Rangers lacking in free-agent options

December 18, 2012

Christmas is only a week away, but the Hot Stove continues to burn:

• The Rangers could use at least one more bat after losing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli as free agents and striking out on a trade for Arizona’s Justin Upton.

Club officials, however, are not terribly enamored with any of the remaining free-agent options, according to major league sources.

The Rangers still could wind up with A.J. Pierzynski, who would be an upgrade at catcher and provide a needed left-handed bat. First baseman Adam LaRoche, first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn appear less likely targets.


LaRoche, 33, plays a position where the Rangers plan to use Mitch Moreland and/or Ian Kinsler next season. Swisher, 32, raises concerns with his outfield defense and desired length of contract, believed to be at least four years. Bourn, who turns 30 on Dec. 27, could command a larger deal than the Rangers are willing to give him.

Makeup is of particular concern to the Rangers, sources say — their team faces considerable turnover and likely will not be as talented.

The team has done background work on Pierzynski, who has a reputation for being prickly but earns the respect of his teammates by playing hard and producing.

Swisher, too, is not popular with everyone he meets, but Rangers manager Ron Washington was a coach with Oakland when Swisher played for the A’s and liked him fine, a source said.

• Don’t rule the Rangers out of the Joel Hanrahan trade derby. The Pirates continue to listen on Hanrahan, and the Rangers still want to add to their bullpen, sources said.

The Dodgers and Tigers are among the other teams that have been linked to Hanrahan, though the interest of both clubs is tempered by the closer’s contract status — Hanrahan, 31, is a year from free agency and figures to earn about $7 million in arbitration next season.

The Rangers initially will be without two right-handed relievers who are coming off Tommy John surgery — Joakim Soria, who could return in May, and Neftali Feliz, who is out until at least the end of July.

In addition to Hanrahan, the team is exploring other trade and free-agent options. Indians closer Chris Perez remains available, and the free-agent market is deep in right-handers.

Among them: Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Lyon, Matt Lindstrom, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Valverde and even Brett Myers, who would prefer to start.

• Will Hiroyuki Nakajima be adequate for the Athletics defensively? Put it this way: The A’s are much more comfortable paying Nakajima $6.5 million for two years than they would have been paying Stephen Drew $9.5 million for one.

Nakajima, 30, has average range “at best,” according to one executive, and his arm might be short on throws from the hole. But the A’s like his offensive potential — Nakajima was a career .302 hitter in Japan.

Major-league shortstops combined to bat only .257 with a .688 OPS last season. None other than Ichiro Suzuki — in a conversation with the Athletics’ Bob Melvin, his former manager in Seattle — predicted that Nakajima would hit well in the majors. The two played together in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Another thing about Nakajima: He had more lucrative offers in Japan, but he chose to play in the majors. The history of Japanese infielders in the majors, from Kaz Matsui to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, is not good. But the risk for the Athletics is low, considering Nakajima’s modest contract.

• The Marlins still need a third baseman, and virtually all of the free-agent possibilities — Kevin Youkilis, Jeff Keppinger, Ian Stewart, etc. — are off the board.

Another option for the Marlins is to pursue a top third-base prospect, and the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado, Tigers’ Nick Castellanos, Padres’ Jedd Gyorko and Rangers’ Mike Olt are among those who are close to the majors.

The Marlins infused much-needed young talent in their blockbuster with the Blue Jays, acquiring three of their top seven prospects for 2013, according to Baseball America. Still, it seems doubtful that the Fish could put together a package to land a top young third basemen.

That is, unless they were willing to move right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, which, from all indications, they are not.

• Some executives still believe that the Diamondbacks will trade Upton, even though general manager Kevin Towers has said such a move is “highly unlikely.”

One exec asks: What if Upton, 25, has a mediocre season? It would be the third time in four years that he failed to meet expectations. And at that point, his value will be diminished.

Upton will earn $9.75 million this season, but his salary will be more than $14 million in each of the final two years of his deal. Meanwhile, the industry perception is that the D-Backs are down on him, though no one is quite sure why.

In other words: The D-Backs still might be motivated to trade Upton now.

• The Red Sox, like most teams, are always looking to upgrade their bullpen. But perhaps the best reliever the Sox could add would be one of their own — right-hander Daniel Bard.

Red Sox manager John Farrell, pitching coach Juan Nieves and hitting coach Greg Colbrunn are visiting many of the team’s players this offseason. Farrell and Nieves plan to fly to Mississippi to meet with Bard in mid-January.

Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Aceves, Junichi Tazawa and Mark Melancon are Boston’s leading bullpen options from the right side. Bard, when right, might be better than all of them.

• Some Mets officials think they might have a sleeper in Venezuelan outfielder Wuilmer Becerra, the fourth player they acquired from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade.

Becerra, 18, is about the age of a typical high shool senior, and he has only 39 professional plate appearances, all in the Class A Gulf Coast League. But Paul DePodesta, the Mets’ vice president of player development and scouting, took note of Becerra in a quick look that he had during a workout at the team’s complex in the Dominican Republic in 2011.

At the time, Becerra was a shortstop. He made an impression on DePodesta with his athleticism and speed — and by how hard he played. The Blue Jays signed him and moved him to the outfield, which is where he best profiles at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds.

Although Becerra has upside, he is the baseball equivalent of a lottery ticket — the opposite of a sure thing. The Mets should know more about what they have in two years.