Rangers must make splash in free agency

The Rangers need to change the conversation, and I’m not talking about manager Ron Washington’s earthy speech to his players before Game 7 of the World Series.

No, I’m talking about spring training, when the team will want to move past its crushing Series defeat. I’m talking about finding a new direction, a new energy, a new raison d’etre.

I’m talking about doing something big — something so big, the players will regain their swagger and re-emerge as one of the favorites in the American League.

I’m talking about Prince Fielder.

And I’m not stopping there.

I’m talking about Mark Buehrle, who would replace C.J. Wilson in the rotation and provide veteran grit. And I’m talking about a closer — Heath Bell? Joe Nathan? Jonathan Broxton? — whose arrival would enable Neftali Feliz to become a starter once and for all.

Obviously, I’m talking about a lot of money — the price for Fielder alone might be beyond the Rangers’ tolerance level.

But hey, you get the idea.

The Rangers likely would be favored to win their third straight AL West title even if they did nothing this offseason. Still, if ever a championship-caliber team needed a fresh start, it’s this one.

That’s not to say the Rangers should make a series of emotional decisions; general manager Jon Daniels is too smart to do that. But Daniels, who skillfully retooled the club following the loss in the 2010 World Series, needs to get busy again.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli were the perfect antidotes for post-Cliff Lee traumatic syndrome last winter — not just talented players, but fierce competitors who were as desperate as the rest of their new teammates were to win.

Fielder, 27, is the same type, playing hard, playing with tremendous passion. He would be a major offensive upgrade over the Rangers’ primary first baseman, Mitch Moreland. And, as a left-handed hitter, he would fit better than Albert Pujols, the other big free agent at first.

The Rangers’ top lefty bat, Josh Hamilton, is a free agent after next season, and might be too big of a risk to sign long-term, given his frequent injuries and past struggles off the field. The mere presence of Fielder would give the team leverage against Hamilton in contract negotiations.

The time is now to sign a big hitter; as I’ve written previously, the next several free-agent classes are practically devoid of sluggers like Fielder and Pujols, and power is in increasingly short supply in the minor leagues.

I’m not saying the Rangers should go nuts and sign Fielder to, say, a nine-year, $225 million contract. But they negotiated a seemingly reasonable five-year, $80 million deal for Beltre with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras. And while Fielder will cost at least twice as much, the Rangers’ reported 20-year, $1.6 billion deal with FOX Sports Southwest starts in 2015, spinning off $80 million a year.

Of course, the Rangers’ recent success stems in large part from their commitment to pitching. They would be foolish to go back to the days when many of their games were slugfests.

The move of Feliz to the rotation appears to be fait accompli. The Rangers, then, seemingly would be set with a rotation of right-handers Feliz, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis, and lefties Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.

How would Buehrle fit?

Better question: How often do you see a team go through an entire season with just five starters? Ogando wore down in his first season in the rotation; Feliz would figure to do the same.

Lewis, 32, is a free agent after next season, and just four months younger than Buerhle. I’m not suggesting the Rangers kick Lewis to the curb; he has played a major role in their back-to-back AL titles. But Buehrle makes so much sense.

Buehrle (13-9, 3.59) has produced 11 straight 200-inning seasons and proven he can succeed in a hitter-friendly park, US Cellular Field. His quick pace also would benefit the Rangers, helping their defense get off the field in the Texas heat.

However, the Rangers might place a greater priority on finding a closer to replace Feliz. Daniels probably won’t want to play at the top of the market, especially with the Phillies reportedly close to re-signing Ryan Madson to a four-year, $44 million contract. Nathan or Broxton would be less expensive. The Rangers also could move righty Mike Adams into the role and load up on affordable setup types.

Fielder, Buehrle and a closer — I know, it’s probably too much to ask. But those are the kind of moves that would ease the sting of twice being one strike from winning the World Series, the kind of moves that could fuel a third straight Series appearance.

See how easy it was to change the conversation?

Now it’s the Rangers’ turn.