Pitchers and catchers report within weeks. That means it is time to review the offseason moves of the Seattle Mariners and their division rivals. We have already discussed the Oakland Athletics. Next, the Texas Rangers, who finished in a distant third place tie with the Mariners.
The Rangers’ run production was fifth best in the American League despite their hitters being below league-average at reaching base. How did the offense create runs? Power and speed. The team was third in the league in home runs, second in stolen bases.
Texas starters finished in the bottom third of the league in ERA and FIP. Moreover, Martin Perez (32), Andrew Cashner (28), and Cole Hamels (24) were the only starters to finish the season with Texas and make 20-plus starts. Compounding matters, the bullpen was one of baseball’s worst.
With his club facing tough postseason odds, general manager Jon Daniels opted to build for the future. The 40-year-old executive dealt pending free agents Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, plus reliever Jeremy Jeffress prior to last July’s non-waiver deadline.
Ironically, Texas acquired the latter two players in a deadline deal just one year prior.
To compensate for trading Darvish and losing free agent starting pitchers Cashner, A.J. Griffin Nick Martinez, and Tyson Ross, Daniels added veterans Doug Fister and Mike Minor via free agency and Matt Moore in a deal with the San Francisco Giants.
Fister started his season in the Los Angeles Angels organization, but the Boston Red Sox selected him off waivers last June. The right-hander proved serviceable making 15 starts for Boston finishing with a 4.88 ERA and 3.98 FIP.
Still, Fister has struggled against opposite-handed hitters over the last two years. Since 2016, lefties have slashed .310/.386/.534 against him. Prior to that, the 34-year-old’s career line was a far more palatable .257/.302/.398.
Minor was a starter with the Atlanta Braves, but developed shoulder problems and underwent surgery in 2015. The left-hander did not pitch in the majors again until 2017, as a member of the Kansas City Royals.
Due to concerns regarding Minor’s shoulder, the Royals converted him into a reliever. In that role, the 30-year-old had a breakout year holding opposing hitters to a .201 batting average during 77.2 innings of work. That said; he chose the Rangers because management expressed a willingness to consider using him as a starter.
Simply put; Moore had a rough year with San Francisco. The lefty posted the worst ERA (5.52) among qualified major league starters. Moreover, his home run and walk rates ranked in the bottom-10 of baseball. Despite those struggles, the 28-year-old managed to make 31 starts and log 174.1 innings.
To add organizational rotation depth, Texas acquired Ronald Herrera from the New York Yankees. It is worth noting the 22-year-old pitched just 19.1 innings after July 1 due to shoulder inflammation. Herrera, along with prospect Yohander Mendez, are likely options when help is inevitably needed during the season.
Despite his bullpen’s struggles, Daniels has not made a splashy move to improve the unit. The only major league contract added thus far has been 31-year-old Chris Martin, who spent the last two years in Japan.
Having said that, Daniels did reach minor league agreements with a cadre of relievers with big league experience. Among them; Erik Goeddel, Deolis Guerra, former Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson, Kevin Jepsen, and former Mariner Steve Delabar.
Former backup Robinson Chirinos took over the regular catching duties when Lucroy departed with Brett Nicholas serving as his understudy. In the offseason, Texas added Juan Centeno, Curt Casali and Mike Ohlman as depth pieces. Moreover, there is prospect Jose Trevino, who likely begins the season with Class-AAA Round Rock.
Last year, Hamels made the fewest starts since his 2006 rookie campaign. More concerning, the southpaw’s fastball velocity was down and his 6.4 K/9 was substantially lower than his career average (8.5). Considering the four-time all-star’s age (34) and mileage (2362.1 career innings), further regression this year is possible.
Perez may not miss many bats, but he has proven reliable averaging 32 starts and 192 innings during the last two years. Still, the 26-year-old fractured his non-pitching elbow during a December encounter with a bull — not a typo. As a result, his readiness for Opening Day is unclear.
Questions swirl around the remaining rotation arms. How far will Moore bounce back from the worst season of his career? Will Fister overcome his issues with left-handed hitters? Is Minor durable enough to be a starter?
Another name to consider for a rotation spot is reliever Matt Bush. The Rangers plan to use the hard-throwing righty as a starter entering Spring Training. Even if the 32-year-old does not join the staff, his preparation could lead to a multi-inning relief role similar to the one Chris Devenski fills with the Houston Astros.
It is worth noting, the rotation is loaded with southpaws. Hamels, Perez, Minor, and Moore all throw from the left side. Whether that is an issue for the Rangers will become clearer in the coming months.
In the bullpen, more intrigue exists with the closer role remaining unsettled. Jake Diekman, who missed most of last season after undergoing three surgeries for ulcerative colitis, could be a candidate. The lefty has a career 11.0 K/9 rate and is adept at avoiding home runs. However, his control (career 4.8 BB/9) is concerning.
Fellow left-hander Alex Claudio may be in the mix too. The 25-year-old finished last year as the Rangers’ closer after Sam Dyson and Bush struggled in the role. One potential issue though — he does not miss bats. The native of Puerto Rico averaged just 6.1 K/9 last year — tenth lowest among relievers with 50-plus innings.
Durability issues probably keep Keone Kela out of the conversation. Over the last two seasons, the Everett Community College product has averaged just 37 appearances due to injuries. Shoulder soreness last year and an elbow impingement in 2016.
Perhaps, Daniels and manager Jeff Banister turn to another internal option to close games — Minor. During his one season as a reliever, the former Vanderbilt Commodore’s strikeout rate jumped to 10.2 K/9. Furthermore, the lefty was skilled at getting hitters out regardless of handedness.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre played his fewest games (94) since his rookie season in 1998. Considering the future Hall of Famer turns 40 in April, the club would benefit from more infield depth. Slugger Joey Gallo can play the hot corner, but he appears entrenched at first base.
Texas does have utility man Jurickson Profar, who has experience at all four infield positions and left field. Still, baseball’s former top prospect spent most of 2017 with Round Rock and did not receive a September call-up. With no minor league options remaining, the 24-year-old could be with another organization by Opening Day.
Willie Calhoun, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Darvish deal, will compete for the left field job. The 23-year-old was a second baseman, but below average defense led to a position change. With that in mind, the left-handed hitter must produce at the plate to justify a big league roster spot.
Adding a veteran backup catcher would prove beneficial in the event Chirinos was lost for an extended period.
Considering their lack of offseason maneuvers, Texas appears on the brink of commencing with a major rebuild.
If the Rangers were setting a new course, trading Hamels this season would make sense. Texas does hold a $20 million club option for 2019 with a $6 million buyout. But trading the 12-year veteran with financial considerations could help the club add future value to their roster.
Other notable names with expiring contracts include Beltre and Diekman. Furthermore, Perez, Chirinos, Moore, and Fister have club options for 2019 with relatively inexpensive buyouts. Depending on the standings in July and the trade market, some or all of these players may wearing different uniforms by August.
Certainly, I could be wrong. The Rangers could still re-sign Darvish or other top free agents. However, Daniels says he does not expect to add a marquee player.
If that is the case, it may be a long, hot summer in Arlington.
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