Rangers' window of contention
A look at when each team is best suited to contend
Updated: January 20, 2013, 10:37 AM ET
By Jason Martinez
"Elvis Andrus might be the best shortstop in the AL, but not the best in his own organization."
When most people evaluate offseason moves, they focus mainly on the year ahead.
But with the hot stove season winding down, let's forget about the 2013 season for a second and think about the future.
This week, we're taking a look at every major league team to determine its optimal year for contention over the next five years.
This doesn't mean this is the only year that the team can contend, but rather which year should provide it the best chance for a World Series title.
To determine this, we looked at current talent, age of roster, farm system and payroll, as well as free agents who figure to be available and could help the team reach its goal.
And if youre team isn't ready for a ring in 2013?
Well, there is always next year. (Or the year after that.)
Optimal year of contention: 2014
Things have been rough in Texas since the Rangers were swept by the A's on the last three days of the regular season to lose out on their third consecutive AL West title. They followed with a loss in the wild-card game against the Orioles. The offseason hasn't been much better. Losing Josh Hamilton was hard enough, but he bolted for the division rival Angels. They were also outbid by the Dodgers for free agent starter Zack Greinke. Fortunately for them, they still have enough talent on their 25-man roster to compete in the AL West and a farm system that's loaded with high-level prospects.
David Murphy, OF (eligible for free agency after 2013): It took Murphy a while to crack the everyday lineup, but he didn't disappoint once he did. The 31-year-old hit .304 with 15 homers last year, and amazingly consistent with an .865 OPS in the first half of the season and an .854 OPS in the second half. A similar season in 2013 could earn him a deal in the neighborhood of three years and at least $30 million in free agency. The Rangers could keep him off the market if they offer him that now.
TEX payroll outlook
An estimate of guaranteed salary (GS) over the next five seasons (as of 1/17/13), with the number of arbitration-eligible players in parentheses.
2013 $100M (2)
2014 $71M (4)
*Source: Cot's Contracts
Alexi Ogando, RHP (2016): The top three pitchers in the rotation are all signed to long-term deals. Ogando could be next in line if his move to the rotation proves to be successful. He won't be eligible for free agency until he's 33 years old so he won't cost nearly as much as Matt Harrison (five years, $55 million) or Derek Holland (five years, $28.5M).
For the first time in six seasons, the Rangers will not have Josh Hamilton hitting in the middle of their lineup. In his place will be veteran Lance Berkman, who will be 37 next month and missed most of 2012 with a knee injury. Sure, he can hit. But can he stay on the field? The Rangers will utilize him as their regular designated hitter in the hope that he can stay healthy for an entire season.
The bullpen also has to be a major concern. Mike Adams and Koji Uehara departed via free agency. Ogando is moving to the rotation. Swingman Scott Feldman signed with the Cubs and Mark Lowe is also a free agent. That's five pitchers who played important roles out of the bullpen in 2012. They've brought in veteran Jason Frasor to fill one hole and former Royals closer Joakim Soria, who is expected to miss the start of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Potential free-agent targets
It's probably a good time to find out if Leonys Martin, who signed a five-year major league contract in May 2011 after defecting from Cuba, can be an everyday center fielder in the big leagues. But then again, Michael Bourn is still looking for a team and it has to be tempting for the Rangers to add him to the top of their lineup. If they stick with Martin and he fails to produce, they could be looking to fill three outfield spots next winter with Murphy and Nelson Cruz set to become free agents. Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, and Hunter Pence are just a few of the outfielders who could be available after the season.
They probably could've had Justin Upton this offseason if they were willing to part with shortstops Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, but they resisted the temptation. At least for now. As Profar gains more experience and Andrus gets closer to free agency -- he's signed through the 2014 season -- the Rangers could be more willing to deal the 24-year-old Andrus in order to fill a need on the roster.
Waiting in the wings
After agreeing to a potential move to first base that would've opened the starting second base job for Profar, Ian Kinsler changed his mind and decided that he wasn't ready for that move just yet. So the 19-year-old Profar, considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball, is likely headed for Triple-A to start the season. He'll be joined by Mike Olt, a power-hitting third base prospect who the Rangers would rather have playing everyday than in a part-time role on the major league team. The 24-year-old, who had 28 homers in 95 Double-A games last season, might have a clearer path to Texas if he moves to the outfield, although there are plenty of teams around the league who would love to have him as their starting third baseman.
Future regulars (ETA in parentheses): Jorge Alfaro, C (2016); Joey Gallo, 3B (2016); Mike Olt, 3B (2013); Jurickson Profar, SS (2013); Luis Sardinas, SS (2015); Cody Buckel, RHP (2014); Martin Perez, LHP (2013)