If you ask me, and you didn’t…

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November 3, 2010 by falcon7204

(with apologies to DeForest Kelley)

The Rangers have some free-agent issues looming in the post-season, the biggest of which is starting pitcher Cliff Lee. Obtained in a trade with the Mariners on July 9, he has proven his ace designation and helped get the Rangers over the hump and into the World Series (although he was 0-2 in the Series itself). His signing will be job 1 for the Rangers braintrust, who say they are not constrained by budget anymore (Jon Daniels says the new budget for free agents will be “north” of what it was last year, but how far “north” is not known right now).

Lee, however, is not the only gaping hole the Rangers will have if they don’t re-sign their free agents. Right now, both catchers (Matt Treanor and Bengie Molina) are free agents, and Molina is talking about retiring. Vladimir Guerrero is also a free agent, but turns 36 in February, and his late-season offensive decline may be one reason why the Rangers didn’t hit as well in the playoffs as they should have. In addition, Josh Hamilton and C. J. Wilson, among others, are eligible for arbitration. Things are going to get kind of expensive around the Ballpark this winter, but here’s how I see things shaking out:

1) The Rangers re-sign Cliff Lee to a multi-year contract somewhere around $200 million. That’s what it’s going to take to get him signed, if you use the 6-year, $168 million deal the Yankees gave C. C. Sabathia last year. I don’t see six years – Lee is 32 – but give him 5 years at $200 million and he stays in Texas. Or convince him that the lack of a state income tax actually gives him more money to spend, then offer him less than Sabathia, and see if he bites. Personally, I’d throw the bank at him.

2) At least one catcher walks, and it’s probably Molina. That would be sad, given how well he’s worked with the pitching staff since he’s been here, but Treanor is certainly capable of doing the job, and if we can get somebody like A. J. Pierzynski or John Buck, we’d have a pretty solid catching corps.

3) It pains me to say this, but Vladimir Guerrero should be given the opportunity to find another home. David Murphy has proven in the latter half of the season that he can hit, and in order to make room for Julio Borbon in center, Josh Hamilton will have to move to left. That leaves no room for Murph’s bat, unless you make him the DH (he and Cruz, actually, can be interchangeable in that role – flip-flopping Hamilton between left and right might not be the best idea, though).

4) Ten players are eligible for arbitration this year, most notably Wilson and Hamilton, although Francouer, Murphy, Cruz, Darren O’Day, Brandon McCarthy and Dustin Nippert are also eligible. It appears likely that Francouer, Nippert, McCarthy and Esteban German will be non-tendered, making them free agents; however, it would make sense to non-tender Francouer and then offer him a long-term deal to keep him around as the fifth (sixth?) outfielder. The Rangers need injury insurance against Cruz’s hamstring problems (and I’d personally get a new team trainer, but that’s another issue), and Francouer has a strong arm. That one will be interesting to see. Other than that, make sure Wilson, Cruz, Murphy, and Hamilton are Rangers for a long time. Don’t low-ball them at the arbitration table, either, because that gives your team a black eye and makes it likely they’ll bolt when they become free agents. It’ll be expensive, but worth it in the long run to keep the core of the team around.

5) Allow Darren Oliver to become a free agent. He’s 40 years old, and he showed during the playoffs that he has trouble throwing strikes. If he decides to retire, offer him a place in the organization – he’s a good guy, and he has a lot of experience to bring to the table. Maybe even bullpen coach? (Nah.)

6) See if Frankie Francisco is healthy (mentally and physically) and make him your 8th inning setup man. Don’t move Feliz into the starting rotation, unless you’re ready to see if a rookie can handle that job two years in a row (Ogando would still qualify as a rookie next year, I believe). Ogando has the same type of flame-thrower arm that Feliz has, but he doesn’t yet have the makeup (although he was effective in game 4 of the WS before he pulled his oblique). Keep Feliz as the closer, but give Ogando a shot now and then, or move him to Round Rock and make him the full-time closer down there. Either way, keep Francisco around if he’s able to get over the meltdown he experienced in the first week of the 2010 season. If he can’t do it, the names that have been floated around are Joaquin Benoit (a former Ranger) and Kerry Wood (a Grand Prairie product). I wouldn’t sign either one of them. Develop another 8th inning setup man from within, if you must (maybe Ogando could fit this role, too).

7) Oh, did I mention that they need to re-sign Cliff Lee? (And while you’re at it, Nolan Ryan, un-retire your #34 and give it to Lee. He deserves it.)

One thing is for sure – whether any of the above predictions come true or not, it’ll be a fun off-season for the Rangers, made even more so by their first taste of baseball’s promised land. The trick will be keeping the parts in place (and getting the right new ones) for a return trip.

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