- How much is a home run worth, really? That’s a question that has become du jour in modern baseball, as the prevalence of longballs has seemed to diminish the on-field value–and off-field earning power–of power hitters like Joey Gallo of the Rangers. But, as Levi Weaver of The Athletic points out, Gallo is a player for whom it would be particularly difficult to draw up a contract extension. Gallo, the only player in MLB history to hit his 100th career homer before his 100th career single, presents a vexing extension case: he’s still young (26 on Opening Day 2020), unconventionally productive (recording a 144 wRC+ in 2019 despite a 38.4% strikeout rate), and he’s dealt with injury concerns (missing 92 games this past season with wrist issues). Perhaps, more than anything, Gallo’s meaty home run totals project to make him an expensive year-over-year arbitration case, further fueling the incentive to get a long-term deal done on the Rangers side of the negotiating table. In a courageous effort to pinpoint Gallo’s value, Weaver proposes a five-year, $85MM extension, perhaps with a sixth team option year valued at $25MM. For what it’s worth, the slugger is projected to earn $4.0MM in his first pass through arb this offseason, according to MLBTR’s projected arbitration models.
Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus will not exercise the remaining opt-out clause in his eight-year, $120MM contract, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. It’s hardly a surprising decision, given that Andrus has three years and $43MM remaining on said contract and struggled through a second straight down year at the plate in 2019.
Andrus, 31, was mostly healthy this season after missing a substantial chunk of the 2018 campaign with a fractured elbow (suffered when he was hit by a pitch). Andrus scuffled mightily at the plate upon returning last year, and while this season’s .275/.313/.393 batting line in 147 games/648 plate appearances was an improvement over his post-injury form in 2018, it was still well south of the league average (76 wRC+, 78 OPS+).
This was the second and final chance that Andrus had to opt out of the eight-year extension he signed with the Rangers. He also had the opportunity to walk away from the final four years and $58MM on his contract last offseason but opted not to do so after the aforementioned struggles upon his return from injury. He’ll now earn salaries of $15MM in 2020, $14MM in 2021 and $14MM in 2022. The contract also has a vesting option that would guarantee Andrus a $15MM salary in 2023 if he totals 550 plate appearances in 2022 or a combined 1100 plate appearances in 2021-22. Those are highly attainable plate appearance totals — particularly for Andrus, who has only fallen shy of 550 PAs in a season twice before (last year, due to the broken elbow, and during his rookie campaign in 2009).
Clearly, the remainder of the contract isn’t a bargain for the Rangers, but Andrus remains a well-regarded defender and an above-average baserunner. If he can restore some combination of his 2016 levels of plate discipline (8.3 percent walk rate) and 2017 levels of power (20 home runs, .176 ISO), a return to average or slightly above-average offensive output is possible. It’s worth noting, too, that Andrus was sporting a hearty .303/.339/.453 slash at the All-Star break, although that was mostly the result of an absolute sizzling month of April. Also of note is that Andrus, who just wrapped up his 11th season with the Rangers, secured full 10-and-5 rights prior upon completion of the 2018 season, meaning he has full veto power over any trade scenario.
- The Rangers are set to hire Cody Atkinson as their new minor league hitting coordinator, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. He’ll take over for Josue Perez, who filled the role for five years and will likely move to a different position with the Rangers, per Grant. Atkinson is just 30 years old, though he does bring an impressive resume to the table. He operates a Seattle-based hitting academy, worked as the Reds’ run production and hitting assessment coach for the past year, and comes with a background in kinesiology. His hiring is an example of the Rangers putting “more emphasis on retooling hitters’ swings using technology and biomechanics as aides,” Grant writes.
The 2019 season, in many ways, was a pleasant surprise for the Rangers. While the season’s second half was forgettable in terms of the club’s record, the Rangers saw some individual performances that offered encouragement heading into 2020. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn had impressive seasons while pitching on affordable contracts. Joey Gallo proved himself capable of handling an outfield spot — perhaps even center field. Willie Calhoun rebounded and looks like a quality bat moving forward. Minor league pickups Danny Santana and Hunter Pence enjoyed terrific seasons, and Santana can be controlled through 2021. One of the prior offseason’s bargain pickups, Chris Martin, was flipped to the Braves for a potential long-term option in the rotation (Kolby Allard).
At the same time, one can’t ignore the team’s second-half slide or the ugly seasons turned in by a number of players the organization once tabbed as building blocks. Elvis Andrus and, in particular, Rougned Odor had poor seasons. Ronald Guzman didn’t step up and seize the team’s first base job. Most of the team’s fliers on low-cost pitching acquisitions (e.g. Shelby Miller, Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez) failed to pan out, and the farm system didn’t yield better alternatives. For all the bright spots, the Rangers have clear areas in which they need to improve.
