available.

CC Sabathia is going to be too expensive, but a guy like Derek Lowe would add a steady veteran presence in the rotation, providing a big boost for 2009 and depth for 2010 and beyond when they are likely to be serious contender. Throw in a free agent reliever like Juan Cruz for bullpen depth and Texas can call it a winter.

What Will They Do?
The Rangers seem to be hot on the trail of Blake and might be the leader in the clubhouse for his services with free agency a few days away. If they don't sign him, they'll probably wind up with Joe Crede, who is a bit younger and in the same mold as Blake except he has trouble staying healthy.

It's a near certainty that they'll trade one of their four catchers. Gerald Laird is probably the guy they'd like to move most, but he'll also fetch the least in terms of a young starting pitcher. Max Ramirez and Taylor Teagarden haven't established themselves yet, but they do seem to have passed Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the depth chart, making him the most likely to go this winter. Boston and Florida both need catching help and both have pitching depth to deal from, making them the most likely trading partners for Texas.

The Rangers are likely to make a depth signing or two for the bullpen, but given payroll constraints and the number of arms on the way from the minors -- lefty Derek Holland and righty Neftali Feliz, just to start -- it seems like they might sit on the sidelines this winter as the starting pitching market sorts itself out.

Big-name pitcher or not, Texas should find itself on the fringe of contention heading into 2009 and will be a serious player by the end of the decade. For a franchise with one playoff win, you know ever, that has to feel very good indeed.

Footprints in the Snow: Texas Rangers originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Wed, 12 Nov 2008 11:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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