It’s really not yet time for the Rangers to look to the coming offseason; after a surprisingly solid start to the season, they’re still in position to compete for a wild card spot. But the coming free agent market was a topic of conversation in a recent interview with Rangers GM Jon Daniels on 105.3 The Fan’s Ben and Skin show (audio and transcript via the Dallas Morning News).
Even as he preps for a potentially interesting summer trade market, Daniels says that he anticipates entering next winter with “a lot more [payroll] flexibility the next two years than we’ve had the last couple, the last, probably three or four.” That said, the long-time top baseball ops exec said that the club’s spending is “going to be player-specific” in that the club will be “ready to make [an] investment” in “the right guy” but won’t “spend just to say we spent.”
The Rangers have made moves of that sort already in recent years, giving out three-year deals to Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. But Daniels obviously sees some stepped-up possibilities for the near future as the organization has continued to steadily draw down its payroll commitments.
Reading between the lines and adding a dollop of speculation, it seems that the Texas club could be more aggressive in exploring higher-grade free agents. Perhaps the near-term spending availability will also expand the team’s trade possibilities this summer. There’s some room to spend with only $85MM or so on the books for 2020 (including the remaining money owed to Prince Fielder after the portions picked up by the Tigers and the contract insurer). And as Daniels acknowledges, “the new ballpark will play into it.” The club will surely want to maximize that revenue stream with a competitive product.
That said, it’s far too soon to address the potential needs and opportunities in detail. The needs on the fringes of the roster are all but impossible to know at this point, and indeed there are still some notable variables even in the nascent Texas roster core.
Daniels notes that future investment is premised upon the idea that the organization has “a good foundation” in place at present. “There’s some really good quality players that are going to be here for several years and we’ll have an opportunity to build on that,” Daniels says.
The Rangers GM obviously believes the club has the makings of a productive core unit, but the rotation still comes with rather gaping near- and long-term questions. And some key position players are still sorting through some issues.
Outfielder Nomar Mazara has yet to turn in a breakout, though he’s at least still producing at a roughly league-average at the plate. Second baseman Rougned Odor has been a mess at the plate; he’s still just 25 years of age, but his rollercoaster MLB track record is of increasing worry.
Daniels says there’s “still patience” with Odor, citing the recent comments of skipper Chris Woodward and noting that he’s still a hard-working and highly talented ballplayer. But Daniels also acknowledged that “there is a level of concern,” particularly given that “this is not the first time it has happened.” Indeed, Odor has had notable peaks and valleys throughout his career. He managed to post league-average offensive work last year, but that included a brutal start and finish. It also came on the heels of a rough 2017 showing.
Odor is off to a .166/.232/.331 slash to open the present campaign. He’s sustaining a walk-rate boost he showed last year, but suddenly has a whopping new swing-and-miss issue. Odor is striking out at a 33.7% clip on a 13.6% swinging-strike rate, both of which represent career-worst levels.
Whether and how Odor’s issues will be sorted remains to be seen, but Daniels notes it’d be preferable not “to make a habit of kind of getting into these deep holes and having to put a program together to get out of it.” The club must have “a sense of urgency” in getting Odor on track, Daniels says. Even if that occurs, one wonders whether the team can have confidence that the second bagger won’t fall into another funk.