Buster Olney: Texas Rangers

DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Jurickson ProfarJoe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsJurickson Profar is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks due to a muscle tear in his right shoulder.
The New York Yankees’ camp opened in 2013 with Derek Jeter still hobbling, despite a doctor’s projection that he would be ready to go at the start of the season, and Alex Rodriguez was sidelined, as well. Day by day, the team’s casualty list grew: Curtis Granderson got hurt, and so did Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis.

The Yankees’ front office scrambled to fill the spots in the last days of spring training, adding Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and others. Joe Girardi handled the adversity well, setting a strong tone for his players, who spent all summer maxing out in preparation and effort.

But in the end, the Yankees were overwhelmed by the impact of their injuries. There was nothing they could do to change the reality that losing their first baseman, shortstop, third baseman and left fielder -- as well as catcher Russell Martin, who had signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates -- crushed their production. The Yankees hadn’t finished out of the top 10 in runs scored since 1991, and last summer 15 teams scored more runs than they did. The club won 85 games, surprisingly, but failed to make the playoffs.

It’s as if a curse that hung over the Yankees’ camp last spring has now been attached to the Texas Rangers, given everything that has gone wrong in Surprise, Ariz., where the team trains. The day after the Rangers announced that second baseman Jurickson Profar will miss 10 to 12 weeks, they revealed that catcher Geovany Soto will also be gone 10 to 12 weeks -- following a wave of other injuries.

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Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo JimenezGetty ImagesErvin Santana, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez -- members of "The Draft Pick Five" -- still wait.
TAMPA, Fla. -- An AL executive drew an analogy the other day between the situation facing "The Draft Pick Five" free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- and the sale of a house.

“If the price on the house is set and it just sits there and nobody's buying at that price,” the executive said, “isn’t there a time when the reality of the market sets in and the price comes down?”

Players are reporting to spring training all over the baseball landscape, and those five players -- five veterans tied to draft-pick compensation -- remain unsigned, fueling the most-asked question in the industry these days: Where will those players land

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Top 10 teams in the majors 

December, 31, 2013
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Miguel CabreraMark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesWith Miguel Cabrera no longer out of position, the Tigers should be even better in 2014.
As 2013 becomes 2014, here's a look at the top 10 teams in MLB.

1. Detroit Tigers

Some of the teams that employ advanced metrics determined at the end of the last regular season that the Tigers were the best team in the American League -- by far. This, in spite of a bullpen that repeatedly went through changes at closer, and in spite of what was widely regarded as the worst defense in the majors. The Tigers won the AL Central for the third straight year, and again they couldn't win the World Series, losing to Boston in the ALCS. And since the end of the season, Detroit GM David Dombrowski has gone about the business of plugging the holes.

He allowed Jhonny Peralta to depart, cementing Jose Iglesias' spot at shortstop.

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Top 10 defenses in the majors 

December, 29, 2013
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Manny MachadoMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesBaltimore's Manny Machado earned the American League Platinum Glove Award last season.
There probably has been more focus on evaluating and maximizing defensive efficiency than any other part of baseball in the last five years. If we're looking for explanations about why offensive production has been declining, increased defensive production might be responsible.

In Part IV of our series, we look at the top 10 defenses in Major League Baseball.

1. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles posted pictures of their Gold Glove winners in their spring training facility, and with good reason: Buck Showalter’s club has continued the organizational tradition -- fostered by the likes of Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken Jr. and others -- of strong defense. The best of the group is third baseman Manny Machado (“The best at his position, and it’s not close,” said one evaluator), although we don’t know what condition he'll be in during his first months back on the field since having knee surgery.

They have Gold Glove defenders at shortstop (J.J. Hardy), center field (Adam Jones) and at catcher (Matt Wieters). Right fielder Nick Markakis and first baseman Chris Davis are solid defenders, and newcomer David Lough posted one of the best UZR/150 ratings among outfielders with at least 650 innings last season.

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Top 10 lineups in the majors 

December, 26, 2013
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Adrian BeltreJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAdrian Beltre will be joined by a couple of All-Stars in the Texas lineup.
Kendrys Morales is still looking for work, and so is Nelson Cruz. But with almost all of the best hitters in place, we present the first in a series of our annual top-10 team rankings: the best lineups.

