HOT STOVE KICK OFF

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Hot Stove League has kicked off over the past week. Most teams, including the Rangers, have filled their manager, general manager and coaching positions. The deadline for making qualifying offers passed last Friday. The deadline for those to be accepted is this Friday. There has already been a significant trade that involved six players. The General Manager meetings opened this week in Boca Raton, Florida. In other words, the off season is well under way for baseball fans.

The Rangers offered a qualifying offer to Yovani Gallardo. Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels said after the deadline that the team never really considered not extending the offer. It is likely that Gallardo will reject the offer (one year at $15.8 million). This is the fourth year of the current system, and over the first three, no player given a qualifying offer has accepted it. Gallardo is a second or third tier pitcher in this year’s free agent class, but he should be able to attract a multi-year offer for more than $20 million guaranteed at a minimum. There are even predictions of a deal in the neighborhood of four years for $56 million.

This is regarded as an exceptionally good free agent class. David Price and Zack Greinke are the leading starting pitchers available. Price is expected to land a $200 million plus contract. The Cubs are a likely landing spot, which makes sense. The Cubs have money and the desire for a high end starting pitcher. They are managed by Joe Maddon, who was Price’s manager when he played in Tampa Bay. The Dodgers are certainly strong players to re-sign Greinke, but there is speculation that the Giants will show strong interest too. From their viewpoint, signing Greinke has a two fold benefit. Not only do they reel in a top starting pitcher for their rotation, but they weaken the Dodgers.

One indication of the strength of the free agent class is the qualifying offers. In the first three years of the system, a TOTAL of 34 players were given qualifying offers. This year’s total is 20.

The Rangers still say they are looking to add at least one starting pitcher, but they are not players for the upper end of the free agent market. They have four rotation spots set at this point with Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. However, the speculation is that Darvish may not be ready until late May or even June, so the Rangers could well be looking for two starting pitchers. They have a host of internal candidates: Alex Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Nick Tepesch, Anthony Ranaudo, and Phil Klein, but expect to acquire at least one significant pitcher through trade or free agency.

Daniels has also indicated that other priorities are another quality reliever and a right-handed bat. Bringing Mike Napoli back would add a right-handed power bat, but he would join Mitch Moreland and Prince Fielder as primarily first base/DH types. It leads to speculation that Fielder, Moreland or Sin-Shoo Choo could get moved this winter to make room for the needed right-handed bat.

There are not likely to be much in the way of trades this week. The GM meetings are usually where the groundwork is laid for trades that happen over the final six weeks of the year.

OTHER RANGER NOTES:

* Texas filled out the coaching staff by adding Doug Brocail (pitching coach), Brad Holman (bullpen coach), Anthony Iapoce (hitting coach), Justin Mashore (assistant hitting coach) and Bobby Jones (video coordinator). Jones had previously been assistant hitting coach and will continue to have on-field duties prior to games. The pitching coach position surprisingly opened up when the Rangers changed their mind on Mike Maddux. Maddux didn’t immediately agree to the two year offer the Rangers extended, and when he wanted to re-engage contract talks a few days later, Daniels had decided to go another direction. It was certainly surprising that the Rangers effectively canned Maddux. He’s recognized as one of the top pitching coaches in the game, and the performance of Ranger pitchers since his arrival in 2009 has proved that out. Maddux was quickly signed to be the Washington National’s pitching coach at a salary that makes him the highest paid pitching coach in the game.

* Prince Fielder won the Players’ Choice Award as the American League Comeback Player of the Year on Monday night. Fielder, who was also named as the club’s 2015 MVP by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, hit .306 with 23 home runs and 98 RBIs. It was the third A. L. Comeback Player of the Year Award for Fielder, who had earlier been given the award by MLB and The Sporting News.

* The Rangers announced Tuesday that Shawn Tolleson has been named the Rangers’ 2015 Pitcher of the Year. It’s the first time that a reliever has won the award since 2007.

* Jurickson Profar is resurrecting his career in the Arizona Fall League. He had two singles and two walks in five plate appearances in the AFL All-Star game. The middle infielder was once considered to be the top prospect in minor league baseball, but has missed the last two seasons with a torn muscle in his right (throwing) shoulder and is still not throwing yet. He was exclusively a designated hitter in the AFL. He wanted to move on to winter ball in a Latin American country, but the Rangers don’t want to put the strain on his shoulder yet. At this point, he looks blocked at the Major League level with Elvis Andrus at short and Rougned Odor at second base. Profar would logically need the better part of at least one minor league season to get back to Major League readiness. By that time, the Ranger situation may have changed, but in any event, teams are already showing interest in Profar.

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