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Texas Rangers Rumors
The Rangers overcame the first hurdle of their offseason when they signed manager Jeff Banister earlier this week. Speaking of hurdles (and bad puns), the erstwhile Pirates bench coach is drawing frequent comparisons to recent colleague Clint Hurdle. Shortstop Elvis Andrus sees a similar passion for the game, reports Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Another Rangers insider speaking with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News said, ““(The Rangers) have long had a love crush on Hurdle…and, in Banister, they felt like they were getting the closest thing to him.”
- We learned earlier today that the Rangers have expressed interest in re-signing right-handed pitcher Colby Lewis. In a separate article for the Dallas Morning News, Fraley writes that the next step for the Rangers is to re-open communications with Lewis’ agent Alan Nero. Said Daniels, “We haven’t been able to spend much time on that. We can get back to that now.”
- The Astros are thought to raise payroll by as much as $20MM next season and starting pitching could be a target, writes Chris Perry of The Crawfish Boxes. Perry focuses his attention on the shape of the market rather than picking a specific target. The top end of the free agent market – Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields – aren’t good fits, but anyone below the first tier could be in play. My own opinion: innings eaters like Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, and Kevin Correia could make sense. Keep in mind, the Astros department of decision sciences identified Collin McHugh prior to the season, so they could have other stealthy names in mind.
The Rangers would like to finish an extension with president of baseball operations and GM Jon Daniels by the start of spring training, ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins writes. Daniels is entering the last year of a four-year deal. His contract had been on the back burner as the Rangers looked for a new manager, but with Jeff Banister now in the fold, the Rangers should have more time. “We’ve been consumed for the last month on this, so [Daniels' extension] will fall in place,” says team co-chairman Ray Davis. Daniels’ teams have played in two World Series and had four 90-plus-win seasons since he was hired in 2005. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Rangers are interested in retaining pitcher Colby Lewis, and Daniels says he’s talked to Lewis’ agent, Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest tweets. The Rangers are the only team allowed to negotiate with Lewis until five days after the World Series. The impending free agent pitched 170 1/3 innings in 2014, and his 7.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 indicated he was somewhat better than his 5.18 ERA suggested.
- The Astros have announced new manager A.J. Hinch’s 2015 coaching staff, as noted by Mark Berman of FOX 26 (on Twitter). Former Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens will take the same role with the Astros. Rich Dauer, previously the manager of the Double-A San Antonio Missions in the Padres organization, will be Houston’s first base coach. The team also officially announced that Gary Pettis will be their third base coach and Trey Hillman their bench coach.
- The Padres announced a variety of changes in their player development area Friday, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Randy Smith, who had been vice president for player development, will become a senior advisor for baseball operations, and will focus on scouting. The team will not retain field coordinator Randy Johnson (not the former star pitcher), hitting coordinator Sean Berry or outfield and baserunning coordinator Glen Barker. The Padres could consider Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler for their farm director position, Lin notes.
FRIDAY: Banister’s contract is a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth season, reports Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link).
THURSDAY, 6:03pm: The Rangers have announced the hiring.
10:34am: The Rangers will hire Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister as their next manager, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link).
The Rangers interviewed a wide variety of candidates for the position following Ron Washington’s abrupt resignation. Interim manager Tim Bogar and Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash were announced by the team as finalists in addition to Banister. However, Texas also interviewed internal candidates Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele, as well as the following external candidates: Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing and former big leaguer Alex Cora (who currently is an analyst for ESPN).
Banister’s hiring will be bittersweet for the Pirates organization, as while they’re undoubtedly happy to see him receive the opportunity, the hiring will also bring to a close a tenure with Pittsburgh that has lasted 29 seasons. Banister was a 25th-round draft pick by the Bucs in 1986 and spent seven years with them as a minor leaguer (he also received one plate appearance in the Majors in 1991). Banister managed for five seasons in the minors with Pittsburgh and has also spent three seasons as the Major Legaue field coordinator and eight as a minor league field coordinator. He was named the team’s bench coach in 2010 and also served as an interim pitching coach in 2008.