That was a focal point for president of baseball operations Jon Daniels in meeting with the media in today’s postmortem press conference (link via Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). The season offered some undeniable bright spots, but the club also has a “clear opportunity” for some upgrades at third base, first base and in the rotation, Daniels said. Of the team’s needs, third base and the rotation standing out as “probably the top two on the list,” Daniels said before also citing catcher and the bullpen as positions that could at least use some depth additions.
Third base indeed seems like a prime spot for the Rangers to pursue upgrades; Texas third basemen hit .243/.310/.389 this season, which, when accounting for their hitter-friendly home park, translates to a paltry 76 wRC+ — or 24 percent worse than a league-average hitter. Deadline pickup Nick Solak could be an intriguing option, but there are questions about his glovework and he’s tallied just 135 plate appearances in the Majors.
In the rotation, the Rangers don’t have much in the way of options beyond Minor, Lynn and Allard. Adrian Sampson and Ariel Jurado scarcely kept their ERAs under 6.00, and many of the team’s top pitching prospects have battled injuries. That trend, in fact, will continue to a minor extent with top pitching prospect Hans Crouse undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow (Twitter link via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News). Crouse isn’t expected to have his 2020 availability impacted, and he won’t be an option given that he’s yet to pitch in Double-A. But the team’s general lack of upper-level pitching depth should force them into pursuing some rotation additions in free agency and/or trade.
The extent to which the Rangers can look for reinforcements in free agency will be determined by how much ownership allows Daniels & Co. to spend this winter. While there’s no specific budget in place, Daniels made clear that he’ll have more resources at his disposal this winter. “Our major-league payroll will be up from where it was this year,” said Daniels, adding that he hasn’t been given a firm number to beyond that but more of a “general range.”
The Texas organization spent much of the 2018-19 offseason working to cut payroll and managed to dip its Opening Day mark to a bit more than $118MM — the lowest point since way back in 2011. The Rangers’ high-water mark for payroll came with 2017’s Opening Day mark of $165MM. A return to those heights can’t be assumed, but that probably provides a rough idea of a ceiling (even if it’s safer to assume a more modest total).
Whatever the number, the Rangers should have the freedom to try to pursue a wide number of free agents. If Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon are deemed too expensive, the market will bear some high-caliber fallbacks in the form of Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and Josh Donaldson. Texas could certainly backload any free-agent additions such that the salary escalates more aggressively in 2021 when Shin-Soo Choo, Minor, Jesse Chavez and Jeff Mathis are off the books.
Alternatively, trading from their surplus of left-handed-hitting corner outfielders could free up some additional space. Daniels acknowledged as much in candid fashion, stating that “when everyone’s healthy we have more left-handed-hitting corner guys than we have spots.” He cautioned that a trade isn’t a foregone conclusion but is also something he’ll have to explore.
Surely, the Rangers would be loath to move either Gallo or Calhoun, but Choo and his $21MM salary or the perennially underwhelming Mazara (.268/.318/.469, 94 wRC+ in 2019) could make sense. Choo is overpaid, to be sure, but he still posted a .265/.371/.455 line with 24 home runs in 660 plate appearances. Mazara, meanwhile, has never delivered on his premium prospect pedigree but still won’t turn 25 until next April despite having four years of MLB service. Other teams will quite likely view him as a buy-low candidate given that pedigree, his modest salary — he’ll earn a raise on this year’s $3.3MM price — and the fact that he’s controlled through 2021.
It’s also worth noting that at a time of year that is frequently punctuated by turnover in the coaching department, the Rangers won’t be making any changes. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan tweets that Daniels has invited all of manager Chris Woodward’s coaching staff back for the 2020 season. So while the composition of the Rangers’ roster will quite likely look quite a bit different in 2020, the group guiding that roster should be a source of stability.
- It’s “fairly evident” Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo won’t play again this season, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes. Gallo, who has been out since June 24 with a right hamate fracture, hasn’t swung a bat during the recovery process. With the season just about over for the eliminated Rangers, there’s no sense in rushing the star slugger back. Meanwhile, designated hitter Hunter Pence is definitely done for the year, Wilson relays. The Rangers have also had to go for a while without Pence, whom a back injury has shelved for just over a month. While the soon-to-be 37-year-old Pence wants to return to the Rangers in 2020, it’s unclear how motivated they’ll be to re-sign the pending free agent.
