We’re bringing back our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. We’ve already focused on the Mariners, Tigers, White Sox and Marlins. Now we’re on to the Rangers, who surprisingly hung in playoff contention for the season’s first few months. Reality has set in as the year has progressed, though, leaving Texas on track for its third consecutive sub-.500 season. With a new ballpark opening in 2020, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels could oversee an aggressive winter in an effort to get the club back to being a legitimate playoff contender. We already argued that upgrading at catcher should be on Daniels’ offseason to-do list, so we’ll leave that position out of this piece and focus on other areas Daniels could address in the next several months…
1. Consider Major Changes In The Infield
Arguably no team in the league has been worse off in the infield than the Rangers, whose first, second, third basemen and shortstops have combined for a paltry 2.5 fWAR. Utilityman Danny Santana and second/third baseman Nick Solak, an August call-up, are the only members of the group who have posted above-average offensive numbers. Although Santana’s numbers have dramatically plummeted over the season’s final couple months, he could again play an important multi-positional role for the Rangers in 2020. And Solak, whom the Rangers acquired back in June, is probably someone they will count on for plenty of at-bats next season. Things aren’t as promising otherwise, though, as Ronald Guzman has been one of the game’s worst offensive first basemen for the second straight year, and the well-compensated double-play tandem of second baseman Rougned Odor and shortstop Elvis Andrus has fallen flat.
Texas brass has made its disappointment with the production of Guzman (whom the club optioned earlier in the summer), Odor and Andrus known this year, which could suggest the team will try to upgrade at those spots. The contracts of Odor and Andrus are problematic, however, with the former still owed $36MM through 2022 and the latter under wraps for the same period of time for $43MM.
At the very least, Andrus figures to return as the Rangers’ main shortstop next year, though it doesn’t appear the team’s inclined to hand him a starting spot. How the Rangers handle the rest of their infield could depend in part on where they expect Santana and Solak to primarily line up. Either may spend a lot of time at third, but the Rangers could reportedly prioritize the position in the offseason, meaning it’s possible they’ll attempt to reel in a big fish via free agency. The top free agent-to-be at the position, Nationals MVP candidate Anthony Rendon, happens to be from Texas. That could give the Rangers a bit of an edge in courting him. He’ll likely command a contract worth $150MM or more, though. If that’s too rich for the Rangers’ blood, fellow pending free agents Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas would provide upgrades for the club at more palatable prices. The free-agent lists at first and second base are decidedly less exciting, but the Rangers shouldn’t have to spend a ton of money at either position to get better production in 2020 than the weak output they’ve received from those places this season.
The Rangers’ starting staff ranks a solid 10th in the majors in fWAR (11.7), but almost that entire total (10.4) has come from two pitchers: Lynn and Minor. Daniels struck gold in free agency on that pair, adding Lynn on a three-year, $30MM guarantee last offseason and Minor for three years and $28MM going into 2018. The Rangers’ rotation will need at least one more pickup along those lines during the upcoming winter, as the unit doesn’t offer much beyond Lynn, Minor and the 22-year-old Kolby Allard – an in-season acquisition who has performed adequately over eight starts.
Baseball’s best pending free agent, Astros righty and potential AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole, may well land on the Rangers’ radar. But the Rangers will be among a slew of other teams in on Cole if they enter that race, which could culminate in a $200MM-plus contract for him. Daniels showed with the Lynn and Minor signings that he doesn’t necessarily have to back up the Brink’s trick to find front-line starter production in free agency, and with those two around, maybe the Rangers will focus more on mid- to back-end rotation pieces than a ridiculously expensive ace like Cole. Either way, they could work to extend Minor, who’s under contract for just one more year. Trading Minor looked like a possibility as recently as July, but the Rangers opted against it. Perhaps they’ll revisit that possibility in the offseason, though they’ll certainly be hard-pressed to push for a playoff spot next season if they deal Minor prior to then.
3. Explore A Joey Gallo Extension
Injuries have been a problem over the past few months for Gallo, who fractured his right hamate bone July 23 and hasn’t played since. However, when he has taken the field this season, Gallo has performed like a franchise-caliber position player. While the 25-year-old’s penchant for striking out has continued in 2019, he has nonetheless slashed .253/.389/.598 (144 wRC+) with 22 home runs and 3.3 fWAR in 297 trips to the plate. Defensively, Gallo has graded as a plus player in both left and center field.
Gallo’s high-end production this season has come at a minimal salary, but those days are about to end for the soon-to-be arbitration-eligible slugger. Texas can still control him for three more years even if it doesn’t extend him, but the club should arguably try to lock him up now off an injury-plagued season. Granted, considering Gallo’s a Scott Boras client, doing so wouldn’t be easy. Back in May, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News posited it could take a seven-year, $150MM offer to extend Gallo, though that was before injuries knocked his season off track. In any case, if the Rangers are convinced Gallo’s a true organizational centerpiece, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them attempt to sign him for the long haul.