The Rangers face major competition in the AL West. Have they done enough to field a competitive roster in 2020?
Major League Signings
- Kyle Gibson, RHP: three years, $28MM
- Jordan Lyles, RHP: two years, $16MM
- Robinson Chirinos, C: one year, $6.75MM (includes buyout on 2021 club option)
- Joely Rodriguez, LHP: two years, $5.5MM (includes buyout on 2022 club option)
- Todd Frazier, 3B: one year, $5MM
- Total spend: $61.25MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired RHP Corey Kluber from Indians for RHP Emmanuel Clase, OF Delino DeShields Jr.
- Acquired OF Steele Walker from White Sox for OF Nomar Mazara
- Acquired 1B Sam Travis from Red Sox for LHP Jeffrey Springs
- Acquired OF Adolis Garcia from Cardinals for cash considerations
- Claimed RHP Jimmy Herget off waivers from Reds (later outrighted)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Cody Allen, Greg Bird, Tim Dillard, Matt Duffy, Tim Federowicz, Brian Flynn, Wei-Chieh Huang, Taylor Jungmann, Derek Law, Rob Refsnyder, Yadiel Rivera, Blake Swihart, Edinson Volquez
- David Carpenter, Emmanuel Clase, Delino DeShields Jr., Logan Forsythe, Nomar Mazara, Hunter Pence, Jeffrey Springs
The Rangers entered the winter seeking to end a three-season malaise. Having scored another new ballpark after just 26 seasons in their old one, the Texas organization was looking to ramp up the level of play at an opportune moment for business.
It’s tough to look at the unit compiled by longtime baseball ops chief Jon Daniels and see a division winner. The Astros are far the better team on paper; the Athletics and Angels look significantly stronger as well. But putting together a certain contender was never really a plausible goal, barring a wild spending spree. The Rangers’ hope was to ensure a competitive product and to get the arrow pointed back north, all while setting the stage for yet more strides in 2021 and beyond.
The Rangers’ preferred outcome was to land a blue-chip free agent in Texas native Anthony Rendon. But the price tag flew through the roof in the course of wild, Scott Boras-led Winter Meetings bidding. Trade possibilities — Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant — were at least explored, but nothing came to fruition. The Rangers weren’t as excited to chase the older Josh Donaldson as many expected; ultimately, the club wasn’t involved much at all in his bidding.
Plan B, we now know, was to add a bunch of starting pitching and a much more affordable veteran at the hot corner. Todd Frazier is no longer an All-Star-level performer, but the 34-year-old was something like a 2 WAR performer last year in semi-regular duty. The Rangers can deploy him at either corner infield spot and hope for much the same — solid glovework and slightly above-average hitting. Frazier looks like a pretty strong value for just five million bucks. That’s particularly true after looking at the big money secured by Mike Moustakas. Frazier’s salary is close to what the club would’ve spent on Nomar Mazara had they not shipped him along to the White Sox.
So how about that rotation? The Rangers have had awful luck with homegrown starters in recent years. But they’ve had much more success with a certain sort of free agent signing. The standard thinking goes that you don’t want to give any more guaranteed years than necessary to get a free agent pitcher that comes with questions regarding health and/or consistency. The Rangers have flipped that on its head, using longer but relatively affordable deals to lure a series of veterans. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn have amply rewarded the club for its faith and helped to remind that there can be upside to the team in expanding a contract’s length.
Sure enough, the Texas org did it again, inking righty Kyle Gibson to a three-year deal just like those awarded to Minor and Lynn. And much the same reasoning went into the surprising two-year deal the Rangers gave Jordan Lyles. If Gibson can return to peak form after battling stomach issues last year, and Lyles can carry forward some of the spark he showed in the second half of 2019, the Rangers could have another set of pretty nice contracts on their hands. The risks here are equally obvious, and the Rangers still need to figure out a way to raise their own starters, but even if one or both turn out to be duds the cost won’t be exorbitant.
It seemed for a moment as if this might be the extent of the pitching adds. But the Rangers doubled down on the veterans with a rather significant swap that has flown under the radar to some degree. The club swung a deal for Corey Kluber, who was one of the game’s preeminent hurlers for a five-year stretch before a comebacker fractured his forearm last year. While it cost fireballing young reliever Emmanuel Clase, which could sting in its own right, the swap is loaded with upside for Texas. Kluber is only slated to earn $17.5MM for 2020 and can be kept for a second season at $18MM (or dropped with a $1MM buyout if things don’t work out).
Put it all together, and the rotation actually looks to be quite the high-risk/high-reward outfit. It’s unusual to see such a collection of accomplished veterans all earning sizeable but hardly monumental salaries. The Rangers will have to hope the five-man unit stays healthy, because the top depth options — Kolby Allard, Ariel Jurado, Joe Palumbo — are far from sure things.
It’s arguably a hit-or-miss bullpen as well, but with a different makeup. As usual, the Rangers found someone to bring back from Japan. This time, it’s lefty Joely Rodriguez, who’ll pair with youngster Brett Martin to form what could be a nice 1-2 southpaw punch … but which could also fall flat. Top late-inning arms Jose Leclerc and Rafael Montero (yes, the former Mets prospect) had dominant stretches last year but have been anything but consistent. Youngster Demarcus Evans brings some upside of his own and there are a number of experienced hurlers on the 40-man (Jesse Chavez, Nick Goody, Luke Farrell) or in camp (Cody Allen, Derek Law, Juan Nicasio, Luis Garcia, Edinson Volquez, Brian Flynn). But there are plenty of questions in the relief unit.
To get the most out of the staff and to bring some thump from behind the dish, the Rangers righted a previous wrong by bringing back catcher Robinson Chirinos. He’s a nice get on a one-year commitment. While he’s closing in on his 36th birthday, Chirinos has been a steadily above-average hitter and was entrusted with the bulk of the work behind the plate last year for the powerhouse Astros.
2020 Season Outlook
It’s hard to escape the cross-state rivals in Houston when it comes to assessing the Rangers’ offseason work. There’s just so much talent on that roster. The position-player unit in Arlington isn’t nearly as imposing. The Rangers can hope that Joey Gallo builds upon his big 2019 showing. Perhaps Willie Calhoun will ensconce himself as a quality big leaguer. Maybe the Elvis Andrus–Rougned Odor middle-infield pairing will finally play to the level the team hoped when it extended both players. It’s possible Danny Santana will not stop hitting and/or that Nick Solak will fully establish himself in the majors. But … for all of those things to happen? It’d be a big surprise. This lineup would look a lot more fierce with another star or two plugged in.
All things considered, the Rangers look to have compiled a fairly middle-of-the-road unit for the 2020 season. There are scenarios where the roster plays up — particularly in a short-season format in which depth questions aren’t as likely to be presented.
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