Hamilton, pitching lead offseason questions

Hamilton, pitching lead offseason questions

Hamilton, pitching lead offseason questions
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers need to rebuild their pitching staff. They need to either re-sign Josh Hamilton or replace him in the middle of the order. They need to find a catcher. They need to decide if infielders Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar and outfielder Leonys Martin are ready to be everyday players.

That pretty much sums up what's facing the Rangers this offseason. More than anything though, they have to make a philosophical decision whether to keep trying to win with the current nucleus or make significant changes by going with younger players.

Money should not be a problem. The Rangers just smashed the club attendance record, they enjoy significant revenues from their local media outlets and their ownership group does not lack financial resources.

2012 season wraps
2013 outlooks

The Rangers had a payroll of approximately $120 million in 2012. They have approximately $42 million coming off from their potential free agents. Some of that will go toward raises from players who are returning. But the Rangers should be in position to be a major player in the free agent market, whether it's re-signing Hamilton or going after starting pitching.

Every offseason is pivotal for a franchise. It's the time to make major decisions. Welcome to the Rangers' winter of 2012-13 and here's how it breaks down position by position:

Starting pitching:
Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland will lead next year's rotation. The Rangers could move Alexi Ogando back into the rotation and have four proven starters. Rookie Martin Perez could win a spot as the fifth starter or the Rangers could add a front-line pitcher through free agency. Depth is a must. Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz will not be ready and not be counted upon at the start of the season. Ryan Dempster and Scott Feldman are free agents and not expected back.

Bullpen:
Joe Nathan will be back as closer, but Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Mark Lowe and Roy Oswalt are free agents. The Rangers have some young arms to work with, including Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman, Tanner Scheppers and Justin Grimm. But they will need much more, especially if Ogando goes back into the rotation.

Catcher:
Mike Napoli is a free agent. Geovany Soto is eligible for arbitration after making $4.3 million this season. The Rangers don't have a catching prospect remotely close to the big leagues. The best of the free agents are A.J. Pierzynski and Russell Martin. The Rangers may try to re-sign Napoli, but it won't be close to what was discussed in Spring Training. Soto may still be an option if the Rangers can get something done before the non-tender date.

First base:
What to do about Mitch Moreland, who played in 114 games this season and hit 15 home runs with 50 RBIs. Can he break through as a middle-of-the-order run producer or is he destined to be a platoon player? Do the Rangers pair him with Mike Olt? Or do the Rangers give the job to Olt and attempt to trade Moreland?

Second base:
Ian Kinsler is still one of the best at this position, even if his numbers weren't as good, especially in the second half. He signed a five-year, $75 million extension in April. This may be the position for Profar, but that will require either trading Kinsler or moving him to the outfield. His trade value may not be as high as people think.

Shortstop:
Elvis Andrus had an excellent year and he has a much higher trade value than Kinsler because of his youth and contract status. He is signed for two more years before he can become a free agent. This might be where the Rangers decide to put Profar, but Andrus is still one of the most productive shortstops in the American League.

Third base:
Adrian Beltre is signed for three more years with an option for 2016. He had an outstanding season. He will also be 34 next year and was struggling physically at the end of this season. That's something to be concerned about going forward.

Left field:
David Murphy ended up as a full-time player and had an excellent season. He can be a free agent at the end of next season. He remains a winning piece, but left field may be where the Rangers move Kinsler.

Center field:
Hamilton's departure would leave a huge void in the middle of the Rangers' lineup. The Rangers have not given any indication they feel Craig Gentry would be the full-time answer here. Leonys Martin is talented, but the Rangers don't appear willing just yet to give him the job. The D-backs may be willing to talk about Justin Upton, who is signed for three more years, but hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs this season. The Red Sox may talk about Jacoby Ellsbury, who had an MVP-type season in 2011, but was plagued by injuries in 2010 and 2012 and is a free agent after the 2013 season. B.J. Upton, Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera are the best of the free agent class.

Right field:
Nelson Cruz stayed off the disabled list all year, but to say he was completely healthy is a stretch. The legs are still an issue. He played in a career-high 159 games and hit .260 with 24 home runs, 90 RBIs and a .460 slugging percentage. It's the first time in four full seasons that his slugging percentage was below .500. He is a free agent after next season. The Rangers need all the power they can get if Hamilton leaves. But they can't afford for Cruz to take another step backward.

Designated hitter:
It's easy to see that Michael Young had a bad season. It's much harder to assess his value as the team leader or what an asset Young is as a utility player. Great players have bad seasons. It could be an aberration or it could be an alarming trend. Young, who is a free agent after next season, will likely be back in 2013, but the question is can the Rangers continue to play him every day if this is the twilight of a great career?

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.