As one executive noted: "When you start looking at the projected lineups for 2014, there are not many dominant lineups. Most clubs have a couple of spots that have young players, or players returning from injuries. So almost all have a couple of questions."

Absolutely true. Here is how I rank the top 10 lineups.

1. Texas Rangers

The Rangers’ front office saw the flaws in the team's batting order, the lack of left-handed power, and have aggressively reached for repairs. But it’s not as if the Texas offense was a black hole in 2013: The Rangers finished eighth out of 30 teams in runs, and now they’ve added two left-handed hitters who ranked among the top 30 in the majors in on-base percentage, in Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.

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Robinson CanoAP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Mariners' deal with Robinson Cano was another sign of the AL's money shift.
It's hard to say when the first real sign of escalation in the American League West appeared. Maybe it was the Mariners' trade for Cliff Lee in December 2009, a swift and aggressive deal made before any of the AL East powers knew that Lee was actually available. Or maybe it was the Rangers' deal for Lee the next summer, when Texas outmaneuvered the Yankees to get a left-hander who propelled them to the World Series for the first time.

Or perhaps it was the Angels' signing of Albert Pujols at the winter meetings in 2011, the first ripple felt in baseball from the new wave of lucrative local television deals that were being signed by some clubs.

Regardless of how it started, what we have continued to see is something of a shift in the American League, like weight being moved from one side of the scale to the other.

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Masahiro TanakaThe Yomiuri Shimbun/AP ImagesIf Masahiro Tanaka is not posted, it will screw up the offseason plans for a number of clubs.
Reports out of Japan this morning (per The New York Times) are that Rakuten won't let Masahiro Tanaka come to the U.S. It's hard to say whether that's a final decision or part of negotiations as the team's ownership looks to extract more dollars out of the situation.

But in the eyes of some rival evaluators, it would be a body blow to the Yankees if Tanaka doesn't become available because of what they have and what they need.

As one National League official noted, the Yankees have improved their lineup even in a winter in which they lost Robinson Cano because of the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Their pitching, however ...

"That's not pitching you can win with," said the official, noting the current state of the Yankees staff.

As it stands, the New York rotation would look like this:

CC Sabathia, the 33-year-old left-hander who posted a 4.78 ERA in 32 starts in 2013, easily the worst statistical season of his career.

Hiroki Kuroda, who turns 39 in February; he was excellent in the first four months of last season before running out of gas in August and September.

Ivan Nova. He figured some stuff out during the season, posting a 3.10 ERA in 23 games.

David Phelps. He was limited by injury to 22 games, and in those, he had a 4.98 ERA.

Michael Pineda. He is a complete wild card at this point for the Yankees in an offseason he will turn 25.

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Cano's 3 likeliest non-Yankee suitors 

November, 27, 2013
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As the Robinson Cano stalemate continues, it's a good time to play the same game that folks in the Yankees' organization are playing.

It's called: If Not Us, Then Who?

Meaning: Who could possibly afford to sign Cano in the same sort of range that Albert Pujols got two winters ago, $240 million over 10 years? The Yankees offered around $160 million in May, the Cano camp asked for a record-setting deal of more than $300 million, and despite recent talks, a massive gap of about $100 million between the two sides probably still exists.

The Yankees ask: If Not Us, Then Who?

In order to go through this exercise, you must suspend any thoughts of team-building logic, because they really don't apply. It's been demonstrated time and again -- through the Yankees' A-Rod deal, through Pujols' contract, and others -- that giving a player in his prime a deal of eight or more years is probably not going to pay off.

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Prince Fielder was introduced as the Rangers' No. 84, less than a week after Texas and the Tigers aggressively worked through the details of their blockbuster trade of a 29-year-old slugger who will probably mash his 300th career homer sometime next summer.

Rival executives find that making deals with Rangers GM Jon Daniels is usually a drawn out, sometimes excruciating process, and it was striking to some of his peers to hear that the negotiations took about 29 hours. Last Tuesday, Dave Dombrowski called Daniels to ask if he'd be interested in a trade for Fielder, and by Wednesday evening, the deal was done, with Ian Kinsler landing in Detroit.

But really, Daniels and the other Rangers evaluators had been preparing for that trade since early in the 2013 season, as they watched the games play out and Texas' need for power -- especially left-handed power -- became more and more apparent, in the wake of the departure of Josh Hamilton.

