Their seasons ended in the span of three hours, as they became the first teams to lose in MLB’s new wild-card elimination game format. Such is the new reality for wild-card berth winners.
This also means the offseason has arrived for the Braves and Rangers. So let’s take a look at what both teams need and the possible moves that could improve their clubs or at least shore up the weaknesses.
The Rangers will lose several significant arms from their bullpen. They hope to get Neftali Feliz back, but both he and Alexi Ogando have told the Rangers their preference is to start, so the Rangers must address those bullpen losses. The Rangers also must figure out a plan for top prospect Jurickson Profar. Is he ready for the big leagues, and, if so, would he or fellow shortstop Elvis Andrus possibly move to center field? But their biggest decisions this offseason will be regarding free agents Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. Will the Rangers re-sign or replace them? Here are several possible free-agent targets, including Hamilton and Napoli:
Josh Hamilton: Should Hamilton look as if he can land an 8- to 10-year contract, the Rangers will not match the offer. However, if Hamilton’s best offer ends up somewhere in the 4- or 5-year range at approximately $23-$25 million per season, there is a good possibility that he’ll return to Texas.
Zack Greinke: The Rangers could use one more high-end starter, and Yu Darvish and Greinke would give them a lethal 1-2 punch and might free up lefty Derek Holland to be traded for a younger bat if they can’t bring back Hamilton.
Kyle Lohse: Lohse’s sinker and ability to get ground balls should play well at the Ballpark in Arlington and, as just mentioned above, allow the Rangers to trade one of their young starters for a young corner infielder if they have to replace Hamilton.
Mike Napoli: The Rangers would like to re-sign Napoli. However, they might not commit to a deal near the four-year, $44 million range that he might be able to get this fall.
A.J. Pierzynski: If the Rangers aren’t able to re-sign Napoli, then Pierzynski, who is coming off a career year, could be a short-term fit and provide another left-handed bat to the lineup.
Joel Peralta: He was one of the best eighth-inning relievers in the second half of last year for the Tampa Bay Rays and would be a good short-term fit for the Rangers as they try to upgrade the depth of their bullpen. But make no mistake, Peralta definitely will not be the only bullpen arm Texas will be chasing.
Trades: If Texas decides to trade Holland or another young starter, here are some of the players they are likely to target in a deal:
Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs say it is more than likely that Upton will not be traded, however, with the strong Rangers farm system and a deal that is centered on third baseman Mike Olt, it is possible these two teams could match up.
Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer or Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals: The Royals are desperate for young starting pitching, and a package centered on and starting with Holland and Mitch Moreland might be worth a conversation if Texas can’t re-sign Hamilton. The problem is that the Rangers have a lot of good young bats, not arms, which is what the Royals really need, so they might not be a match.
Travis d’Arnaud, Toronto Blue Jays: The Rangers scouts love this top catching prospect the Blue Jays acquired in the Roy Halladay deal a few years ago. Toronto probably is more interested in dealing J.P. Arencibia, who might make some sense in a lesser deal if Texas can’t re-sign Napoli.
This is an organization with staying power, and, under the leadership of Frank Wren, it will be able to regroup and put together another postseason-worthy team. The Braves must try to re-sign Bourn or find a replacement for him. The Braves are expected to pick up the $12 million option on Brian McCann and the $9 million option on Tim Hudson shortly after the World Series.
Ben Revere, Minnesota Twins: His best position is center field, and the Twins are playing him in right in deference to Denard Span. He’s just scratching the surface of his potential after hitting .294 with 40 stolen bases this past season and would top the list of Braves trade targets if they can't re-sign Bourn. Below are some other possibilities.
Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels: Gold Glove-caliber center field with blazing speed. His bat should improve, but he’s still a bottom-of-the-order hitter.
Denard Span, Minnesota Twins: The Braves have always liked him, but staying healthy has been a challenge for him the past two seasons.
Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks: Diamondbacks are prepared to go with Adam Eaton in center and are looking to trade this power/speed/K machine.
Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies: Fowler had his breakout year this year, and the Rockies won’t look to trade him unless they can get significant starting pitching in return.
Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds: If the Reds could sign Bourn or trade for a B.J. Upton-type center fielder, they would be willing to move Stubbs, an above-average center fielder who comes with a ton of strikeouts.
Craig Gentry, Texas Rangers: The Rangers are convinced he’s just a platoon player, but some scouts think the bat will come. However, there’s never been a question about his special defense.
Life after Chipper The Braves can replace the surefire Hall of Famer by signing or trading for a third baseman, or they could move Martin Prado from left field to third base and go after a left fielder instead.
Bourn is represented by Scott Boras, which means negotiations won’t be easy. Here are possible replacements for Chipper Jones at third base:
David Wright, New York Mets: It’s OK to dream, isn’t it?
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres: The Padres were willing to listen to offers at the trade deadline, and the Braves do have a strong farm system, which makes for a good match.
Mike Olt, Texas Rangers: The Rangers have Adrian Beltre signed for four more years, but I’m just not sure Texas matches up with Atlanta as well as San Diego does.
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: The Rockies soured on him some this year, and, with his stock down a tad, it’s worth a phone call.
Here are some possible trade pieces in left field if the Braves decide to move Prado to third base:
Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins: Willingham finished the year with a .366 OBP with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs, and the Twins desperately need starting pitching if they want any chance to compete. Considering Atlanta’s pitching depth, there should be a match here.
Logan Morrison, Miami Marlins: We keep hearing that Morrison has worn out his welcome with the Fish. Could a move 700 miles north be in store?
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs: Soriano would like to get to the postseason once more before he retires, and that certainly won’t be with the Cubs. If the Cubs are willing to eat most of the remaining two years and $36 million left on his contract, there could be a prospect deal here.
Diamondbacks outfielders: They have five and will listen to offers for all five, and there definitely is a fit here for at least four of them. There probably isn’t a match, however, for Justin Upton. The Braves don’t have enough to acquire him.