Last year, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times penned an excellent article on Banister’s extraordinary journey to his then-position with the Pirates. A bone cancer survivor in high school, Banister underwent seven operations on his left ankle. As a junior college player in his native Texas, Banister got behind the plate on a day he was not scheduled to catch because a Yankees scout was on-hand to watch him. Tragedy ensued, as Banister was left paralyzed from the neck down following a home-plate collision. He underwent spinal surgery and lost nearly 90 pounds before leaving the hospital, but he recovered, returned to the field after a year and ended up being selected in the 25th round of the ’86 draft.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
That news is hardly a surprise, as Texas was said to be leaning strongly in that direction. Rios ended his first full season with the club on somewhat of a down note, ending the year on the DL with a thumb issue after a tough season. He slashed .280/.311/.398 over 521 plate appearances on the year, hitting four home runs and swiping 17 bags a year after he was good for 18 long balls and 42 steals. With his value on the bases down and defensive metrics generally viewing Rios as a below-average right fielder, he ultimately landed just above replacement level.
Rios should still garner plenty of interest on the free agent market. He will be entering his age-34 season, so a lengthy pact would be surprising, but Rios is not far removed from some very good seasons. Over 2012-13, he slashed .291/.329/.473 in 1,302 plate appearances with 43 home runs and 65 steals.
The news that the Rangers will decline the option brings to an end one of the more interesting contracts in recent memory. Fresh off of two big seasons, Rios inked a seven-year, $69.835MM extension with the Blue Jays back in April of 2008. Things turned sharply down in the 2009 season, but Toronto was famously bailed out of the deal when the White Sox claimed Rios off waivers.
Though Rios struggled mightily at times in Chicago, the club was rewarded at the end with the aforementioned seasons, and ultimately was able to trade Rios to the Rangers last August in exchange for Leury Garcia. Heading into the year, Rios’s option actually seemed likely to be picked up, which was quite a turnaround for that much-maligned extension. All said, over the life of the deal, Rios was worth just north of 15 wins above replacement (by the reckoning of both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference).
Here’s the latest on the Rangers’ search for a new manager:
- The finalists are Tim Bogar, Jeff Banister, and Kevin Cash, the Rangers announced today.
- Torey Lovullo and Alex Cora have been informed that they are no longer in the running, tweets Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. As Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported yesterday, the club was expected to winnow the field this week.
- The Rangers interviewed Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash today, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star Telegram (Twitter link).
- The Rangers announced today that they interviewed Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister and White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing for the position.
- MassLive.com’s Jason Mastrodonato previously reported that Lovullo’s interview was conducted Tuesday of this week. Mastrodonato provides an excellent profile of Lovullo’s journey to his current status and desire to manage at the big league level.
- After already having interviewed Buechele and Maddux, the Rangers announced six additional candidates today: Bogar, Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing, former big leaguer Alex Cora, Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash, and Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister.
- The Rangers will interview Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports. The 49-year-old has been a candidate for multiple managerial openings in recent years, including the just-filled Astros job.
Over at The Hardball Times, Jon Roegele breaks down some interesting data on Tommy John surgeries. The number of UCL replacements was a big story this year, of course. Roegele’s research suggests that, while the overall rate of return for pitchers who have undergone the procedure has not improved much since it was invented, the recovery time has been shortened significantly.
Here’s the latest from out west:
- Referring to a report that Mariners ownership had killed a deal that would have brought in free agent Nelson Cruz, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that Seattle’s ownership had in fact determined before the offseason that it would not sign any players linked to PED use. The details of the situation remain hazy, but Heyman indicates that Cruz’s Biogenesis-related suspension was the root of the decision.
- The Rangers are looking for a manager in the mold of Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Indeed, every one of the five external candidates under consideration have links to one of those two skippers, as does candidate and interim manager Tim Bogar. Texas is expected to whittle its search down to three finalists in the coming week, says Grant.
