The Texas Rangers finished with a losing record for a third consecutive year. But an aggressive offseason by GM Jon Daniels signals Texas intends on returning to the postseason in 2020.
Before looking ahead, let’s consider the Rangers’ 2019 performance. Doing so may shed light on the team’s offseason strategy and help identify areas the club may still need to address.
At the All-Star break, Texas looked competitive with a 48-42 record. As late as August 14, they were a .500 club. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out afterwards with an 18-24 finish.
Offensively, the Rangers were slightly below average. An interesting development for an organization normally associated with prolific run production and mashing home runs.
Rangers 2019 Offense
Four Rangers with 300-plus plate appearances had an OPS+ above league-average (100) – Willie Calhoun, Shin-Soo Choo, Hunter Pence, and Danny Santana. Only Cleveland (3), Kansas City (3), and Detroit (1) had fewer in the AL.
The first season without future Hall of Famer Adrián Beltré was challenging. Asdrúbal Cabrera and Logan Forsythe made the majority of starts at third base, but it didn’t matter who played. Texas ranked bottom-five at the position in OPS, SLG, home runs, and bWAR.
The outfield endured struggles too, but there were bright spots mixed in.
Early in the season, Joey Gallo appeared to be an MVP candidate, earning his first All-Star selection. Unfortunately, most of June was lost to an oblique strain and his season ended with late-July surgery for a broken wrist bone.
When available, Gallo delivered career highs in AVG/OBP/SLG and OPS+. Among players with 250-plus plate appearances, only Mike Trout and Brandon Nimmo had a better walk-rate than the Nevada native’s 17.5-percent rate.
Left fielder Willie Calhoun had two stints in the minors last season, but stuck with the big-league team after a mid-June recall. Overall, he hit 21 home runs and .269/.323/.524.
Despite his advancing age, Choo continued being a solid offensive contributor. The left-handed hitter’s 2019 closely mirrored what he’s averaged during six seasons with Texas – .265/.371/.455 with 24 home runs and a 109 OPS+. Still, the South Korean does struggle against southpaws (.229/.317/.361).
The team received little offensive value from its catchers. Only Detroit’s backstops ranked worse than Texas in AVG and OPS.
Despite the downturn in run production, Texas did lead the majors in stolen bases with 131. Pacing the club were Elvis Andrus (31), the since-traded Delino DeShields (27), and Santana (21). Even a 37-year-old Choo managed to swipe 15 bags.
Rangers 2019 Pitching Numbers
Overall, Lynn and Minor combined for 416.2 innings (51.6-percent of innings tossed by the starting staff) and a 3.63 ERA. The remaining 17 starters and openers accounted for 390.2 innings and a 7.29 ERA.
The bullpen was a revolving door with few relievers delivering appreciable value. All told, Texas had 20 pitchers throw 10-plus innings in a relief role. Only the Mariners had more (22).
The Rangers bullpen ranked twenty-eighth in expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Just two Texas relievers facing at least 100 hitters posted an xwOBA better than league-average (.318) – Chris Martin and Jose Leclerc. The team traded Martin in July.
The Rangers tapped into the free agent market for veteran starters Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. The team also signed 36-year-old Edinson Vólquez to a minor-league pact. Vólquez spent time with the organization in 2019.
To address third base, Texas signed free agent Todd Frazier. The 33-year-old made 112 starts at the position for the Mets last year, hitting 21 home runs and .251/.329/.443.
Former Ranger Robinson Chirinos returns to Arlington after a year with the Astros. Chirinos isn’t a premium defender, but represents a significant offensive upgrade. Since 2017, the 35-year-old has averaged 17 home runs and 107 OPS+.
Daniels signed free agent reliever Joely Rodríguez, who spent 2019 with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. In 60.1 innings last season, Rodríguez led the Dragons in appearances and boasted an impressive 11.5 SO/9 and 0.928 WHIP.
The Rangers super-charged their rotation, but most of last year’s regulars are back. Depending on your outlook, that’s either a good or a bad thing.
Ronald Guzmán is a strong first base defender, yet his left-handed bat is questionable. In two seasons, he’s struggled greatly when facing southpaws (.179/.242/.315) compared to righties (.246/.330/.451). Guzmán looks like a platoon candidate.
Through six big-league seasons and over 3,200 plate appearances, Odor has averaged 26 home runs annually and is still only 26-years-old.
Sounds good, right?
Yes, until you notice Odor’s subpar career .240/.293/.440 slash and 89 OPS+, which resembles his 2019 production. Defensively, the Venezuelan rates slightly below average. Oh, and he’s owed at least $25 million through 2022.
Still sound good?
The 31-year-old Andrus is showing signs of decline. As noted earlier, he stole 31 bases in 2019. But his OBP has been approximately 10 points below league-average for two consecutive seasons.
Never say never, but Andrus may be untradeable. It appears there’s poison pill in his contract similar to the one in the Mariners’ pact with Kyle Seager.
