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Wheelings and dealings

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November 4, 2010 by falcon7204

There was some action in the Rangers off-season today, involving manager Ron Washington and designated hitter/right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. The club signed Wash to a two-year contract extension, while the option on Guerrero was declined.

The Washington extension was hardly a surprise, and really a no-brainer after he helped lead the team to its first World Series berth. The option on Guerrero was a bit of a surprise, but according to MLB.com, it was a mutual option for $9 million for 2011, which both sides declined. The reasoning for this, according to MLB.com, was to try and re-sign Guerrero for 2011 at a pay raise over 2010, but not for as much as the option. Plus, by declining the option, they gave Guerrero an extra $1 million. So both sides basically won. Now it’s time to negotiate a new contract, and according to the Rangers website Guerrero wants to stay in Texas. So we’ll see what happens.

Now let’s talk about some other free agents. We all know about the Rangers’ pitching needs, so we won’t touch on that right now. Starting with catcher, the team is expected to see Bengie Molina retire while Matt Treanor is a free agent. The team currently has four catchers, including Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez. But both Teagarden and Ramirez are not believed to be ready for the big leagues, so Texas may find itself looking for another catcher – even if they can re-sign Treanor. One of the top free-agent catchers on the market is Toronto’s John Buck. He’s one of the best catchers in the American League today, hitting .281 with 20 HRs and 66 RBI. One knock on him is that last year he only threw out 28% of runners attempting to steal. However, his fielding percentage is .991 over his career, so he’s pretty solid behind the plate. Not a lot of power, and strikes out more than he walks, but he’s only 30 and could have some upside left. The question (as with any new catcher) would be how well he relates to and works with the Rangers pitching staff. He’s one to watch, though.

A. J. Pierzynski is another big name free-agent catcher the Rangers could be interested in. Although he’s 34, he’s solid defensively (with a .995 fielding average) although he’s only thrown out 26% of runners attempting to steal. He’s a career .284 hitter, but his last six years with the White Sox saw him hit .278. However, in the post season he turns it up a notch, hitting .300 over his career (in seven series). He’s older, too, which could mean he’d work better with the Rangers’ young pitchers (like Molina did). The downside is that he may demand a multi-year contract (he’s coming off a 3-year/$18.35 million deal), but if he can be a stabilizing force for the pitching staff it may be worth taking a flyer on him.

There are a number of younger minor-league free agents out there, as well as other familiar names like Rod Barajas, Gerald Laird (both former Rangers), Jason Varitek, Victor Martinez, and Gregg Zaun (who had his option declined by the Brewers). But overall the free-agent catchers on the market don’t appear overly impressive. It may be that signing Treanor as the starter and looking at a minor league free agent (or giving Teagarden another shot at the bigs as Treanor’s backup) might be the best way for the team to go.

One item of note on the pitching side, though: C. J. Wilson is a free agent after the 2011 season, so it might be wise for Jon Daniels and company to try and lock him in with a multi-year contract. He is arbitration-eligible this year, so it might make monetary sense (for both sides) to try and set up a long-term deal. Plus it avoids the possibility of the Rangers having their top two 2010 pitchers walk (if Cliff Lee doesn’t do the right thing and sign with Texas).

This is going to be a fun off-season, and Nolan Ryan says the team will go into Spring Training better than it was in 2010. Given the fact that the starting pitching was 2/5 different from the beginning of 2010 to the end, the fact that its opening day first baseman was not even on the post-season roster, its closer (demoted to 8th inning setup) was injured for much of the season, and its ace was a Seattle Mariner until July 9, and you can see much reason for Ryan’s optimism.

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