- Giants starter Jake Peavy thought at one point that he would be traded to the team he is now facing in the NLCS, the Cardinals, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The veteran righty could still end up in St. Louis next year, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. Peavy speaks very highly of the club and city, and could make some sense for the Cards if the team decides another established arm is needed for 2015.
In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal. The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him. For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego. Here’s more from today’s column..
- A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
- If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties. The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
- Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding. No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
- First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base. However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield. He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
- While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB. Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing. There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.
Prior to the season, pundits expected the Rangers to be in the thick of the AL West. Instead, they finished with fewer than 70 wins for the first time since 1985. Injuries are the most commonly cited culprit for the poor season. The organization could experience a quick turnaround with better health, but several questionable long term commitments put the franchise outlook in jeopardy.
- Prince Fielder, 1B: $144MM through 2020
- Adrian Beltre, 3B: $18MM through 2015 (plus $16MM voidable option for 2016)
- Shin-Soo Choo, OF: $116MM through 2020
- Yu Darvish, SP: $31MM through 2017 (2017 could become player option based on Cy Young voting)
- Matt Harrison, SP: $39MM through 2017 (plus $13.25MM club option for 2018)
- Elvis Andrus, SS: $120MM through 2022 (plus $15MM club option for 2023)
- Derek Holland, SP: $18.4MM through 2016 (plus $11MM club option for 2017 and $11.5MM club option for 2018)
- Leonys Martin, OF: $3.75MM through 2015
- Martin Perez, SP: $10.75MM through 2017 (plus $6MM club option for 2018, $7.5MM club option for 2019, and $9MM club option for 2020)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Neftali Feliz, RP: (4.164): $4.1MM projected salary
- Mitch Moreland, 1B: (4.151): $2.8MM
- Alexi Ogando, RP: (4.114):$2.63MM
- Adam Rosales, INF: (4.067): $1MM
- Alex Rios, OF: $13.5MM club option ($1MM buyout)
In addition to the many injuries suffered in Texas, former manager Ron Washington left the team in early September for personal reasons. MLBTR will continue to track the latest from the Rangers ongoing managerial search. Presently, the field is wide open with as many as eight candidates.
Once a manager is selected, GM Jon Daniels has a tough road ahead of him this offseason. He’s said he doesn’t “expect to play at the top end of free agency this year,” so it’s unclear how much payroll the club has available. Currently, $107.15MM is guaranteed to nine players. Arbitration expenses shouldn’t be unwieldy, but may tie up around $12MM. Assuming payroll stays steady after the losing season, Daniels will have about $15MM to $25MM with which to work.
As noted, injuries contributed heavily to the team’s 95 losses. Of the regulars, only Andrus survived the season unscathed, and he turned in a disappointing .263/.314/.333 line. Over 2,000 player days were lost to injury. It’s the biggest injury burden since data has been collected on the topic, and they also lost the most salary to injury.
Aside from this season, Texas has recently done well with injuries. It’s hard to pin blame on the training staff. Some players suffered fluky injuries like Holland (dog tripping incident). Others were lost for extended periods with difficult-to-prevent problems like Jurickson Profar, Harrison, and Perez. It’s not worth digging into the entire list of injured Rangers – it suffices to say the list is long.
So where is the club headed? Three players are contracted through 2020, and those deals already look like potential burdens. As mentioned, Andrus disappointed offensively for a second straight season. Fielder struggled leading up to his season-ending injury. Choo was decent early, but slumped on his way to the doctor. It’s unclear how long Choo played through injury, so there is at least some room for optimism with him.
Two of the club’s best position players – Beltre and Martin – may become free agents after the 2015 season. Beltre possesses an option for 2016 that can be voided if he fails to reach 586 plate appearances next season. The club’s best pitcher, Darvish, has an interesting provision that could allow him to convert his 2017 season into a player option. It will trigger if he either wins the Cy Young award once in the next two seasons or finishes between second and fourth in both years.
The farm system isn’t particularly deep, with Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro representing the top prospects. Gallo is a high strikeout corner infielder while Alfaro is a well-rounded catcher. No matter how optimistic you are about the Rangers system, it’s not positioned to bail out the major league club in the next couple seasons.
