MLB WINTER MEETINGS; THE BIG NOTHING

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, December 7th, 2012

BY:  Dic Humphrey

Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville came to a disappointing close Thursday.  The annual affair usually gets into full motion the remaking of team rosters for the following season.  Front office personnel from every team are there to deal with agents for free agents and with each other.  There wild rumors of free agent signings and multi-team trades grabbed headlines; but in the end, the Rangers and every other team did almost nothing to re-make their rosters.  The biggest free agent signing was the Giants re-signing outfielder Angel Pagan – four years at $40 million, a sum that pales in comparison to Albert Pujols $240 million deal a year ago.  For MLB followers, it was an extremely disappointing week – lots of speculation, but very little action.

When the week began, it was speculated that the Rangers would be the most active team at the meetings.  For sure, the Jon Daniels’ front office team is thorough, leaving no stone unturned in their never ending search to improve the team.  They are also very tight-lipped, leaving much in the way of speculation as to their true intentions.  They did acknowledge though that they were interested in the two biggest name free agents on this year’s market – Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke.  There was also the persistent rumor that the Rangers were working on a blockbuster deal involving three or four teams that would net the Rangers Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, and perhaps a pitcher of the ilk of Tampa Bay’s James Shields.

Early in the week, the reports had the Rangers close on a deal to re-sign Hamilton, who was in Nashville this week to meet personally with teams.  By week’s end, Seattle was said to be making a rush to swoop in on Hamilton.  It is still surprising how little interest there is for Hamilton, obviously because of his off the field issues.  If the rumor mill is correct, he may not even net a five year deal, probably at a total value less than half of what the Angels shelled out for Pujols last year, who was about the same age then that Hamilton is now, and hasn’t made an All-Star team in two years.  Locally, fans are divided on the wisdom of bringing Hamilton back after the poor finish of his 2012 season, but make no mistake about it; his departure will put a big hole in the Rangers’ offense.

Rumors on Greinke have the multi-year contract tab in the $160 million range.  The Dodgers were the favorite to sign him when the meetings began, but by week’s end, there were even rumors that the Dodgers were close to withdrawing from the race.  Perhaps the Rangers are now the leader for Greinke’s services, as he is said to be fascinated with the human pitching resources in the Rangers’ organization – namely pitching coach Mike Maddux, his brother and Ranger consultant Greg Maddux, and Nolan Ryan.  And in the media’s never ending search for trivial information, it was noted this week that Greinke may have ties to the area as his wife was once a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

At week’s end, the tide seemed to be shifting to the Rangers preference of signing Greinke and trading for Upton as opposed to signing both Greinke and Hamilton to add the starting pitcher and middle of the order bat the team is seeking.  In any event, the trade and sign scenario will cost less than signing the two most prominent free agents on this year’s market.

The Rangers were also linked to starting pitcher R. A. Dickey.  Dickey was originally drafted by and broke into the Majors with Texas.  Since leaving the Rangers after the 2006 season, he has re-invented himself as a knuckleball pitcher.  He won this year’s National League Cy Young Award with a 20-6, 2.73 record.  Dickey has one year remaining on his current contract, and talks with the Mets on an extension are not progressing.  The Mets aren’t going to be competing in the N. L. East any time soon, so their best bet may be to trade the hurler for prospects, and Texas of course has prospects.

There was of course tremendous speculation as to what the Rangers are going to give up if they make a blockbuster trade.  Every team is interested in dealing with Texas because of the deep farm system.  However, the names of Derek Holland and Elvis Andrus have been speculated.  Andrus is an extremely talented shortstop, but could be expendable with Jurickson Profar knocking on the Major League door.  Making such a move would be risky for sure.  Profar has just one season above the A minor league level.  He may not be ready.  However, he is expected to ultimately be an even better shortstop than Andrus, and going with Profar at shortstop would produce significant payroll savings.

There is also a strong rumor that the Rangers and Phillies are deep in negotiations to send Michael Young to Philadelphia.  The Phils are looking for a third baseman, and the Rangers would clear playing time for others by dealing him.  Young is due $16 million for 2013, and his market value is nowhere near that figure.  Texas would be forced to kick in a large portion of that salary – rumored to be around $10 million to make the deal, but the move would still represent a $6,000,000 payroll reduction.  Young has to approve any trade as he has 10-5 rights to do so.  He has been a good player here, and a good representative of the team; but his career may be to the point that it would be best for Young and the Rangers to part ways.

All of this is speculation.  The Rangers put out very little information about their thinking.  Undoubtedly, a good bit of the speculation is just that – pure guesses at the thinking, and most of it will not come to fruition.  However, the Rangers have a lot of work to do to re-form the 2013 roster.  A lot will happen, and undoubtedly the stage was set for those moves by what took place this week in Nashville.

In things that actually did happen in Nashville, the Rangers nabbed right-handed relief pitcher Coty Woods from the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft.  He appeared in 61 games last season at AA Tulsa and AAA Colorado Springs with a combined 4-4 record and 16 saves.  He also was 1-0, 3.38 in 11 games in the Arizona Fall League.  The Rangers paid Colorado $50,000 for making the selection.  Woods must stay on the Rangers active roster in 2013 or be offered back to the Rockies for $25,000.

The Rangers also lost first baseman Chris McGuiness in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.  McGuiness, who played at The Citadel, was selected by Cleveland, after being named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League.  He was originally acquired from Boston in 2010 in the trade of Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Red Sox.  He hit 23 homers and drove in 77 runs at AA Frisco last summer with a .268 batting average.

Texas also lost third baseman and catcher Tommy Mendonca in the minor league phase of the draft.  He was taken by Oakland, which is a homecoming of sorts for Mendonca, who played at Fresno State.

Earlier in the week, the Rangers announced the signing of free agent reliever Joakim Soria to a two-year contract.  The former Kansas City closer is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not be ready when the season begins.  He in fact may not be ready to pitch for the Rangers until June or July.  He was once a premier closer, he is still young, and he could become an important part of the Rangers’ bullpen in the final months of the season.  Some even speculate that he could wrestle the closer role away from Joe Nathan by the time the playoffs roll around; but for sure, he will be a candidate to close if Nathan is not brought back in 2014.

The catching situation came to some focus when Geovany Soto was re-signed.  Late last week, the Rangers failed to tender a contract to Soto making him a free agent.  However, the team worked out a one-year deal for 2013.  He was an offensive liability after joining the Rangers in late July but is a very good receiver, thrower and pitch caller.  He caught Yu Darvish exclusively, and the final two months of the year were Darvish’s best starts.

Mike Napoli however will not be returning as he signed a three-year, $39.5 million contract with the Red Sox.  Napoli had stated his intention to sign with a team that would make him the main catcher, but in the end he took the money; as in Boston, he is expected to be the regular first baseman.  He hit 28 home runs last year for the Rangers, and he will be missed.

The Rangers also lost Koji Uehara.  The free agent signed with Boston for $4.25 million.  He evolved into the Rangers best middle reliever by season’s end, and is valuable because he is particularly effective against left-handed batters.  He was a bullpen piece the Rangers wanted to bring back.

This week, there were no roster fireworks for the Rangers or for any other team for that matter.  However, it is becoming apparent that the Rangers will have a significant roster turnover before the 2013 season begins.  Much of the free agent market is stalled awaiting the big name players to sign and set the market, while teams are busy working on trades to solve their roster problems instead of dealing in the free agent market.  However, once some prominent names sign, the market will move fast, and fans could see significant movement by New Year’s Day.  They just didn’t see it this week in Nashville as expected.

 

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