Rangers right-handers Lucas Harrell and Shawn Tolleson have rejected outright assignments and been granted free agency, per a pair of announcements from the team. Both right-handers finished out the year on the 60-day disabled list and were outrighted earlier this week.
The drop-off for Tolleson is somewhat startling. Entering the season, the 28-year-old had established himself as the Rangers’ closer after turning in a terrific 2014 season in a setup role and stepping into the ninth inning in a similarly excellent 2015 season. From 2014-15, Tolleson tossed 144 innings and logged 35 saves, averaging 9.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 with a 41.4 percent ground-ball rate. The 2016 season, however, yielded dreadful results, as he limped to a 7.68 ERA with a dramatically diminished 7.2 K/9 in just 36 1/3 innings. Tolleson was at one point optioned to the minors, and his season came to a close on Aug. 23 when a back injury landed him on the 60-day disabled list.
Tolleson’s bottom-line results were awful, but there’s also reason to express optimism. He maintained his velocity, averaging 93 mph on his heater, and his control (2.5 BB/9) was once again solid. Furthermore, he recorded a career-best 52 percent ground-ball rate. The primary reasons for Tolleson’s downfall were a .372 BABIP and, more alarmingly, a 24.2% homer-to-flyball rate that resulted in an average two home runs per nine innings pitched. While those numbers aren’t appealing, a HR/FB rate at that level is almost certain to regress in future seasons. And Tolleson will pitch all of next season at the age of 29, so there’s little reason to assume that his sudden and rapid decline was related to his age. A team that signs Tolleson would be able to control him for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, as he’s still arbitration eligible.
Harrell, meanwhile, joined the Rangers in a fairly curious summer trade with the Braves. The Rangers shipped prospect Travis Demeritte to Atlanta in exchange for Harrell and left-hander Dario Alvarez (who remains in the organization), and the returns on Harrell weren’t pretty. The 31-year-old, who spent the 2015 season pitching in the Korea Baseball Organization, made just four starts for Texas and surrendered 11 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings before he, too, incurred a season-ending injury (groin strain). All told, he finished up the season with a 4.21 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 and a 44.3 percent ground-ball rate in 47 innings of work between the two teams. Harrell should find interest as a depth option this winter, though given his rocky 2016 and lack of a track record — 4.77 ERA in 448 2/3 innings — it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be promised a rotation spot anywhere heading into the 2017 season.