After a 78-84 finish to their 2017 season, the Rangers came out of the gates in aggressive fashion but ultimately wound up with a series of low-risk, buy-low pickups that leave the club in limbo.
Major League Signings
- Mike Minor, LHP: Three years, $28MM
- Chris Martin, RHP: Two years, $4MM
- Doug Fister, RHP: One year, $4MM plus club option
- Tony Barnette, RHP: One year, $1.5MM
- Tim Lincecum, RHP: One year, $1MM
- Jesse Chavez, RHP: One year, $1MM
- Total spend: $39.5MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired LHP Matt Moore and $750K international bonus allotments for minor league RHPs Sam Wolff and Israel Cruz
- Acquired RHP Ronald Herrera from the Yankees in exchange for minor league RHP Reiver Sanmartin
- Acquired Rule 5 OF Carlos Tocci from the White Sox in exchange for cash (Tocci was selected out of the Phillies organization)
- Acquired INF Eliezer Alvarez from Phillies in exchange for cash
- Claimed C Juan Centeno off waivers from the Astros
- Claimed 1B Tommy Joseph off waivers from the Phillies (since outrighted to AAA)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Bartolo Colon, Kevin Jepsen, Edinson Volquez (two-year minor league deal) Trevor Plouffe (released), Zeke Spruill, Chi Chi Gonzalez (re-signed), Hanser Alberto (re-signed), Austin Bibens-Dirkx (re-signed), Shawn Tolleson, Deolis Guerra
The Rangers entered the 2017-18 offseason with holes up and down their roster –particularly on the pitching staff — and a sizable gap between their overall talent level and that of the division-winning, World Series champion Astros. Rather than spend aggressively in what could largely have been a futile effort to return to the top of the AL West, Texas instead spread out a modest array of investments across multiple budget-friendly assets.
Mike Minor was the lone big-ticket item signed by GM Jon Daniels & Co. — if one can refer to a $28MM guarantee as “big ticket.” (Although, certainly this offseason, that was no small amount as clubs veered away from free agency at unprecedented rates.) Minor shined as a dominant reliever in the Kansas City bullpen last season, but the Rangers are plugging him into their rotation to see if he can sustain some of that magic in the larger role that originally got him to the Majors with Atlanta. If the experiment doesn’t pan out, then the three-year, $28MM term isn’t exactly a bargain for a reliever, but it’s also more or less commensurate with the going rate for top-notch setup men in 2018.
Doug Fister and Matt Moore were the other primary additions to the starting mix, as the Rangers will be paying that duo a combined $13MM in hopes of receiving something resembling 25 to 33 serviceable starts out of each. Moore is coming off far and away the worst season of his career, while Fister posted an ugly 2017 ERA but more intriguing secondary metrics thanks in large part to some restored velocity. They’ll be part of a patchwork rotation in Arlington that is fronted by 34-year-old Cole Hamels and also includes southpaw Martin Perez. The addition of veterans like Colon and Chavez were made in the name of creating some depth, but it was clear to see even before a tough start to the season that this piecemeal approach to the staff could be problematic.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Rangers didn’t pursue more meaningful rotation upgrades. Texas was one of seven finalists in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. They not only came up short, though, but also had to suffer the additional frustration of watching the 23-year-old sensation sign with the division-rival Angels. Texas also remained on the periphery of the Yu Darvish market all offseason long, though it seemed clear for the bulk of his free agency that the Rangers would only bring him back at a discounted rate as they sought to scale back the payroll.
Texas has had good success in the past in tapping into the NPB market, and their signing of righty Chris Martin to a two-year big league deal was the latest attempt to strike gold. Martin didn’t distinguish himself in his first few attempts at the big league level, but he was a dominant late-inning arm overseas. At a $2MM annual rate, if he’s even a serviceable middle reliever, the Rangers will come out ahead. If he’s anything more, it’s a massive bargain, and if not, there’s little fiscal risk at play here. The reunion with Barnette and the roll of the dice on Lincecum give skipper Jeff Banister another pair of arms to shuffle around the late-inning mix, provided Lincecum builds up strength and overcomes the blister issue he’s currently facing.
As alluded to above, the pitching staff looked shaky, at best, heading into the 2018 season. Hamels’ velocity is down early in the year, while Fister is on the DL with what the club hopes will be a short-term injury. Even if all of Hamels, Perez, Fister, Minor and Moore were healthy, the Rangers would’ve needed some significant rebounds to field a competitive starting unit.
