The Rangers closed the 2012 season in dismal fashion, blowing a five game division lead to the Oakland A’s with eight games remaining.
After being bounced by the Orioles in the inaugural Wild Card play-in game, the Rangers went into the winter with more questions than answers. Would Josh Hamilton return after his abysmal final four months, capped by the dropped fly ball in Oakland on the last day of the season that helped cost the Rangers the division? Would they land Zach Greinke off the free agent market to help beef up the rotation? Would Mike Napoli start the year in Arlington, or elsewhere?
When the hot stove started heating up at the Winter Meetings in Nashville during early December, it appeared as though the Rangers had their hand in every rumor out there. There was a point when it seemed like a certainty that they would land the biggest prize on the free agent market in Greinke. There were talks of them trading a few top prospects to Tampa Bay for starter James Shields. There were talks of them making a trade for Arizona’s slugging outfielder Justin Upton, and there was talk of them retaining Hamilton on a somewhat team-friendly deal.
And then, as fast as all the buildup came, it all came crashing down around the head of GM John Daniels. The first domino to fall was Mike Napoli taking a three-year contract to go play in Boston, although there are still some issues getting his contract finalized. Greinke landed a huge contract from the now budget-less Los Angeles Dodgers to the tune of $147 million over six years, the largest contract for any right handed pitcher in MLB history. Kansas City emptied the top half of their farm system and sent it to Tampa Bay in exchange for Shields. Hamilton took his 125 million dollar contract offer from the division rival Angels and jumped to the enemy, all while the Rangers were trying to figure out how everything unraveled so fast.
Even though the Rangers appeared primed to be the offseason winners in early December, all is not lost in Arlington. The winter is not over, and some minor moves have been made to combat the flurry of activity elsewhere. They added former White Sox Catcher A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal to replace the departed Napoli. Pierzynski is coming off a career year with the Sox as he belted a career high 27 home runs and had 77 RBIs, and should be an upgrade for the pitchers while calling the game from behind the plate.
They signed former Kansas City closer Joakim Soria to a three-year deal to bolster the bullpen. Soria didn’t make a single pitch in 2012 after being shut down on April 3rd for the second Tommy John surgery of his career. The Rangers are planning on Soria being ready to go by June, and should provide a nice boost to the back end of the bullpen. Soria was a two-time All-Star with the Royals, and if he can come back healthy, will provide the boost the front office was looking for.
The Rangers also landed Lance Berkman, inking him to a one year deal to fill the DH hole left open by the trade of Michael Young to Philadelphia. Berkman only played in 32 games in 2012, but is expected to be healthy for Opening Day and should be a decent bat in the middle of the order.
While the Rangers didn’t make the big splash everyone was expecting, they have constructed a roster that should compete for the AL West crown again. Hamilton’s departure will sting, but Daniels made the right move by not tying his financial flexibility over the next five years to an injury riddled, middle aged outfielder who has probably seen his best days. Pitchers and catchers report in 26 days and there may be more moves to be made, but Daniels has said he feels comfortable with what they have on board. Now we’ll have to see if he has an ace up his sleeve to help solidify that feeling.