Which one? - J. Meric
Where do the Rangers go to replace Josh Hamilton if the star takes his talents elsewhere?
Before we get too much deeper in to the hot stove season, let us quickly make one important point: the Rangers have holes, but not in the normal sense of the word.
The Texas baseball team, as it stands right this moment, is a good Major League squad, and arguably already the best in their division. They do not have glaring problems with the roster keeping them from looking contentious.
What they do have are areas of relative weakness that present an opportunity to make a good squad once again among the best in the league. This is not a doom scenario if those "holes" aren't addressed, but it would be very nice to see Jon Daniels and company do something with them. Like, say, bringing in Zack Greinke.
Perhaps chief among the questionable spots is centerfield. With Josh Hamilton most likely gone (you should have already accepted, if not embraced, this), David Murphy likely begins the year as an every day player. Hamilton was not an ideal centerfielder, but with Murphy and Nelson Cruz, he was the only every-day Ranger suited for the position, and his loss means Texas needs to find the best person they can get to fill the spot in 2013.
There are more than a few options, and while none are necessarily good bets to completely replace the 4.5 wins above replacement (FanGraphs) Hamilton has put up in Texas, they are not awful last resorts, either.
This portion was going to look very different before this writing was delayed! With Torii Hunter's signing by the Tigers, one centerfield option often linked with Texas is now off the market. While Hunter would have represented a nice player to get, not necessarily for the $26 million Detroit is giving him. Further, he has not, by any measure, looked like a quality centerfielder in a long time. If Texas had no interest in playing him there, then the position still would have been an issue with his signing. If they did, then it may have made fly balls extremely frustrating.
Probably the best center field option on the market is B.J. Upton. Though a man maligned for his perceived lack of effort, even by his own fans, you should still have some interest in him. Upton has not turned in to the mega star he was expected to become, but has still spent nearly his entire career at or above an All-Star level.
Upton would represent a passable fielder in center, thanks largely to a cannon for an arm. At the plate, 2012 was the first season where he failed to walk more at an above-average rate, allowing his always-high strikeout totals to damage his offensive output. With blistering power and good base running skills to go with those walks, he has put up a 107 career wRC+. Not incredible, but good for a legitimate centerfielder.
Above, Hamilton is mentioned as a 4.5 win player for the Rangers in his career, and Upton is the most likely free agent to hit that total. He has already done so once, falling just short in two other seasons, and is heading in to his age 28 season. If the reports of lackadaisical play are true, he might even be a good change of scenery candidate.
The problem, as with all free agents, is the price tag. Jon Heyman suggests Upton may cost "even more" than five years, $60 million. 5/60 wouldn't be unreasonable -- going only through his age 32 season, and being less than he has been worth most of his career -- but it is pushing it. Should it be "even more," then you might rather look elsewhere.
There is some elsewhere available in free agency, with names like Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, but you are likely looking at spending even more money. Which brings us to another member of the family.
Discussing trade targets is tough because you often don't know someone is on the market until they're dealt. We do, however, know the Diamondbacks want to deal B.J.'s even more talented younger brother Justin.
The Rangers have been linked heavily to Upton because they have the talent to get him, and the place to stash him. They were recently reported to have tried to turn Mike Olt in to Braves prospect Andrelton Simmons, in order to send Simmons over to Arizona for Upton.
It seems, understandably, the Diamondbacks what a shortstop, and the Rangers have shortstops. They just have to be willing to part with Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, a difficult decision we have already addressed.
Whether or not Upton would represent any improvement over Andrus is part of the question. 2011 Upton would have been an improvement, and 2012 Upton would have been a loss. Upton is further due another $38.5 million, and only through his age 27 season; another $27 million for only an extra year of control over a player who might not even make you better. It is understandable the Rangers are balking at the trade demands.
Should anything ever be worked out, though, Upton would represent potential for great excitement. Obviously, should you be losing Andrus, you already have a Profar waiting in the wings while there is no Profar for the outfield. While Upton has not proven to be a reliable improvement over Andrus, he has a ceiling Andrus cannot touch, and has already hit it. Like his brother, he combines patience, power, and base running in to a tremendous offensive package for a centerfielder (116 wRC+), but puts those together with more than just adequate fielding chops.
The problem, again, is the demands in talent. Getting an Upton will cost something, prospects, money, or both. If nothing can be worked out, though, there are always internal options.
The Rangers already have some potential centerfield suitors in their own organization.
Texas gave Cuban Leonys Martin $15.5 million to be their centerfielder of the future. Martin has absolutely destroyed the minor leagues, with tremendous defense and discipline, along with 18 doubles and 12 homers in 2012 AAA. He has not yet put it together in the Majors, but he he has also only played 99 games, and is not yet 25.
Beginning the Martin era now would allow the Rangers to spend more money on the rotation, bullpen, catcher, and 1B/DH situations, while not costing them a single prospect. Steamer projected Martin as a just-below-average hitter in 2012, and nothing that happened in the season should probably have changed that. Unlike the Uptons, we are obviously not talking about the potential of replacing Hamilton's production right away, but we are also allowing for much more flexibility now and the future, financially and prospectially (which is now a word).
You can likely get an even better centerfielder out of two people, rather than one, however. In his age 28 season, Craig Gentry put up a solid 105 wRC+, along with his typical otherworldly defense for a break-out season. While the .364 Batting Average on Balls In Play, and previous lack of star production, suggest it was an outlier season, there is a big gray area between what he did and a useless baseball player. Even better, as a righty, Gentry compliments the lefty Martin perfectly.
Gentry has a career .336 weighted On Base Average against left-handed pitching. Steamer projected a .304 wOBA for Martin, which, with an average platoon split, would forecast to be about a .317 rate against righties. A 200/400 PA platoon out of two players with that hitting profile (after park adjustment), with the plussy-plus defense both have, looks like a 3-3.5 win player. Potentially more if Martin is able to produce right away, though less if Gentry can't meet his career totals.
This, again, is not completely replacing Josh Hamilton, but it is getting most of the way there without spending a single cent or prospect.
Getting an Upton would be fantastic for the right deal -- there is no use is saving up money or prospects to not even use them, obviously -- but even without one, the Rangers may well be fine in centerfield in 2013.