Spring Training is underway, meaning it’s time to do offseason recaps on the Seattle Mariners’ division rivals. First up, the rebuilding Texas Rangers.
As we move forward, please remember there’s still time for clubs to shakeup their rosters. Especially with so many free agents still on the market and with each team having players with no minor league options remaining.
After winning consecutive AL West division titles in 2015-16, Texas has been a cellar dweller since. Wanting to turn the page, the team fired manager Jeff Banister with just 10 games remaining last season.
Taking Banister’s place, former Mariners coach Chris Woodward. The first-time manager inherits a club that scuffled at the plate and on the mound in 2018.
|Rangers 2018 Team Stats|
In the three seasons leading up to 2018, Texas was top-10 in run production, but the club fell to the middle of the pack last year. Even worse, the pitching staff ranked as one of the worst in MLB.
Texas, like many rebuilding organizations, is laser-focused on their future. To that end, general manager Jon Daniels is constructing his roster of the future from within. Along the way, he’s dealt valued veterans to recoup young talent with club control.
Daniels’ strategy was on display this offseason when he shipped Jurickson Profar to the A’s in a three-team deal with the Rays. Texas netted four minor leaguers and international slot money in the trade.
With the Profar deal delivering pieces for the team’s future, Daniels added a cadre of 30-somethings with short-term commitments for the upcoming season. A few presenting considerable risk.
|Drew Smyly (SP)||Jeff Mathis (C)||Jesse Chavez (RP)|
|Patrick Wisdom (UTL)||Lance Lynn (SP)||Shelby Miller (SP)|
|Zach McAllister (RP)||Shawn Kelley (RP)||Asdrúbal Cabrera (INF)|
|Matt Davidson (UTL)|
Two starting pitchers (Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller) acquired this offseason and another signed 12 months ago (Edinson Vólquez) have a shared history – a scar on their elbow from Tommy John surgery in 2017.
Smyly and Vólquez didn’t pitch last year, although Miller returned last June. Unfortunately, he landed on the DL with elbow inflammation. In total, Miller pitched 16 innings in five appearances for Arizona with a 10.69 ERA.
Asdrúbal Cabrera takes over for the now-retired Adrián Beltré at third base. Since 2016, Cabrera has displayed good on-base abilities (.334 OBP), while averaging 20 homer and 33 doubles. The versatile 33-year-old has also made double-digit starts at both second and third base, plus shortstop.
Catcher Jeff Mathis is a defensive whiz, but not an offensive threat. The 14-year veteran has a meager .571 OPS in 461 combined plate appearances in 2016-17.
Matt Davidson slashed .228/.319/.419 with 20 home runs in 123 games with the White Sox last year. He also made three relief appearances in mop-up duty. When not toeing the mound, Davidson split his time between designated hitter and both corner infield spots.
Patrick Wisdom figures to vie for the 25th man role. Wisdom made his MLB debut with the Cardinals last year playing first and third base. although he also possesses minor league shortstop experience.
Although he’s entering his age-35 season, Shawn Kelley should reinforce the back-end of the bullpen. Kelley continued missing bats (9.2 SO/9) and controlling the zone (2.0 BB/9) during 49 innings with the Nationals and A’s last season. Furthermore, his .239 xwOBA ranked tenth best among MLB relievers.
Daniels re-inked a player dealt away last summer – reliever Jesse Chavez. The 35-year-old made a release point adjustment last May and thrived afterwards. Opponents hit just .206 against Chavez, while his .242 xwOBA was fourth best among MLB relievers after Memorial Day.
Chavez also throws multiple innings. Last year, he made 23 appearances of two-plus frames. In total, the righty tossed 95.1 innings in 62 relief appearances.
Zach McAllister scuffled with the Indians and Tigers last season, but also demonstrated the ability to get four-plus outs in 10 of 44 appearances last year.
Veteran outfielder Hunter Pence was a last-minute addition on a minor league deal. The Arlington, Texas native is coming off the worst campaign in his 12-year career. Moreover, he’s entering his age-36 season. For these reasons, the odds of making the roster are stacked against the long-time Giant.
The team signed Lance Lynn to a three-year deal, which is unique considering Daniels avoided longer commitments with other over-30 veterans. Additionally, 2018 was the righty’s worst full season of his seven-year career.
Then again, Lynn did pitch significantly better for the Yankees than with Minnesota after a late-July deal. Prior to the trade, the Indiana native had a below average .330 xwOBA. With New York, he had a .258 xwOBA – only Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman were better on the Bombers.
Granted, Lynn’s Bronx turnaround was a small sample size (54.1 IP). Perhaps the Rangers believe they can help the former Ole Miss Rebel continues his Yankee success in Arlington.
Although the Rangers are in rebuild-mode, they have seven starting position players back from last year’s crew. However, only Mike Minor returns to the rotation.
