When a team rebuilds fans must look to the future for success rather than the now. That process reaches critical mass when the team gets closer to its new run of success than it is to the glory days of old. The Texas Rangers have yet to determine if they have reached such a point in their efforts to build a new winner for the fans of Arlington.
One of the benefits of the rebuilding process is that a team arrives at a point where player departures mean less and less as the team was already losing with them, so there’s far less concern about losing games without them. Sure bet Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre made the decision to retire after the 2018 season and leaves a gaping hole in both the Ranger infield and batting order. Another veteran presence that will be missed is that of catcher Robinson Chirinos whose 35 home runs over the past two seasons won’t be missed as much as his presence in the clubhouse. Chirinos is a past recipient of the Jim Sundberg Community Achievement Award and the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award while with the Rangers and was widely considered a strong leader for the club.
Rangers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jon Daniels has built a winner in Arlington before and has his sights set on doing so again with a plan for the long term. A major piece of that puzzle was securing the services of the right man to guide the process on the field and Daniels seems to have found him in new manager Chris Woodward. The new skipper knows the value of how hard work overcomes long odds as he was a 54th round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1994 and was able to rise to the big leagues despite long odds against it. Woodward played twelve years for five different teams before going into coaching with the Mariners and Dodgers. Woodward was signed to a three-year contract in November and has a possible fourth year in a club option.
Woodward’s job is still on the uphill side as the Rangers still feed the need to bring in veteran players while allowing the talent in their minor league system, the bulk of it at low minors levels, to develop into viable prospects. Daniels added starters Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller over the winter seemingly to bridge the gap to developing youth. Smyly hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2016 due to Tommy John surgery and Miller has fallen on hard times since his All-Star selection in 2015. Holdover Mike Minor is the leader of the rotation after a solid 2018 campaign (12-8/4.18/1.21). The Rangers also have veteran Edinson Volquez nearing readiness after missing 2018 recovering from his own TJ surgery.
Jose Leclerc returns as the de-facto closer in the bullpen. The 25-year-old right-hander was dominant in limited duty last season (1.56 ERA/0.85 WHIP/85 K’s/57.2 IP) and should be tested on a long-term basis in the finishing role in 2019. Veterans Jesse Chavez, Shawn Kelley and Zach McAllister were brought in to provide tried hands at middle inning and set-up work in addition to returning relievers Matt Bush and Chris Martin.
On offense, the Rangers look to be a “Three Ultimate Outcomes” kind of team. Powerhouse Joey Gallo personifies the definition with 81 HR’s and 173 RBI’s over the past two seasons to go along with 149 walks and 403 strikeouts. Still just 25, Gallo seems to have yet to find his ceiling with room to improve upon .209 and .206 batting averages over the past two seasons. Second baseman Rougned Odor revamped his approach at the plate in 2018 cutting down his strikeouts and getting more walks. His development this season is a critical point for the Rangers offense. Veteran DH Shin-Shoo Choo is a likely trade candidate as the season goes on. The 36-year-old has popped 43 HR over the past two seasons while compiling on-base percentages of .357 and .377 in the same span. It’s likely that the Rangers would have to absorb a considerable portion of the $42M left on his contract covering the next two seasons in order to trade him, but Choo still has a productive bat to offer contenders.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus turned 30 last August and his injury-shortened 2018 season was the first in his career that he did not steal at least 20 bases. Daniels has a big decision to make if Andrus comes back strong this season. The career clock is ticking on the veteran infielder and it’s likely that Andrus will never again have more value for trade than he will this season. Elsewhere in the infield 24-year-old Ronald Guzman returns at first base after a difficult rookie season (.235/.306/.416) and will work to improve upon his 16 homers and 58 RBI’s. Asdrubal Cabrera was brought in to replace Beltre at third base. In the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington, the 33-year-old should have a good shot at repeating the 23 HR’s and 75 RBI’s he produced for the Mets and Phillies last year.
Nomar Mazara has 60 HR’s and 241 RBI’s over the past three seasons and turns just 24 in April. He and Gallo promise to deliver considerable power from the corner outfield positions. Center fielder Delino DeShields Jr. seems to be at a crossroads in his career. The 26-year-old speedster managed just a .310 on-base percentage in 2018 and is in dire need of a bounce-back season. DeShields sports 82 career stolen bases and could establish himself as the igniter for the Ranger offense for years to come with a solid season.
To replace Chirinos behind the plate, Daniels brought in veteran catcher Jeff Mathis to pair with infielder-turned-catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa. It remains to be seen what the distribution of playing time will be in this time share, but Mathis brings with him a steady hand in managing the pitching staff on the field and defense slightly superior to that of Chirinos.
One thing the Rangers will have to battle is the overwhelming abundance of left-handed hitters in their lineup. Mazara, Gallo, Guzman, Odor,
The outlook for relief from the Rangers’ minor league system is long-term as there are few bona fide prospects in the upper minors. Willie Calhoun was expected to be an impact hitter after a 31 home run season at AAA in 2017. However, the California native fell back to only nine homers last season and fizzled in his 108 plate appearances late in the season in Texas (.222/.269/.333). With the influx of veteran players to the roster, Daniels is clearly covering his bets with the 24-year-old’s near future. The Rangers top prospects include Leody Taveras, Julio Martinez, Cole Winn, Hans Crouse, Jonathan Hernandez, Brock Burke, Taylor Hearn, Joe Palumbo, Cole Ragans,
The Rangers face a long road back to contention as their present lies largely in the hands of veteran players. Only Gallo, Odor, Mazara, DeShields and Guzman are regulars under the age of 30 and there is little relief in sight. The pitching staff has been patched together and is relying on injury and performance comebacks to be competitive this season. The offense is plainly vulnerable to left-handed pitching and has sketchy depth at best. Texas was 67-95 in 2018 and, with good health, they could improve upon that mark by ten games or so. However, if injuries mount there are not a lot of options at the ready to rely upon and it could be another long, difficult season in Arlington. The best case scenario has the Rangers getting off to a good start so that Daniels can start dealing some of those veteran players for higher level prospects that can energize their rebuilding process.