With the Winter Hot Stove getting ready to heat up, the rampant speculation of where notable free agents will sign has officially started.
The front office has hinted various times in recent months that fans shouldn’t expect the team to break the bank in any free agency pursuits this winter. Whether that’s fair or not with a new, partially public-funded stadium set to open in 2020 is a debate for another time. The task at hand is to figure out what is realistic for fans to expect from Texas in free agency this winter?
After Clayton Kershaw re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers last week for three years and $93 million, that pipedream of a homecoming for the Highland Park native went out the window. It’s probably also safe to assume the team will be out on the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado with 10 year contracts worth over $30 million annually aren’t totally out of the question for that pair. Even with the team’s glaring need for starting pitching, Patrick Corbin, the 29 year-old lefty who had an ace-quality season in Arizona in 2018, will likely be unrealistic as well with a projected deal possibly beginning in the 5 year/$100 million range.
Who does that leave? Staff writers Dylan Duell and Garrett Jones studied a list of free agents compiled by former general manager Jim Bowden and each picked three players they believe could be targets for Texas this winter.
Nathan Eovaldi, LHP
Age: 28 (will be 29 on Opening Day 2019)
2018: 22 starts, 111 innings pitched, 3.81 ERA with the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox
The Houston-area-native could have possibly boosted his value outside the price range of Texas after his postseason with Boston had him have a 1.61 ERA in over 22 innings over six appearances. However, it’s still unknown if the lefty can be depended upon for a full season as he has only thrown over 154 innings once in a regular season (his 199.2 for a bad Miami team back in 2014). The fit with Texas might be that he probably wouldn’t demand more than two or three years at the most and could serve as a nice bridge to some of the potential pitching the Rangers have in the lower levels of their farm system.
J.A. Happ, LHP
2018: 31 starts, 177 innings, 3.65 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees
A 36 year-old may not make a ton of sense for a team that is rebuilding, but again, the Rangers need guys to fill the gap between now and when their young pitching might be ready to go at the major league level. They rushed young pitchers like Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez to the majors in 2018 due to health issues and poor performances from other starters and got about what you might expect from guys who aren’t ready for the show. To avoid hurting the long-term, which is what the franchise is clearly prioritizing, why not at least bring in some respectable, decently priced arms in the mean time?
Nick Markakis, RF
2018: .297/.366/.440. 14 HR, 93 RBI
The long-time Baltimore Oriole had a bit of a resurgence in 2018 as he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career in his age 34 season. It has been speculated by local media that current right fielder Nomar Mazara could be a trade candidate if the team looks to upgrade their starting pitching via trade instead of free agency. Markakis could be a nice stop-gap in the number nine position until any of the Rangers heralded outfield prospects are ready in a year or two. An outfield of Willie Calhoun in left, Joey Gallo in center and Markakis in right wouldn’t be the long-term solution, but it should be enough to get respectable results in 2019 should the team part with Mazara.
Adam Jones, CF
2018: .281 AVG, .313 OPS, 15 HR, 63 RBI, 7 SB
As Baltimore rebuilds, it seems these two have reached the end of the relationship- and Jones will have the opportunity to join a contender- or at least change his scenery and play for another.
Texas would be a great fit if he chooses the latter route. He’d fill a gaping hole for offensive production out of center field. More importantly for the Rangers, he likely won’t be a very expensive player on the open market. Furthermore, he’s a clubhouse leader who could provide mentorship on a young team- and if signed to a short-term contract- could be a valuable trade asset at the deadline.
Marwin Gonzalez, UTIL
2018: .264 AVG, 16 HR, 68 RBI, .324 OB, 2 SB
It might be hard for some Texas fans to fathom Gonzalez, a longtime contributor for rival the rival Astros, in a Rangers uniform– he infamously broke up former star Yu Darvish’s perfect game bid in a game in Houston in 2013.
Setting that aside, Gonzalez has emerged as a valuable, timely hitter for the Astros in their deep playoff runs over the past two seasons. Moreover, after beginning his career as a middle infielder, he has developed into a super-utility man- playing 24 games at first base in 2018, 32 at second, 3 at third, 39 at shortstop, 73 in left field, 3 in center, and 1 in right.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, other teams value this versatility as well- and at age 29, he likely will command a bevy of suitors on the open market- and his price might reflect that. Nonetheless might be worth it for a rebuilding team like the Rangers to pay that price, and lock down an experienced defensive asset to a young team.
Charlie Morton, RHP
Age: 35 (on November 12th)
2018: 15-3, 3.13 ERA, 201 K, 1.37 WHIP in 30 starts
Morton resurrected his career in his two years with the Houston Astros, highlighted by recording the final out in game 7 of the 2017 World Series. Once a journeyman and fringe rotation piece with Pittsburgh, Morton was selected as a 2018 National League All-Star.
Morton would be a fantastic top-of-the rotation piece if Texas could sign him in free agency. This is the least likely possible singing of the three, for multiple reasons.
One, coming off such a strong statistical season, Morton no doubt will be pursued by a National League contender deemed by pundits as “one arm away.” (Think Atlanta, Arizona, Los Angeles Dodgers). No disrespect to Morton, but you have to imagine that away from Houston, his production will taper off- especially by the time 2022 rolls around. However, he would significantly improve Texas’ ability to contend in the near future if the Rangers can sign him.
The list of potential fits for Texas is just as long as its list of needs on a team that finished with 67 wins this season. Only the ownership and front office know the true payroll budget for 2019 and beyond, but with contracts the like Cole Hamels and Adrian Beltre coming off the books, Texas should have some room to work with in free agency to field a more competitive team next season.
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