Andrus’ current deal guarantees $43 million through 2022. However, per Baseball Prospectus, the Rangers’ option for 2023 becomes a player option, if the team trades their shortstop.
The 2023 option can also vest with a combined 1,100 plate appearances in 2021-22. Finally, the two-time All-Star is a 10/5 player, which gives him full no-trade protection.
Frazier appears to be the everyday third baseman. The Rutgers product does have first base experience with 84 career starts, but only 10 have occurred since 2016.
Santana seems destined for center field and Solak has 13 games of professional experience at the position. Kiner-Falefa has been predominantly a middle-infielder, although he does possess nearly 1,000 innings of third base experience.
The Rangers recently acquired first baseman/outfielder Sam Travis from the Red Sox and signed former Yankees first baseman Greg Bird to a minor-league deal. Both are likely depth pieces. It’s worth noting Travis has no minor-league options remaining.
On that note, minor-league options can influence roster decisions. When all else is equal, the player without options may have the edge over than someone with available options.
Players With No Minor-League Options
The outfield is taking shape with Gallo in right field and Calhoun in the other corner. Santana is the apparent front-runner for the center field gig.
Gallo played all outfield positions and first base last year and possesses third base experience. For now though, the club intends on him being the primary right fielder.
Advanced metrics suggest Calhoun was a below-average defender last season. To be fair, the Yavapai College product was primarily a second baseman until 2017. If the defense becomes league-average, he can be a valuable contributor.
Choo will be the everyday designated hitter, although he did start 80 games in the outfield last year. Still, defensive numbers and advancing age suggest avoiding time in the field.
Chirinos and holdover Jeff Mathis are the likely catching duo.
Mathis has a reputation as a defensive stalwart. But his bat is far less impressive and advanced metrics didn’t like the Florida native’s defense last season. He’ll also be entering his age-37 season.
Jose Trevino is the other receiver on the 40-man roster. Trevino is a strong defender, but his bat hasn’t delivered in the minors. Chirinos’ arrival likely pushes the 27-year-old back to the minors, although this could change by Opening Day.
Blake Swihart has never put it together in the majors. However, he’s proven capable of moving around the diamond. Perhaps the 27-year-old former catcher settles into a utility role capable of catching. Then again, Kiner-Falefa shares a similar skill set.
Although the rotation should be markedly better this year, uncertainty remains.
Both Minor and Lynn are 32-years-old and logged personal-highs in innings. Will they repeat their stellar 2019 campaigns?
Kluber was limited to just seven starts due to injury last year. Still, he was one of baseball’s pitchers in the five seasons prior when he averaged 32 starts and a 2.85 ERA. If the 34-year-old approaches his former productivity, the Rangers have struck gold. Otherwise, they have a problem.
Gibson also took a step back last year, but he was dealing with intestinal issues for most of the season. Despite the health challenges, the righty made 29 starts logging 160 innings with a less-than-impressive 4.84 ERA. In 2018, he started 32 games with a career-best 3.62 ERA in 196.2 frames.
Lyles split time between the Pirates and Brewers last season delivering vastly different results at each stop. In Pittsburgh, the 29-year-old struggled terribly with a 5.36 ERA in 17 starts. With the Brew Crew, he posted a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts. Which version of Lyles will the Rangers see?
The team does have a stable of young arms available to serve as depth – Kolby Allard, Brock Burke, Ariel Jurado, Joe Palumbo, and Taylor Hearn. All are under-25 with some getting brief exposure with the club last season. None delivered decent results, but their youth guarantees future opportunities.
As noted earlier, Vólquez will be in camp. That said; he missed 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and pitched just 24 innings last year.
José Leclerc began last season as the closer and subsequently lost the job before regaining it later. He currently projects as closer, again. The most prominent candidates to join him are Rodríguez, Goody, Nicaso, García, Rafael Montero, Jesse Chavez, Brett Martin, and Yohander Méndez.
As much as I like what the Rangers have done this offseason, there are unresolved issues worth noting. Some may receive attention in the coming weeks; others may linger into the regular season and will likely define the team’s debut campaign in its new ballpark.
Bounce back or at least stabilized production from Odor and Andrus is crucial considering their importance to the lineup and money owed to them.
If internal options don’t provide a first base answer, Daniels may go outside the organization for help.
The Rangers were reportedly interested in acquiring Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, if Colorado dealt the perennial All-Star and Gold Glove defender. Arenado’s presence would potentially allow Frazier to move to first base. The idea seems dead for now.
At least one additional veteran arm in the bullpen would help. This applies to most clubs at this point in the offseason.
If the team did unexpectedly implode, Daniels has proven agile enough to either address his team’s shortcomings or pivot into a seller-mode.
Pending Free Agents
|* Club Option For 2021|
On the other hand, a relatively solid start likely makes Texas buyers this summer. At this point in the offseason, this is the more likely outcome.
Perhaps Daniels re-explores a potential Arenado this July. That would be fun for Rangers fans, but no one else in the AL West.