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Here are the biggest winners of the Detroit Tigers-Texas Rangers blockbuster, and the biggest losers:

Winners

1. Detroit Tigers: General manager David Dombrowski described to reporters how quickly this deal came together in a little over 24 hours, and you can understand the scramble by Detroit to finish this. In the Tigers’ front office, there must have been a rush of adrenaline similar to what the Red Sox experienced when they were able to unload the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When teams sign megadeals like the nine-year, $214 million contract that Prince Fielder got in January 2012, executives will privately tell you that their reasonable hope is for a few good years of elite production before the gradual decline begins and the final years of the deal turn ugly.

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10 biggest holes on contenders 

November, 13, 2013
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A year ago, Marlon Byrd was coming off a season in which he had been suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and was limited to just 47 games, and he eventually settled for a make-good minor league deal with the New York Mets.

Now he's 36 years old and getting a $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which speaks to the level of desperation in play for teams wanting to get better, needing to get better.

As baseball executives meet in Orlando this week for the GM meetings, these are the 10 biggest holes that have to be filled among would-be contenders:

1. Texas Rangers: middle-of-the-order bats

Josh Hamilton walked away a year ago, Nelson Cruz is prepared to walk away now, and the Rangers -- who have historically posted top-notch, productive lineups in the way Duke has had good basketball teams -- have a problem. With Cruz, they clubbed 176 homers last season, and without him, they will lack thump.

This is why Brian McCann could make sense for them, or Carlos Beltran, or both. This is why they could be the best match for the Dodgers for an outfielder trade. This is why rival executives believe that if and when Giancarlo Stanton is traded, the Rangers will be at the front of the line and sticking their elbows out.

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'Victims' of the qualifying offer 

November, 5, 2013
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Nelson CruzThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsNelson Cruz's power is rare in today's game, but the qualifying offer could scare clubs off.
There are always unexpected consequences with each labor agreement, and the most notable shift under the current deal is the draft-pick compensation drag: So many teams have become fully invested in drafting and developing that they shy away from some of the free agents who cost a team a high draft pick.

Kyle Lohse got caught in the draft-pick vise last year, and so did Michael Bourn and Rafael Soriano. For some free agents, getting a qualifying offer from their current teams, along with the reality of the draft-pick compensation, is similar to an NFL player getting a franchise tag because it undercuts the player's ability to have a free market.

Thirteen players got qualifying offers Monday, and the potential draft-pick drag won't hurt some of them because they are elite free agents, the best of the best -- Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann.

Some free agents may be impacted somewhat because some teams are philosophically opposed to giving up draft picks and won't consider the likes of Shin-Soo Choo, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, but those players are expected to make out just fine. (A couple of executives estimated Monday that Choo will wind up with a five-year deal in the range of $15 million per year).

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Jacoby Ellsbury AP Photo/Elise AmendolaExpect Jacoby Ellsbury to get a deal that will shock even the most hardcore fans.
The contract talks for free agents can start tonight, and the way some evaluators speak about the market, it feels like there are teams and players all revved up and waiting for the green flag to drop. For baseball, this could be like shoppers bursting through the door the day after Thanksgiving.

Here are nine forces that will shape baseball's market:

1. There is money available. Lots of it.
Teams are receiving the first influx of dollars from Major League Baseball's massive national television packages, from ESPN and other entities, money that will allow clubs to nudge their budgets upward, and perhaps spend more than they planned on spending as they pursue a particular player.

The lower class of free agents may not necessarily benefit, but the guys at the top of the market -- Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc. -- may get deals that could shock us.

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Mets' struggles creating value 

September, 28, 2013
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Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Mets' disappointing season has likely earned Sandy Alderson's club a protected draft pick.
The New York Mets’ loss Friday was the 87th of their season. And it was a really important loss.

With that defeat, the Mets moved back into position to have the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft -- and if this holds over the last two days of the regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets’ first-round pick would be among those 10 that are protected against draft-pick compensation.

This past winter, the Mets’ pick was not protected, which affected their aggressiveness in trying to sign Michael Bourn and others. If they finish the year lined up for the No. 10 pick (or better), it could nudge them into pursuit of one of the better free-agent position players who will be available this winter. If they signed a Shin-Soo Choo or a Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets would have to surrender only a second-round pick in compensation.

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