Left field was mostly a dead zone for the Rangers in 2015. They used a dozen different players in left, most of them failed. Then, when they finally found one who worked, he broke down. I wrote about it back in September when a desperate Jeff Banister inserted Mike Napoli into left in an attempt to scare up some offense.
Below are the available free agent left fielders, and their ages:
Nori Aoki (33)
Yoenis Cespedes (30)
Rajai Davis (35)
Alejandro De Aza (32)
David DeJesus (36)
Chris Denorfia (35)
Jonny Gomes (35)
Alex Gordon (32)
Kelly Johnson (34)
Matt Joyce (31)
Justin Maxwell (32)
David Murphy (34)
Gerardo Parra (29)
Steve Pearce (33)
Colby Rasmus (29)
Sean Rodriguez (31)
Skip Schumaker (36)
Justin Upton (28)
Chris B. Young (32)
Delmon Young (30)
There are some quality left fielders on this list. The Rangers lineup could get right in a hurry with any number of these free agents. And getting right is what it badly needs. The Rangers were way too left-handed last year, and far too susceptible to left-handed pitching.
They handed the job to Ryan Rua out of spring. He broke his foot on opening day at the Ballpark, and never was a factor. Then the clown parade began.
Jake Smolinski, Carlos Peguero, Delino DeShields, Ryan Strausborger, Joey Gallo, Kyle Blanks, Drew Stubbs, Adam Rosales, Will Venable. Mike Napoli, and, of course, Josh Hamilton all spent time in left.
Once the Angels dumped Josh Hamilton onto the Rangers, left field was supposed to have been his, but he got injured. He did well when he was there though. But that’s the problem. Being there.
Can the team count on Josh Hamilton in 2016? And if they made a move on one of the available free agents, what do they do with Josh Hamilton? When Hamilton was healthy, he was very productive. What if he stays healthy, or mostly healthy? Then where does he play if the Rangers have a new left fielder? DH? First base, where he’s never played before?
That being said, if the Rangers were to pursue a free agent left fielder, the feeling is it needs to be someone with power and someone who bats right handed. Here are the noteworthy ones:
Yoenis Cespedes can hit for power, and does it from the right side. But he is lost in the field. He has a remarkable arm, but the main reason he needs to unveil it so often is he butchers balls hit to him and needs his arm to bail himself out. He never seemed to learn where to throw, or what the principle of backing up his teammates is. But he’s a 30 home run, 103 RBI guy. The price will be steep.
HAS A RING:
Alex Gordon seems like a middle of the lineup guy, but he batted seventh or eight for the Royals. A lot of quality bats would have batted far down in that lineup, though. He is a world class defensive player, and a better than average, but not spectacular, hitter. And he bats left. He won’t be a Ranger in 2016. He will be a rich man in 2016.
Justin Upton has been on Jon Daniels radar forever. Daniels asked Upton to high school prom, in fact. He hasn’t been able to land him in a trade. Now he just has to ply him with enough money. Upton has what the Rangers need: Power, check. Right handed bat, check. To get him to be a Ranger, big pay check. Upton is one of those guys whose reputation seems to outpace his actual performance. He’s been an All-Star just three times in nine years. He’s led his league in only one offensive category in his entire career—hit by pitches in 2011. He seems to go on long periods of radio silence at the plate. But he is productive. He will be hit with a big bag of money. Maybe Rangers money.
Nori Aoki seems to be a Daniels kind of guy. Under the radar. But he doesn’t have any power, and is more of a top of the lineup guy. He is a good, reliable hitter. The kind of guy the Royals just won the World Series with.
Steve Pearce makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. He bats right. Has some power (21 home runs in 2014, always seeming to hit on in big situations, 15 last year in just 95 games). He could be a real sleeper pick. He could be a great choice as a forth outfielder.
For the Rangers, figuring out left field will be the biggest cause of consternation in the off-season.
One way to address it, though, is to leave it alone for now. Give it to Hamilton and sign a solid backup for when he needs it, like maybe Pearce. Or, have Profar around to fill in when the times come for Hamilton to go on the DL. Or Rua. Or any of the Rangers super prospects.
Hamilton’s price tag is attractive. In 2016 it’s $0. That’s right. The Angels are paying his entire 2016 salary.
Adding a power right handed bat in right field makes a lot of sense. It also makes a lot of confusion with what to do with Hamilton.
My advice: Josh Hamilton is the Rangers left fielder in 2016. If he’s healthy, there is the power you are looking for. If not, Pearce can provide that power.