AL West Threat Assessment: Texas Rangers
The Rangers in 2020:
With a brand-new ballpark opening, Texas was intent on careening back towards contention to enthuse a fanbase nonplussed by the team ditching Globe Life Park after just 26 years in favor of the new hotness, Globe Life Field across the street. The Rangers were rumored to be in on the big names in the third base market, but ultimately weren’t willing to outspend their brethren in scarlet for Rendon, and Josh Donaldson talks seemed to cool quickly. While not amending their position player group much, the Rangers did augment their rotation some, adding a fistful of good-to-okay pitchers highlighted by the Corey Kluber trade. This group isn’t as star-studded as maybe many Texas fans had hoped for from this off-season and might not have the highest ceiling, but Texas has at least apparently raised the floor this off-season.
1B Logan Forsythe, DH Hunter Pence, RHP Shawn Kelley, RF Nomar Mazara, RHP Emmanuel Clase, CF Delino DeShields
Key off-season additions:
RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Jordan Lyles, CF Steele Walker, RHP Kyle Gibson, 3B Todd Frazier
RHP Corey Kluber, LHP Mike Minor, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Kyle Gibson, RHP Jordan Lyles
Breathe in the competence. Texas has long been a grindhouse for pitchers, but last year saw breakout performances from both Lynn and Minor. The upside could be shocking, particularly with health and returns/sustainings of form. The Rangers are betting on Kluber to be, not ace-like, but healthy and competent; at 33, he’s well onto the wrong side of the age curve, but like a Toyota Corolla, the Klubot marches on. Mike Minor returns with his particular brand of “taller Marco Gonzales” competence, and Lance Lynn will strive to prove that 2019 is his new normal. Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles round out the rotation with bib and fork at the ready for innings-gobbling. It’s difficult to see this staff as one of the best in MLB, but it’s undoubtedly an improvement on their middle-of-the-pack performance last year as the stability of the rotation has moved from “IKEA chair where you can only sit on one side” to “solid Pennsylvania Dutch craftsmanship.” The lack of settling-for-status quo is most impressive here, as Texas effectively shunted three-fifths of their 2019 rotation back to AAA for further seasoning. Ariel Jurado, Joe Palumbo, and Kolby Allard have all eclipsed prospect status, but offer early/mid-20s arms who have been something less-than stellar but better than replacement-level. It’s not recent Dodgers-level “eight above-average starters” stuff, but it’s a really solid baseline.
Projected lineup: DH Shin Soo-Choo, SS Elvis Andrus, OF Joey Gallo, OF Danny Santana, OF Willie Calhoun, 3B Todd Frazier, 2B Rougned Odor, C Robinson Chirinos, 1B Ronald Guzmán
Here we get into some question marks regarding playing time. Frazier, Odor, and Andrus are all locks in the infield, although Odor has to improve on an offensively poor 2019, as the Rangers do have some in-house options for second in Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nick Solak. In the outfield, Gallo is a lock; only Santana is an every day centerfielder, and even he isn’t spectacular at it, so unless another acquisition is made, that would seem to lock him in as well. Prized prospect Willie Calhoun needs at-bats despite his fairly dreadful outfield defense, and with Choo taking up the DH spot, it’s probably safe to pencil him in there. Calhoun and fellow bat-first, semi-positionless youngster Nick Solak could battle with Guzmán for the 1B spot, who posted a wRC+ of 80 last year, but there are a couple wrenches. Neither Calhoun nor Solak have ever played 1B as a pro, though Solak has enough experience all over the rest of the infield to get the edge. Calhoun is a dodgier bet to take to the cold corner considering his size, generously listed at 5’8. Since MLB integrated, there’ve been just two seasons where a player listed 5’8 or shorter spent at least half their season at 1B (min. 80 games played). Should the Rangers add Castellanos, the lineup improves, but the defense does not, nor does the question of where to play everyone else find resolution. Kiner-Falefa will likely start the season in a bench role thanks to his extreme positional versatility, but at the moment this looks like one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. As steady-Eddie as the pitching staff shapes up to be, the position player group has much more variance, and given the defensive limitations of this group as a whole, a much thinner margin for error.
For all the flaws, this is still a more seasoned, better team than the 2020 Mariners, and will continue to comfortably step on Seattle’s shoulders in the AL West. Whether or not they can catch any of the three teams above them, however, remains to be seen. The bullpen will miss enigmatic rookie Emmanuel Clase, but it lines up tentatively as a middle-of-the-pack unit. For a team with as much air between their 2019 results and their 2020 hopes, they’ll need some breakouts and returns to form, which will determine whether this is an 80-85-win team or an 85+-win team. [Dear Rangers, it’s not too late to trade for Starling Marte and push yourselves up into solid B+ territory.]
The Rangers in 2021:
Shin Soo-Choo’s $20M comes off the books in 2021, but the Rangers still have some significant salary commitments in 2021: Kluber’s $18M, plus an additional $26M for Gibson-Lynn-Lyles, a combined $26M more for Andrus-Odor, and $12M more for Chirinos-Frazier. Trading Nomar Mazara, whose arbitration eligibility overlapped at the same time as Joey Gallo, might also signify that the Rangers will be looking to extend the power-hitting outfielder. This is the last year for most of the Rangers’ big-ticket players and depending on how 2020 went, Texas will either be playing out the string or reloading for another assault on the AL West. As for prospect reinforcements, #1 Texas prospect 3B Josh Jung has an MLB Pipeline ETA of 2021, but since the Rangers kept him in Low-A Hickory all season, he’d have two-plus levels to jump in 2020 to get there by then. Same thing for #2 prospect C Sam Huff, although he stayed in High-A all season.
The Rangers in 2022:
While they’ll still be paying Andrus, Odor, and Gibson, the 2022 Rangers project to be otherwise free of major salary commitments. Conveniently, this should also be when the Rangers start to see some of their top prospects arrive, including three that fill projected positions of need in Huff and Jung, along with recently traded-for CF Steele Walker. Pitching-prospect-wise the outlook is murkier, mostly because ‘pitching prospect’, but the Rangers have struggled with pitcher health in the minors the past two seasons. Top hurlers Hans Crouse and Cole Winn might be ready, which would give the Rangers a potential 1/1A at the top of their rotation, but since both are yet to pitch above A ball, it’s safe to be conservative on that estimate.