The 2012 Texas Rangers have a problem that most teams in baseball would love to have, and it has to do with Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz. The Rangers are coming off back-to-back AL Championships, have a growing fan base, a great team, more money then they have ever had, and a minor league system that is easily in the top 10 in the league. Led by GM John Daniels and Nolan Ryan they have crafted a recipe for success that mixes veteran leaders, stars, and young up-and-coming talent that is creating a baseball powerhouse for years to come. The problem that the Rangers have is deciding which of their soon to be free agent stars they should keep, and which one(s) they let walk into type A free agency so they can net a few draft picks to continue the cycle of success.
Ian Kinsler was one of the Rangers stars that they were looking to get locked up to a long term contract; the Ranges signed Kinsler on a 5yr. $75M contract extension with a club option for the 6th year. Kinsler made the move back into the leadoff position last season, and he had another 30-30(HR-SB) season making him only the 12th player all-time to have multiple 30-30 seasons in a career. If he has just one more 30-30 season in his career, he will join a club of only 5 who have 3 or more season boasting those statistics. Those tools mixed with his defensive ability make him one of the best 2B in baseball, but Kins has found himself on the disabled list every year of his career, and there was the question of what the Rangers would do when the #7 prospect in baseball SS Jurickson Profar is ready for the show. The extension puts that topic on the back burner as Kinsler is the second baseman for the forceable future, he has played his entire career in Texas and at 29 he should still have plenty of good baseball ahead of him.
The only player that the Rangers have to make a decision on this year is Hamilton (Cruz is signed through the end of the 2013 season), but there aren’t many scenarios in which the Rangers could sign all three players to long-term deals. Hamilton is the most dynamic of the three…. heck the 2010 MVP may be the most dynamic player in the entire league; he proved it during Sunday nights 5-0 win over the White Sox when he made two incredible plays in center and hit a 441-foot bomb to right-center. Someone who knows nothing about baseball could watch Hamilton once and see that the talent is remarkable, but his well documented past of drug and alcohol abuse mixed with a relapse this spring, and the fact that he has only played more than 133 games once in his career are huge red flags. Hamilton has made it clear that he wants to stay with the Rangers, but he wants fair market value. If he continues to play at this level, it is hard to imagine the Rangers not giving him a long-term deal despite his off the field troubles.
Nelson Cruz has become one of the fiercest power hitters in baseball since becoming an everyday starter in 2009. After bouncing back and forth from AAA to the big league club, he looks like he’s here to stay for quite some time. Cruz has become a fan favorite who’s name echoes through the Rangers Ballpark during at bats, but he is also the most fragile of Texas’ All-Stars: he has not started more than 128 games in a season, and he was nagged by groin injuries last season. Although Cruz did go through a new workout regimen during the off-season with Mike Napoli and lost 15 pounds, he needs to be healthy for the Rangers to consider making him one of the guys they lock up long term. There are 5 all-star trips between the two and they have both had a hand in the Rangers success over the past two seasons, I have to believe Nelson Cruz will be the odd man out after the 2013 season, so the Rangers can usher Profar in to play second and possibly shift Kinsler to the outfield.
The Rangers have shown that just because a player is loved by the fans, like all three of these guys, they are not afraid to let them walk into free agency like they did with C.J. Wilson not long ago. JD and Nolan will have to make tough decisions in the next 12 months that will shape the future of the Rangers, but the past has shown that we can trust that they will make the right decision. It’s a good problem to have, lets hope that it has to be made in October after another trip to the World Series.
If you had to choose between Cruz and Hamilton, who would you keep, considering their age, injury proneness, and salary?