ARLINGTON -- The Rangers plan to tender contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players before Friday's deadline.
Clubs have a 7 p.m. CT Friday deadline to offer their players a contract for 2019 and those not offered contracts automatically become free agents. Clubs often consider non-tendering players who are eligible for arbitration and due for a sizable salary increase despite coming off a below-average season. But the Rangers aren't planning on that option for outfielders Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields, infielder Jurickson Profar and reliever Alex Claudio.
There was never any doubt about Mazara and Profar, as both are expected to play significant roles on the Rangers next season. Mazara's value is obvious, as he serves as one of the Rangers' big bats in the middle of the order, and Profar has already been identified as the leading candidate to replace Adrian Beltre at third base.
DeShields and Claudio were less certain, but club officials indicated that the Rangers are expected to offer contracts to both, even though they had their struggles this past season.
DeShields was the Rangers' Opening Day center fielder after coming off a strong 2017 season when he set career highs with a .269 batting average, .347 on-base percentage and 29 stolen bases.
But he played in just two games in 2018 before suffering a broken bone in his left wrist. He missed three weeks and struggled after that to have the same offensive impact. He ended up hitting just .216 with a .310 on-base percentage.
He was better defensively than in years past, according to multiple measurements. His nine total zone runs above average tied for third-best among American League center fielders and his range factor of 3.05 chances per nine innings was first in the Majors.
DeShields remains the leading candidate to be the Rangers' center fielder in 2019. Carlos Tocci could also get consideration after making it through the entire season as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but despite his defensive assets, he likely could use more Minor League development as an offensive player.
Drew Robinson and Scott Heineman are both on the 40-man roster. The Rangers have also used Joey Gallo in center field on rare occasions, but he is far more likely to be used on the corners, either in the outfield or infield. A.J. Pollock and Adam Jones are the two most prominent free-agent center fielders, but the Rangers would prefer to use their financial resources on pitching.
DeShields' main problem in the past has been trying to make too many changes in an attempt to please others. The Rangers would prefer him just to be himself and play with confidence. When he does that, the Rangers feel he can be an impact center fielder.
Claudio was the Rangers' Pitcher of the Year in 2017 when he was 4-2 with 11 saves, a 2.50 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and a .235 opponent's batting average. He wasn't able to match that this past season with a 4.48 ERA, a 1.52 WHIP and a .329 opponent's batting average. He did finish strong with a 1.80 ERA and a .206 opponent's batting average in September.
Claudio remains one of the softest throwers on the staff with a fastball that averages 86 mph, but he still has the offspeed pitches to be effective when he is on. His best pitch is his changeup, but he lost the effectiveness on his slider last season. Opponents hit .120 off the slider in 2017 and .360 this past season.
If he can regain his effectiveness, Claudio could still be a valuable utility reliever for the Rangers.
The Rangers missed a fifth arbitration candidate when Matt Bush missed the Super Two cut-off by two days. That likely kept the Rangers from making a tough decision. Bush is currently recovering from surgery to repair a partially torn collateral ligament in his right elbow and is not expected back until after the All-Star break.
A non-tender is not exclusively used on arbitration-eligible players. The Rangers could use it with other players to help clean up the 40-man roster as they go deeper into the offseason.