Winter Meetings Preview: Texas Rangers Priorities

Chris Halicke

MLB's Winter Meetings convene Monday through Thursday next week and is easily the main event of the baseball offseason.

The Texas Rangers still have significant holes to fill on their roster and have the resources to do so. The Winter Meetings are a prime time to make serious headway in filling those needs. 

We'll take a look at the Rangers' top priorities and what kind of budget they have remaining going into next week.

Anthony Rendon

The Rangers are all in as they can be on Anthony Rendon. He's only 29, plays third base, is a great right-handed hitter (career .290/.369/.490), and plays very good defense. He is also a World Series champion. Rendon could be the next cornerstone of the franchise.

After missing out on Zack Wheeler, who agreed to a deal with the Phillies this week, the Rangers' attention should shift solely on third base at the moment. And externally, the match between the Rangers and Rendon makes the most sense.

The Nationals want to bring back Rendon, but they are also in on Stephen Strasburg and it's been reported that Washington does not have the funds to bring back both. The Dodgers are also in pursuit of Rendon, but already have a star at third base in Justin Turner along with an all star infield and the National League is still void of the designated hitter. 

The Rangers appear to be willing to offer premium money for Rendon and have the gaping hole at third base to place him. The big question is how many years are the Rangers willing to commit to a player who will turn 30 before the 2020 season ends. It also depends on how well the Rangers can sell Rendon on coming to Arlington and help carry the Rangers back into contention.

While negotiations for a big time free agent like Rendon can drag on, it's very possible that Rendon makes his decision in San Diego next week. The Rangers will remain in close contact with Rendon's camp, but it could affect how they deal with other issues this winter.

If the Rangers Miss on Rendon, Then What?

The logical option would be to aggressively pursue and outbid all other suitors for Josh Donaldson. 

Donaldson had a very strong comeback campaign with the Braves in 2019, winning the National League's Comeback Player of the Year. In an interview with MLB Network, Donaldson believes he can be even better in 2020. 

Donaldson's right-handed bat would serve well for the Rangers in a shorter-term solution than Rendon. He is still highly coveted on the market and has already attracted several suitors including the Rangers, Braves, Nationals, and Phillies. 

The risk for the Rangers with their pursuit of Rendon is if he takes longer than expected to make his decision, the Rangers may miss out on Donaldson. Ultimately, the Rangers want to land one or the other and surely don't want to miss out on both.

Starting Pitching

Starting pitching is still a high priority for Texas. If they can land Rendon or Donaldson shortly, the Rangers' focus will swing heavily back to addressing the rotation. Starting pitchers are falling off the market a bit quicker now, but there are still plenty of arms in all tiers of free agency. 

The Rangers were connected to Hyun-Jin Ryu earlier in the offseason, but it's unclear how interested they remain. Ryu will be highly sought after not only because of his pitching prowess, but he also is not tied to any draft-pick compensation. He was the runner-up in the National League Cy Young voting. 

Texas has already addressed one rotation spot, signing Kyle Gibson to a three-year, $28 million contract. The team officially announced the signing on Friday. 

How much money the Rangers spend on another rotation spot is dependent on if they land Rendon or Donaldson at third base. If they can lure either one of them to Arlington, much less money will be allocated to their next rotation move. If they miss out on both, they obviously will have much more money to spend. 

The Rangers' worst-case scenario if they miss out on an elite third baseman is they change their mindset for 2020 and maybe listen to offers for Mike Minor or Lance Lynn. However, there's no indication the club will do so as of now. 

The Rangers Have Money, But How Much?

With the announcement of the Kyle Gibson signing, we have the breakdown of his contract, which Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News provided on Friday. 

Here's a projected table of the Rangers' current payroll, with 39 players on the 40-man roster. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-06 at 11.46.58 AM

The highest the Rangers' payroll has ever been was just north of $163 million in 2017. With almost $128 million projected in 2020, that gives Texas about $35 million to spend. 

It's likely that it would potentially cost the Rangers about that amount of money to land Rendon, so if they have further plans to add to the roster, they'll either need to offload salary elsewhere or expand payroll where it's never been before.

As we talked about on the North Texas Nine Podcast on Thursday, the Rangers are not shy at spending money. Sure, they've never been near the luxury tax threshold, but with moving into a new ballpark, this could be an opportune time for the Rangers to spend like they've never spent before. 

The further along the winter goes, the more we'll know just how much the Rangers want to spend. 

Trade Market

The Rangers haven't been reported to be heavily aggressive in acquiring a particualr player via trade, but they surely could do so.

The Rangers have a log jam at their corner outfield spots. Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, and Shin-Soo Choo all play corner outfield spots and are left-handed hitters. 

The most likely trade candidate would be Mazara, but it would be selling low a player, which is never a good look. His upside and age are still valuable assets a potential trade partner may be intrigued by, and maybe the Rangers address a need elsewhere by swapping Mazara for a pitcher, first baseman, or center fielder. 

Choo would be another likely trade candidate, but not nearly as likely as Mazara. The Rangers would get almost nothing in return and would have to eat some of his $21 million in order to get a deal done. He'd also more than likely have to be traded within the American League so he could DH for another team, which adds to potential competition for a playoff spot. 

Gallo and Calhoun would be the least likely trade candidates, but would bring back the highest return. Calhoun proved himself in 2019 and Gallo is potentially on the verge of becoming a superstar. Both players have the most years of club control remaining out of the four corner outfielders on the Rangers. 

The Rangers aren't afraid to trade prospects, but don't expect them to sell the farm in a trade after they've spent the past three seasons stocking it back up. 

There are many ways the Rangers could go next week. The possibilities are endless, all of which could send the Rangers in many different directions next season. 

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