The Rangers are finalizing their plans for Opening Day, as manager Chris Woodward told reporters (including Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) about some roster decisions. The team will select the contracts of Ian Kennedy and Matt Bush prior to the opener, and the newly-acquired Josh Sborz has also won a job in the Texas bullpen. At first base, Nate Lowe will assume regular duties while Ronald Guzman will work as the backup first baseman and likely be in line for DH at-bats while Khris Davis and Willie Calhoun are on the injured list.
Kennedy and Bush were both signed to minor league contracts in the offseason, and the two veterans could now be the Rangers’ top options for save situations with Jose Leclerc, Joely Rodriguez, Brett Martin, and Jonathan Hernandez all ticketed to begin the season on the IL. Sborz and Taylor Hearn might also get some looks in the ninth inning as the Rangers figure to be relatively fluid with the closer role unless one of the candidates is particularly dominant.
Once his contract is officially selected, Kennedy will lock in a $2.15MM salary for the 2021 season. The 36-year-old joined the Rangers after five years with the Royals, with the last two seasons spent as a reliever rather than Kennedy’s customary starting pitching role. He took well to the new assignment at first, posting an impressive 30-save campaign as Kansas City’s closer in 2019, but struggled over 14 innings last season before his season was ended by a left calf strain in late August.
Bush, meanwhile, hasn’t appeared in a Major League game since 2018 due to a pair of elbow surgeries (including a Tommy John procedure). Texas signed Bush to a two-year minor league deal in the 2019-20 offseason to allow him to rehab throughout the 2020 campaign, with an eye towards making him available this season. The first overall pick of the 2004 draft, all of Bush’s MLB experience has come with the Rangers, as he posted a 3.35 ERA and 23.4% strikeout rate over 137 innings out of the Texas bullpen from 2016-18, though walks became an increasing problem over Bush’s three seasons.
There wasn’t much doubt that Guzman would make the roster since he is out of options, though he’ll need to start performing quickly in order to regain a foothold as part of the Rangers’ future plans. Guzman has hit only .230/.308/.417 with 30 home runs over 809 Major League PA, but given the relatively small sample size and Guzman’s still-young age (26), it isn’t yet out of the question that he could break out at the plate.
Wilson writes that the Rangers are leaning towards using their final remaining 26-man roster opening on a position player, but the team would need to carve out a 40-man roster spot to accommodate either Charlie Culberson or Adolis Garcia (both in camp on minor league deals). The same would be true if Texas included an extra pitcher on the roster, with minor league signings Luis Ortiz, Hunter Wood, and Hyeon-jong Yang all candidates.