Shin-Soo Choo will make the Rangers even more of a threat in the AL West.
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If you want to nitpick the Texas Rangers after their seven-year, $130 million agreement with free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, you can argue that they lack right-handed power.
They’ve parted with right-handed-hitting Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz — and acquired left-handed-hitting Choo and Prince Fielder, leaving Adrian Beltre as the team’s primary right-handed threat.
It’s a different look, for sure. It’s a more expensive look, seeing as how the Rangers will pay Choo and Fielder a combined $268 million over the next seven years. It would be difficult to argue, though, that it’s a worse look.
The Rangers wanted Choo badly — a contingent of club officials, including general manager Jon Daniels, assistant GM Thad Levine and manager Ron Washington, flew to Newport Beach, Calif., before the winter meetings to meet with Choo at the offices of his agent, Scott Boras.
Choo, in turn, viewed the Rangers as his "clear first choice," according to a source familiar with his thinking. That preference would explain why he declined to pursue a potential $140 million guarantee with the Yankees; the lack of state tax in Texas makes the Rangers’ deal more lucrative, anyway.
We’ll leave those details to the accountants; the larger point, in the wake of the Choo agreement, is that the AL West is one loaded division. The Rangers probably are the most loaded club, but consider how each team has improved:
• The two-time defending division champion Oakland Athletics added left-hander Scott Kazmir, closer Jim Johnson, right-handed setup man Luke Gregerson and infielder Nick Punto while subtracting outfielder Seth Smith, lefty Brett Anderson and right-hander Bartolo Colon.
• The Los Angeles Angels added third baseman David Freese and left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, while subtracting outfielders Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos — and remain a front-runner for free-agent right-hander Matt Garza.
• The Seattle Mariners added second baseman Robinson Cano, infielder Willie Bloomquist and first basemen/outfielders Corey Hart and Logan Morrison — and remain a logical landing spot for the ex-Ranger Cruz.
• Even the Houston Astros should be more presentable after adding right-hander Scott Feldman, center fielder Dexter Fowler and relievers Chad Qualls and Matt Albers.
But goodness, the Rangers again look like the team to beat.
Yes, their seeming lack of right-handed power is a fair question, but right fielder Alex Rios slugged well against lefties the past two seasons, newly acquired outfielder Michael Choice could develop into a power source and catchers Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia should provide reasonable pop at the bottom of the order.
Overall, the Rangers’ offense should be more disciplined, full of tougher outs. Seriously, what is not to like about this lineup, particularly in the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark?
"In that park, they will crush," one rival executive said. "Fielder and Choo may not be pretty in years five to seven, but they’re really good now. (Choo) is a good fit."
Choo and the Rangers, according to a source with knowledge of the outfielder’s contract, shifted $5 million from the first year of the deal to ’16 and ’17, leaving the team with additional flexibility for the coming season.
The Rangers are still in the market for a right-handed corner player who could platoon with Moreland and perhaps spell Choo, whose career .680 OPS against lefties included a particularly anemic .612 last season.
Ideally, the Rangers also want to add more pitching depth — and yes, they now will be out on Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, if he is posted. Their rotation, though, should be formidable with righties Yu Darvish and Alexei Ogando and lefties Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. The bullpen, too, looks rather deep with righties Tanner Scheppers, Jason Frasor, Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria and lefties Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts.
One rival executive, when asked about the Rangers’ potential vulnerability against left-handed pitching, referred to the team’s three left-handed starters and said, "They have all the lefties."
It’s true: The only other established left-handed starters in the division are the Athletics’ Kazmir and Angels’ C.J. Wilson, though the Angels could mix in one of their younger lefties and the Mariners could start James Paxson.
A year ago, the Rangers lost the offseason, failing to land Justin Upton after losing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency. The perception now will be that they won the offseason, though of course nothing is guaranteed.
This much we know: While the Rangers will sacrifice the 21st pick in the 2014 draft for signing Choo, they upgraded their offense without trading any prospects. They flipped Kinsler for Fielder, the prize of the 2011-12 free-agent class. And now they’ve signed Choo, whose .389 career on-base percentage ranks ninth among active players.
Nitpick all you want. The Rangers are going to be good.