Rangers look to replace Bradley's bat

Rangers look to replace Bradley's bat

ARLINGTON -- Milton Bradley's one-year stay with the Rangers is expected to come to an official end this week.

Bradley is expected to sign a three-year, $30 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, leaving the Rangers with a supplemental first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft in June. His departure also leaves the Rangers missing a big piece to an offense that led the Major Leagues with 901 runs scored in 2008.

Bradley, an American League All-Star, was a big part of that as the Rangers' primary designated hitter and cleanup man, batting .321 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. He also established a club record with a .436 on-base percentage.

"We've known for some time [Bradley's departure] was an inevitability," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We've had an open dialogue with [Bradley's agents] and knew where his market was. We knew there was a strong chance that he would sign elsewhere."

The Rangers, while at least exploring the possibility of signing free-agent third baseman Joe Crede, will likely look within to make up for the loss of Bradley's offense. Pitching remains their No. 1 priority, and any offensive help from the outside likely would have to come cheap.

"We feel we have a lot of depth and a lot of different options to use in different spots," Daniels said. "Milton is a tough guy to replace, but it probably won't be with just one guy."

Right now Hank Blalock is the Rangers' designated hitter with Chris Davis moving back to first base. Travis Metcalf is the leading internal candidate to play third base, but that could change. Crede is the best available third baseman on the free-agent market but has had back troubles the past two years. The Rangers have studied the medical reports but have yet to make an offer.

The Rangers could still move Davis back to third, use Blalock at first and look for a right-handed hitter for the DH spot. They had some conversations with the Tigers in December about Gary Sheffield, but only if Detroit is willing to pay a majority of his $14 million salary. The Tigers don't appear motivated to do that. The Rangers also don't plan on getting involved in Manny Ramirez and were not pursuing Pat Burrell before he signed with the Rays.

Hot Stove

The Rangers also have four outfielders who merit regular playing time: Josh Hamilton, Marlon Byrd, David Murphy and Nelson Cruz. Rotating them through the DH spot is another possibility.

The Rangers know they led the Majors in runs scored even though Blalock missed most of the season with a variety of injuries. Murphy and second baseman Ian Kinsler also missed the last six weeks with injuries and shortstop Michael Young had to deal with two broken fingers much of the season.

If all four stay healthy for an entire season, that should help ease the loss of Bradley. But if one person can make up for the absence of Bradley, it might be Cruz. Right now, manager Ron Washington is hoping Cruz can slip into the cleanup spot between Hamilton and Blalock.

Cruz has put up monster numbers in Triple-A and winter ball, and he hit .330 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 31 games and 115 at-bats for the Rangers in September. They need him to do it for a full season.

"Ultimately, Ron makes out the lineup, but Nellie is a guy who has all the potential in the world," Daniels said. "We're hoping he put it together last year and can carry it over to this year. He's going to continue to get opportunities to show he belongs here."

The Rangers could still use another right-handed bat, even if it's in a part-time role. They have four left-handed hitters in the order in Blalock, Hamilton, Murphy and Davis. Byrd and Cruz are right-handed; and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter. One in-house possibility is catcher Max Ramirez, who is still working on his defensive skills but has high-ceiling offensive potential.

"In a perfect world, we would like to give him more time behind the plate to work on his overall game," Daniels said. "But I look at Max as being a part of a group of upper-level prospects who have a chance to impact the team at some point this season. If we needed him, I wouldn't hesitate to go with Max."

The Rangers will still keep an eye on the free-agent market and could add a bat before Spring Training starts. But right now, the best chance of making up for the loss of Bradley comes from within.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.