Therein lies the rub. Texas exists in a weird state between contending and rebuilding. Several injured players like Profar, Harrison, and Perez may be unavailable at the start of the season. Additionally, Darvish, Ogando, and Tanner Scheppers were all sidelined with elbow inflammation. We’ve seen elbow issues recur in other pitchers, most recently Cliff Lee.
Texas is expected to decline Alex Rios‘ $13.5MM club option. That leaves potential openings for a starting outfielder, second baseman, and catcher. The latter two positions will probably be solved internally. Profar may man second if healthy or Rougned Odor, 21 next season, could be given another extended look. With the catching market so thin, the club is thought to be leaning towards using Robinson Chirinos as their primary backstop. Unfortunately, internal options in the outfield are limited. The 2014 club used Jake Smolinski, Jim Adduci, Daniel Robertson, Michael Choice, and Ryan Rua to patch the outfield. It’s unclear if any of them can handle more than a supporting role.
While outfield is a problem area, the free agent market offers few solutions. Rather than trying Colby Rasmus, Michael Cuddyer, or a return engagement with Nelson Cruz, the Rangers may want to explore a trade. We’ll know more about that marketplace in the coming months, but trade candidates like Justin Ruggiano could work as a means of fortifying those internal band aids. Yasmany Tomas is another option who could fit well for a semi-rebuilding club.
The rotation is a major area of concern. Darvish has an upcoming doctor’s appointment in November which will determine his offseason schedule. Harrison may or may not be available to start the season as he recovers from spinal fusion surgery. Perez had Tommy John surgery in May, so he’ll be out at least the first month. Assuming Darvish is healthy, he’ll be joined by Holland. Veteran Colby Lewis is reportedly expected to be re-signed. Despite an unsightly 5.18 ERA, the soft-tossing righty posted typically decent peripherals which improved late in the season. Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez were the most successful of the internal options. Others like Miles Mikolas and Lisalverto Bonilla appear better suited as minor league depth.
In total, assuming Lewis is re-signed, the Rangers have plenty of arms, but lack in health and proven quality. That’s where a free agent hire or two could really pay off. If the club is looking for an affordable innings eater, Roberto Hernandez could fit their offense friendly stadium with his ground ball profile. Potential mid-market targets include Ervin Santana, Justin Masterson, and Edinson Volquez. Some may recall that Volquez was once traded by the Rangers for Josh Hamilton.
The bullpen is yet another area of uncertainty. A whopping 30 relievers were used this season, counting position player appearances from Moreland and J.P. Arencibia. The club’s best reliever was Joakim Soria. He’s now with Detroit. The second best reliever was Cotts, and he’s headed to free agency. Neftali Feliz regained his previous role as closer in the waning months of the season. He gained strength late in the year, running his fastball up to 98 mph at times. Now that he’s further removed from Tommy John surgery, the Rangers have to hope he can provide a stabilizing influence in the bullpen. However, it would be risky to rely solely on Feliz and other internal options.
The closer market is fairly robust. A candidate like Jason Grilli might be willing to serve as a competition for Feliz. The club should probably look to hire at least a couple relievers – you can view the full list of available names here. Jesse Crain, Luke Hochevar, and Andrew Bailey are among the low-risk, high-reward crowd.
Rather than just patching holes and hoping the ship doesn’t sink for a second consecutive season, Texas does have the option to kick off a thorough rebuilding process. Of their long term assets, only Harrison appears impossible to trade at this moment and only because his career is uncertain at this time. Any contract dump of Fielder, Choo, or Andrus would be selling low, but an opportunistic partner with money to spare might be willing to bet on any of the three. Certainly, a deal for Choo or Fielder is especially unlikely. Darvish and Holland offer substantially more value, although their recent injury history probably dampens their market too.
