Also obvious enough. The Rangers had perhaps the worst catching situation in baseball last season when they trotted out a tandem of Jeff Mathis and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Neither hit, and while Mathis provided value defensively, Kiner-Falefa was so overmatched behind the dish that the convert project is no longer viewed as a legitimate option at catcher.
1. Third baseman
If the Rangers are serious about improving their roster wholesale, then they might as well give Guzman some competition — there’s no such thing as a halfway crook, and there’s no reason for half-measures when marginal improvements can help the team close in on a playoff spot.
In trading DeShields and Nomar Mazara, the Rangers have rid themselves of the players who played the most and second-most outfield innings for them last season. In turn, that means the Rangers employ only four players who had more than 50 appearances in the outfield in 2019: Shin-Soo Choo (who is a DH at this point), Willie Calhoun (also a DH), Joey Gallo, and Danny Santana — the current favorite to start in center field.
Should the Rangers want a Plan B — or, heck, a new Plan A — then Justin Smoak would make a lot of sense. Minding the strike zone and hitting the ball hard are two fundamental ways a batter can succeed. Smoak did them both last season, and could well be an above-average hitter again if he can keep it up during his age-33 campaign. Alternatively, the Rangers could add an insurance policy in the form of C.J. Cron, Ryon Healy (C.J. Cron Lite), or Wilmer Flores — since they don’t already have enough infielders with questionable defensive aptitudes.
On Sunday, the Texas Rangers acquired two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber from Cleveland in exchange for reliever Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. Kluber is the third (and certainly the most high-profile) starter added by the Rangers this winter, joining free-agent signings Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. Together, the Rangers hope the trio can improve what was one of the worst rotations in baseball — a group that ranked near the bottom in ERA despite employing two down-ballot Cy Young candidates in Lance Lynn and Mike Minor.
Even if the Rangers opt against upgrading, they have an obvious need to add a right-handed outfielder with some defensive chops — after all, three of the aforementioned four are lefty hitters, and two are obvious defensive minuses. Luckily for Daniels and company, there are a number of those available on the open market, beginning with Kevin Pillar, who would presumably want more playing time, and extending to Guillermo Heredia and Juan Lagares.
Trade-wise, the most obvious candidate is Austin Hedges of the San Diego Padres, who seems perpetually on the block. Otherwise? Maybe the Rangers could convince the Chicago White Sox to part with James McCann; or the Los Angeles Dodgers to deal Austin Barnes; or so on. Barring some surprise move, there just isn’t a J.T. Realmuto type to be had.
This is where we get into the luxury portion of the to-do list. The Rangers have Ronald Guzman at the cold corner, and could justifiably give him another look despite an underwhelming start to his career — he’s hit .229/.307/.415 (85 OPS+) in 723 plate appearances the past two years. Obvious enough, right? The Rangers came up short in their pursuit of Anthony Rendon (who signed with the Los Angeles Angels instead), and are out on Josh Donaldson. There isn’t a ton remaining on the free-agent market otherwise — Maikel Franco or Matt Duffy, anyone? — so the Rangers seem likely to fill their hot-corner vacancy via trade.
The top name on everyone’s mind is Kris Bryant, though his unresolved grievance with the Chicago Cubs over service-time manipulation makes it tough to envision a deal going down soon. Would Cleveland be willing to trade Jose Ramirez? Would the Rangers be willing to take on Nolan Arenado’s contract? What about Kyle Seager’s? Depending on the answers to those questions, the Rangers could have a number of options available to them on that front.
4. First Base
The Rangers might opt to aim higher — Marcell Ozuna and the other top outfield options are still available — but this should be a relatively easy box to check.
But while Kluber, Gibson, and Lyles form a nice start to the offseason, they can’t (and presumably won’t) mark the end of Jon Daniels’ winter. Rather, Daniels has more work to do between now and March, presuming he wants to open his new ballpark in style. What and whom might that entail? Let’s take a look at four other things the Rangers need, in order of importance. Alternatively, Texas could trade for a relatively blocked, short-term fit with the hope that one of their third-base prospects — be it Josh Jung, Sherten Apostel, or Davis Wendzel — makes it up the organizational ladder quickly. That could mean someone like Colin Moran, Kelvin Gutierrez, or Sheldon Neuse, to throw out some plausible names. If the Rangers are looking for impact — and, frankly, some sizzle — then they’re more likely to shop from the paragraph before this one.