As a rookie, Ronald Guzmán slashed .235/.306/.416 with 16 home runs. He appears to be the favorite to remain the club’s first baseman. If the 24-year-old falters, Texas could turn to Joey Gallo, who has 85 career starts in three seasons.
Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus continue anchoring second base and shortstop respectively. Odor’s defense improved significantly and he had the best OBP (.326) of his five-year career. On the other hand, his home run total dropped to 18 after averaging 32 bombs in 2016-17.
Andrus is rebounding from a down season highlighted by an early season broken elbow. The Venezuelan returned last season, but never got into a groove playing the fewest games (97) of his 10-year career.
Assuming Gallo isn’t playing first base, he probably patrols left field. The 25-year-old has averaged 41 homers since 2017, while his 12.8% walk rate was top-25 in MLB last year.
Despite an anemic .591 OPS, Delino DeShields Jr. is the club’s centerfielder unless rookie Carlos Tocci overtakes him. Minor leaguer Scott Heineman may be a factor later this year. But the 26-year-old is recovering from shoulder surgery and may return by June.
Fun fact: Gallo has center field experience too (11 starts last year).
Nomar Mazara is the starting right fielder; a role held since debuting three years ago. The 23-year-old has been league-average at reaching base, while hitting exactly 20 home runs in each major league campaign.
Shin-Soo Choo returns as the primary designated hitter, although he did start 59 combined games in left and right field last year.
Other outfield options include Pence and Willie Calhoun. A former top-100 prospect, Calhoun projects to hit at the big league level, although evaluators consider his defense a liability.
Assuming everyone is ready; Texas will begin with a starting staff of Lynn, Smyly, Miller, Minor, and Vólquez. It may be a bumpy ride early in the season with three starters returning from Tommy John surgery and Lynn’s uneven performance last year.
For rotation insurance, Daniels recently signed veteran Jason Hammel. That said; the 36-year-old had a 5.59 ERA in 307.1 innings with the Royals in 2017-18. Adrian Sampson is another option. The former Mariner started four games for Texas last year.
Although the starting staff may not inspire confidence right now, the Rangers do like the wave of young arms on the way. Those youngsters include Yohander Méndez, Ariel Jurado, Jonathan Hernandez, Joe Palumbo, Taylor Hearn, and Brock Burke. Still, the youth movement won’t take root for several years depending on the progression of each pitcher.
In the bullpen, Jose Leclerc will close games again. Leading contenders to get the ball to Leclerc include Kelley, McAllister, Chavez, Chris Martin, Matt Bush, Jeffrey Springs, Kyle Bird, and Connor Sadzeck.
Spring, Bird and Sadzeck are southpaws, which may guarantee at least one of them to makes the Opening Day roster. On that note, Sadzeck has no minor league options remaining. Here are other players in the same situation.
|No Minor League Options |
|Connor Sadzeck||Jett Bandy||Chase d’Arnaud|
|Matt Davidson||Danny Santana||Rafael Montero|
|Zac Curtis||Taylor Guerrieri||Jack Leathersich|
|David Carpenter||Matt Bush|
Other relievers in the mix this spring and perhaps during the season: Nick Gardewine, C.D. Pelham, David Carpenter, Michael Tonkin, Luke Farrell, Jeanmar Gómez, Yoel Espinal, Rafael Montero, Taylor Guerrieri, and former Mariner Zac Curtis.
Mathis is the main catcher. He’ll be able to mentor Isiah Kiner-Falefa and perhaps prospect rookie Jose Trevino. Potential layers of depth include veteran receiver Jett Bandy and former first round pick Tony Sanchez.
Kiner-Falefa’s unique positional versatility is noteworthy. The 23-year-old started 30-plus games at catcher and third base last year. He also started 19 at second base and played shortstop twice.
In consecutive summers, Daniels has dealt pending free agents to bolster his farm system. Expect the long-time Rangers GM to be making similar moves in July.
|Pending Free Agents|
|Shawn Kelley*||Drew Smyly||Asdrubal Cabrera|
|Shelby Miller||Zach McAllister||Jeanmar Gomez|
|Jason Hammel||Edinson Volquez|
|* Club option for 2020|
Naturally, the trade value of Vólquez, Miller, and Smyly will depend on their first-half performances. Still, if any of them are healthy and effective, they’ll appeal to contenders looking for rotational depth.
Cabrera and Mathis may pique the interest of suitors too, although pitching is the favored commodity at the deadline.
It would make sense if Daniels attempted to move Minor and/or Choo. However, each has two years remaining on their contracts, which may hurt their curbside appeal.
The Rangers’ return to serious contention hinges on two things. The success of their young core of position players – Andrus, Odor, Gallo, Mazara, DeShields Guzman, and Calhoun – and the team’s ability to yield productive starters from their stable of young arms.
If Texas succeeds in both respects, they’ll return to contention within several years. Otherwise, the summers could be long, hot, and uncomfortable in Arlington for quite some time.