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February 7, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Thursday, February 7

by Daniel Rathman

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The Rangers fell short in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, watched Josh Hamilton join their division rivals in Anaheim, failed to land any of the big-name center fielders, and decided not to meet the Diamondbacks’ lofty asking price for Justin Upton. Yet, despite adding only a handful of lower-tier free agents—Lance Berkman, A.J. Pierzynski, Joakim Soria—to his now-Hamilton-less roster, general manager Jon Daniels is content with the players who will soon report to the team’s camp in Surprise, Arizona.

Rangers could use top prospects at unfamiliar positions
According to Jeff Wilson, a beat writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Daniels is determined to maximize the contributions of the hitters who are already under his team’s control, even if that means using some of his most talented young bats at positions that they have seldom (if ever) played before. Mike Olt in right field? Jurickson Profar in center? To both of those scenarios, Daniels says, “Why not?”

Daniels told Wilson earlier this week that he reached out to Olt and Profar, as well as some of his other prospects, and preached the value of being “a baseball player,” as opposed to merely “a first baseman” or “a shortstop.” The Rangers’ farm system is churning out an enviable array of position-player talent, and Daniels, after balking at the trade-market price tags, hopes to find a way for all of them to fit into the 2013 mix. Gleaning from Kevin Goldstein’s 2012 list of the Rangers’ top prospects, Profar’s “above-average speed” and broad base of skills might enable him to transition, if only briefly, to the outfield, and Olt’s power/arm tool tandem might have made him a right fielder from the start, were he not also an “outstanding defensive third baseman.” Their ability to handle other positions in Surprise could directly impact the frequency with which they see the field in Arlington later this year.

Right field, in particular, could be a position of interest, because the incumbent, Nelson Cruz, was among the players on the client list of Biogenesis, the Miami-area clinic now suspected of having delivered performance-enhancing drugs to at least several major leaguers. Cruz’s representatives “denied” the allegations, and since the 32-year-old did not test positive for any banned substances, he is more likely than not to escape punishment from the league. After letting Hamilton jump to one of their primary competitors in the American League West, though, the Rangers would do well to craft a backup plan that would help them to endure 50 games sans Cruz.

A second notable element here is Profar’s recent flip-flop about playing for the Netherlands in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. First, he was in. Then, he was out. Now, he’s unsure—and it is entirely possible that Daniels’ recent comments, which both posed a new challenge for the soon-to-be 20-year-old and gave him a better chance to open his age-20 season with the big club, are at the core of Profar’s indecision. The Netherlands squad has another promising shortstop, the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons, so Profar could demonstrate his versatility for Daniels while playing in the tournament. Then again, he would probably be better off competing directly with the likes of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin, in front of the coaches who will decide his Opening Day fate.

Regardless of Profar’s decision, the Rangers will be one of the most intriguing teams to follow in Cactus League action next month. Although Ian Kinsler, the subject of position-change rumors earlier this offseason, now appears entrenched at the keystone for the upcoming year, a few of his teammates have taken his place on Daniels’ chessboard. Most fans, at least based on a MLB Trade Rumors poll, believe that the seventh-year GM lost the winter; he could eventually stifle that perception by winning the spring.

Mets “hopeful” of eventually signing Michael Bourn
Over in Queens, general manager Sandy Alderson has been much more active than his counterpart in Arlington, and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweeted on Wednesday that if he has his way, the biggest splash is yet to come. Bourn’s status as a compensated free agent remains a significant impediment—and we don’t know if the Mets have made any headway toward convincing the league to protect the 11th overall pick, in light of the Pirates’ failed negotiations with Mark Appel—but Alderson is reportedly becoming more flexible, should Bud Selig decide to reduce the cost of signing Bourn to a second-rounder.

New York Post columnist Joel Sherman wrote yesterday that the Mets would consider tendering a four-year proposal to the 30-year-old Bourn—still short of the five-year, $75 million demand that Scott Boras put forward earlier this offseason, but at least in the neighborhood of the commitments secured by his fellow free agents, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino. The trouble, though, is that the sides are “in a game of chicken” when it comes to the process of clearing the draft-pick hurdle. As Sherman explained, if the first-round pick becomes protected, then Boras would gain the upper hand in negotiations, because of pressure from the fan base to get a deal done. Conversely, if Boras were to agree to hammer out the details before the penalty is waived, then he would enter the negotiations with far less leverage, while knowing that, if he were to wait until after the draft, his bargaining position would improve.

At this point, all we can do is wait—and we might be waiting for a while. Assuming that it is accurate, Sherman’s report of a contingent four-year offer is significant, because of the logic recently outlined by Joe Janish at Mets Today. The Mets are not likely to contend with the senior circuit’s best clubs in 2013, so their interest in Bourn represents a long-term investment. That, in turn, suggests that he would be roughly as attractive to Alderson after the draft as he is today. And, if that’s the case, then Boras, with a long-term pact in his back pocket, can confidently reject all overtures from bargain-hunting teams (like the Indians). Hence, unless there is another suitor waiting in the weeds, the game of chicken that Sherman described seems primed to drag on for up to four more months. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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