The fact that they’re being backed by a bullpen which cycled through four closers last season and struggled for much of the 2017 season doesn’t create much additional optimism. Granted, the Ranger relief corps will be significantly better in 2018 if Jake Diekman and Keone Kela can stay healthy, but Texas added nothing in the way of established bullpen help this winter. The Rangers will have to lean heavily on Kela, Diekman, Matt Bush and Alex Claudio. If any of that bunch falters and/or Martin can’t approach his NPB success to some extent, it could be a long year for the Texas bullpen.
The catcher position was also a question for Texas for much of the offseason and remains as such. Robinson Chirinos undeniably had a nice season last year when he hit .255/.350/.506 with a career-high 17 home runs, but he’s never tallied more than 338 plate appearances in a season. The 33-year-old has dealt with concussion, shoulder and forearm issues in previous seasons. Backup Juan Centeno has never reached 200 PAs in a season and has only logged more than 10 MLB games in a season twice. Texas seemed like a logical fit for a backstop like Alex Avila or Chris Iannetta, who each signed for about $4MM annually, but they passed to stick with in-house options and dealt away one minor league depth piece (Brett Nicholas) shortly after Opening Day.
With Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre lined up around the infield and Jurickson Profar on hand as a utility option, the Rangers looked to be set there. (The depth will now be tested after early-season injuries to Odor and Andrus.) The outfield, though, was perhaps a different story, but the Rangers elected to primarily stick with in-house options. Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields, Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Rua and Willie Calhoun were expected to be leaned upon heavily in the outfield/DH carousel, with Drew Robinson and the aforementioned Rule 5 pickup, Tocci, serving as additional depth. Mazara’s ceiling is enormous, but there again seemed to be an opportunity to capitalize on a stagnant market for outfielders which the Rangers forewent. Choosing not to break the bank is understandable, but it was a bit of a surprise to see players such as Jon Jay and Carlos Gomez come off the board for just $3MM and $4MM, respectively, when so many teams, the Rangers included, seemed like clear fits.
That’s perhaps the most glaring oddity of the entire offseason for the Rangers. While they elected to patch together a pitching staff of buy-low candidates and spare-part depth options, Texas decision-makers wholly avoided making any meaningful additions on the position-player side of the equation despite some fairly evident openings to do so behind the plate and in the outfield.
It’d be one thing to see the Rangers sit out in terms of additions if they were among the league’s many tanking teams, but they still spent nearly $40MM on the pitching staff. If the goal was to try to piece together a team with a chance at contending in a stacked division, then why not take advantage of a buyers’ market for position players? And if the 2018 season is to be more of a transitional campaign in which the club aims to pare back its payroll, was a $28MM investment in Minor a shrewd move? It’s possible that Minor could lead a surprising pitching staff in Arlington or turn into an appealing trade asset if things go south for the rest of the roster, but the manner in which the Rangers approached the construction of their pitching staff and their lineup/bench seem to be somewhat contradictory in nature.
Texas looked like a plausible midseason seller even before the season began, but with a 4-10 start and several key injuries already having unfolded, those rumblings will only intensify. Any of the shorter-term pickups they made this offseason could become available if the Rangers are out of contention. The same is true of Hamels, though they may have a hard time acquiring much in return given his age, the $22MM he’s owed this season (plus at least the $6MM buyout he’s owed on next year’s $20MM option). The more interesting question, if Texas is out of the race, will be whether they send franchise icon and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre to another organization.
The Rangers came out of the gates in fairly aggressive fashion this offseason. Before the Winter Meetings had even kicked off, Texas had added some depth to the rotation by acquiring Herrera from the Yankees and quickly signing both Fister and Minor by Dec. 4. All of that, of course, coincided with a spirited pursuit of Ohtani that ultimately fell short, and the Rangers curbed their activity from that point forth.
Perhaps the offseason would’ve played out differently had Texas been able to add Ohtani to the mix, but in retrospect, the maneuverings add up to a fairly puzzling half-measure. Texas doesn’t look like a team that’s built to contend, but they also didn’t place an emphasis on restocking the farm this offseason. At a time when teams seem increasingly reluctant to be caught in the middle, the Rangers find themselves precisely there.
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