While the Texas Rangers waited for Cliff Lee to make up his mind, the best options to fill the team's hole at designated hitter flew off the board. The Chicago White Sox snatched up the two best fits, re-signing Paul Konerko for three years at $12.5 million per season and inking slugger Adam Dunn for four years and $14 million annually.
Magglio Ordonez and Lance Berkman would have been nice additions as well, but Ordonez re-signed with the Detroit Tigers for one year and $10 million, and Berkman bolted to the St. Louis Cardinals for one year and $8 million. Both could have enabled the Rangers to be flexible with the DH slot, allowing Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon to take a break from the field while Ordonez or Berkman played in the outfield. Berkman can play first base as well. (Dunn also plays outfield and first base, although he's one of baseball's worst defenders.)
Based on these deals, paying Vladimir Guerrero to return for one year and $8 million seems reasonable. However, general manager Jon Daniels chose to decline the $9 million option included in Guerrero's previous contract, triggering a $1 million payout. (Because it was a mutual option, Guerrero could have declined it as well, but the $1 million buyout wouldn't have kicked in.)
I'm guessing the Rangers' reluctance to pay him market value and Guerrero's desire for a two-year contract are the main reasons why a deal hasn't been struck despite mutual interest from both parties. His .320 career batting average (fifth best among active players and 54th all time) and 436 home runs are impressive, but Texas also might be hesitant to bring back Guerrero because he faded down the stretch. After hitting .319 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI in the first half, the soon-to-be 36-year-old fell to .278-9-40 following the All-Star break and had just one hit in 14 World Series at-bats.
He remains a great option to fill the spot he vacated, but if Guerrero does go somewhere else or the two sides simply can't agree on a contract, the Rangers have to act quickly before the remaining options dry up.
Even though he'll turn 41 late in the season next year, Jim Thome remains one of the game's best hitters against right-handed pitchers, posting a staggering .302-19-45 line and 1.15 OPS in only 189 at-bats against them this year. His overall numbers (.283-25-59 in 108 games) were impressive as well, and he could become the second player in Rangers' history to hit his 600th home run with the club. (Sammy Sosa became the first in June 2007, and Thome's just 11 shy of becoming the eighth player to reach that mark.) He'll likely come cheap too since he signed with the Minnesota Twins last year for only $1.5 million.
Although Texas hasn't been linked to Derrek Lee, he could provide Guerrero-like numbers if he's healthy and plays first base on a semi-regular basis, giving Mitch Moreland a rest or enabling him to move to the outfield when Hamilton, Cruz or Borbon needs a day off. Lee had a sub-par 2010 season (.251-16-56) while battling foot, thumb and back injuries with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, but he's just one year removed from his second-best season when he hit .306, clubbed 35 homers and drove in 111 runs. Lee's 35 years old, a World Series winner (2003 with the Florida Marlins) and three-time Gold Glove Award winner who's reportedly seeking a one-year contract around $8 million.
Once an annual threat to hit 30 homers with 100 RBI, Troy Glaus hasn't done so since 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays and hit just .240-16-71 in 128 games with the Braves this year. He's injury prone like Lee, but he could provide solid numbers with the Rangers if he's healthy, along with filling in at first and third base. Glaus also has an impressive postseason résumé, leading the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to a 2002 World Series championship and hitting .319 with nine homers in 78 playoff at-bats.
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Manny Ramirez is yet another DH-type looking for work, but his 555 career bombs and 12 All-Star Game don't compensate for the headaches he brings to the clubhouse and the taint from his suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs. He turns 39 in May and played in just 194 games over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and White Sox.
As we get close to the bottom of the barrel, Johnny Damon and his 2,571 career hits might be a decent fit. He's not the slugger Texas is looking for, but he could play some outfield and give the Rangers a better lineup with him moving into the leadoff spot and Elvis Andrus moving down the lineup. Damon, 37, had a rather uninspiring season this year in Detroit, but he'd be much more effective playing half of his games in a hitter-friendly environment, as he proved in 2009 when he hit .282-24-82 with 12 steals for the New York Yankees in the first year of their new stadium.
Finally, the Rangers have had some interest in signing Adrian Beltre, but he's already reportedly rejected a five-year deal from the Oakland A's for $64 million and a $70 million offer for five years from the Angels. The defensive whiz could take over at third base for Michael Young (with Young presumably moving to DH) and provide decent pop with his bat, but that's too many years and too much dough for a guy who only seems to show up in contract years. After his amazing 2004 campaign (.334-48-121), Beltre inked a five-year deal with the Seattle Mariners for $64 million and averaged just .266-21-79 over that span. He responded by hitting .321-28-102 with 49 doubles this year for the Boston Red Sox.
So what we've got here are mostly old, injury-prone players and one that's looking for too much cash. Texas should have targeted Konerko or Dunn to solidify the lineup or even attempted to retain Guerrero by accepting the option in his contract, but now that those aren't available, trying to work out something with Guerrero looks like the safest bet. If that doesn't happen, it's hard to imagine anyone believing that the Rangers have improved at DH. With Guerrero, at least they stay the same and retain a strong clubhouse presence.