That leaves just Beltre and Martin as sell-high candidates, and they have the shortest commitments. As such, I think it’s more likely that Texas will take the current roster into the season. Even if the club doesn’t compete, better performance from their big names along with the constricted in-season market for talent should help with trading.
Ultimately, Rangers fans may want to see a big change after a dreadful season, but a steady course appears to be the forecast. Daniels is in a poor position to make sweeping changes. His trade assets are at a low point in value, and he admittedly doesn’t have much to work with for free agent acquisitions. Any future pivot to rebuilding will likely be the result of early season performance.
The Rangers have claimed infielder Ed Lucas off waivers from the Marlins, according to Rangers executive VP of communications John Blake (on Twitter). Lucas, 32, will be controllable at league minimum next year.
It took some time for Lucas to reach the big leagues, but he’s seen a good bit of action over the past two years. In total, he has a .255/.302/.323 slash and five home runs over 573 plate appearances. Those numbers looked better after 2013, but a .580 OPS campaign saw Lucas land under replacement value last year.
Clearly, Lucas’s value lies in his defensive flexibility. Over that limited stretch of time, he has seen significant time at third, second, first, and even short. Lucas has also played some innings in the corner outfield.
Though it’s early in the process, the market for Yasmany Tomas is beginning to develop, tweets MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. To this point, the Rangers, Phillies, Padres, Giants, Mariners and Dodgers have all shown strong interest in the young slugger. Most of those clubs are logical fits, though the Dodgers are a bit surprising given the logjam of outfielders the team already has under contract. The Dodgers are already unable to find regular at-bats for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Scott Van Slyke, so adding another outfielder to the mix would make a semi-surprising addition.
Some more news items from around the league…
- Braves right-hander Garrett Fulenchek and his agent, Craig Rose, have joined MSM Sports, MLBTR has learned. The 18-year-old Fulenchek was selected with the 66th overall pick in this year’s draft and will join the same agency that is home to No. 8 overall pick Kyle Freeland and Josh Harrison of the Pirates.
- The Royals and Orioles have built somewhat unconventional rosters, writes ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, pointing out that their meeting in the ALCS marks the first time in the divisional era (beginning in 1969) that two teams that ranked in the bottom five of the league in walks will meet in an LCS or World Series. Crasnick looks at each team’s emphasis on defense as well as the Orioles’ emphasis on power and aggression and the Royals’ emphasis on speed. Somewhat incredibly, Baltimore ranked first in the Majors in homers and last in steals, while Kansas City ranked last in homers and first in steals. Crasnick spoke with Adam Jones, Buck Showalter and the Elias Sports Bureau’s Steve Hirdt for the piece, the latter of whom opined that clubs have gone from undervaluing walks to overvaluing them.
- Crasnick’s colleague, Jayson Stark, writes that players feel underrepresented as MLB experiments with new rules to increase the pace of play. No active players were included on the seven-man committee to look into the matter, though MLBPA executive director Tony Clark (a former Major Leaguer himself) is on the committee to serve as a voice for the players, commissioner-elect Rob Manfred explained to Stark via email. Nonetheless, players such as Curtis Granderson, Kevin Slowey and Brad Ziegler all went on the record with Stark, and a number of players who wished to remain anonymous brought up several issues they’ve taken with the endeavor. Some players feel that too much of the blame has been placed on them, when there’s been little talk of shortening commercial breaks or the consequences that an increasingly matchup-based game has brought about (i.e. more pitching changes). More than anything, players hope to have a voice in the matter before changes are implemented, Slowey and Granderson explained.
- Baseball America’s Matt Eddy compiled an “All-Rookie Team” for the 2014 season, highlighting the excellent work of Travis d’Arnaud, Jose Abreu, Mookie Betts, Nick Castellanos, Danny Santana, Billy Hamilton, Kevin Kiermaier, George Springer, Kennys Vargas, Jacob deGrom, Collin McHugh, Marcus Stroman, Masahiro Tanaka, Yordano Ventura and Dellin Betances. Names such as Matt Shoemaker and David Peralta also earned mentions, and you can read Eddy’s rationale behind his selections in the full article.