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.