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.
- A lower back strain has shelved Rangers designated hitter/outfielder Hunter Pence since Aug. 23, and though the club’s eliminated from postseason contention, he still hopes to play again this year, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com relays. Regardless of if Pence makes it back, the Rangers will have an offseason decision on whether to re-sign the soon-to-be free agent. The 36-year-old Pence, who has revived his career in Texas, said last week he’d “love” to return to the club. However, manager Chris Woodward expressed some doubt over how Pence would fit on the roster going forward. GM Jon Daniels took a similar tone Friday, telling Sullivan: “He was extremely productive on the field, and he was [a] really valuable member of the clubhouse that you would love to have back. On the other hand, how many at-bats are we going to have for a corner outfielder-DH. On the surface, as we are currently constructed, not a lot. Things could change. That’s the reality.”
Shortstop Elvis Andrus is one of multiple high-profile Rangers hitters to endure disappointing seasons. The low-value performances of Andrus, second baseman Rougned Odor and outfielder Nomar Mazara have put forth at least partially explain why the Rangers are on their way to a third straight sub-.500 campaign. No member of the trio entered the year with more at stake financially than Andrus, who could have seriously considered opting out of his contract with a highly productive 2019. Now, though, it would be a major surprise to see Andrus vacate the remaining three years and $43MM on the eight-year, $120MM extension he signed with Texas in 2013.
With Andrus looking likely to stay put, Rangers brass is seeking bigger contributions from the 31-year-old moving forward. The club may even push Andrus to improve by making him compete for playing time, which GM Jon Daniels and manager Chris Woodward suggested to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News could happen.
“I think [competition] would be healthy,” Daniels said. “Elvis has got to perform at a higher level. He’s capable of more and we need more.”
Woodward echoed Daniels, noting, “He knows he has to be better,” and adding that no player “is immune from [reduced roles] if they are not producing.”
Andrus did produce during the first half of the season, but like his once-contending team, he has fallen off dramatically as 2019 has progressed. After slashing .303/.339/.453 before the All-Star break, Andrus’ line has dipped to .230/.271/.293 since mid-July. At the same time, his batting average on balls in play has plummeted from .338 to .261, while his isolated power mark has sunk from .150 to a punchless .063. He’s now on the verge of logging his second consecutive well-below-average offensive campaign (though last year’s was limited by injury), having hit .272/.310/.385 (74 wRC+) with 10 home runs and 28 steals on 36 attempts over 609 plate appearances. Meantime, per Defensive Runs Saved (minus-6) and Ultimate Zone Rating (plus-1.1), Andrus has been a mixed bag in the field.
If Andrus’ season ended now, he’d set a new career low with 1.1 fWAR. Ergo, even though Andrus is due $15MM next year, it’s understandable that the Rangers don’t want to hand him a No. 1 job then. The same applies to his double-play partner, Odor, another well-compensated Ranger who has frustrated the team’s higher-ups.
Utilityman Danny Santana could push Andrus and-or Odor for playing time next year (Grant specifically mentions him as potential competition for Andrus), though it’s difficult to forecast without first seeing how the Rangers’ offseason shakes out. The club’s infield figures to be one of its primary focuses over the winter, as Texas has received less-than-stellar overall production from all of those spots. Santana and late-season call-up Nick Solak are the only players in the bunch who have produced to acceptable levels at the plate.
The Rangers have selected the contract of catcher Tim Federowicz from Triple-A Nashville, the team announced (Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News was first to report the move). They transferred slugger Joey Gallo to the 60-day injured list to create 40-man roster room for Federowicz. Gallo, on the IL since July 24 with a fractured right hamate bone, might be done for the season.
The 32-year-old Federowicz joined the Rangers in a June trade with the Indians. He then totaled 79 plate appearances and posted a subpar .169/.224/.366 line with four home runs in Texas before the team booted him from its 40-man roster on the last day of July. Federowicz wasn’t any better as a member of the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, with whom he batted .140/.190/.193 and hit a single homer in 63 attempts, but the well-traveled veteran did put up a playable line with the Indians’ top minor league club prior to the trade (.278/.353/.411, two HRs in 103 PA).
As recently as late July, veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez’s goal was simply to rehabilitate an elbow injury sufficiently enough to return to a big league mound before season’s end. After that, he suggested, retirement was his likeliest path. However, a return to health appears to at least have him reconsidering that trajectory. Volquez tells Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News that he “might” consider a return, though likely only to the Rangers organization. “If they want me around to help the young guys, that’s a possibility,” said Volquez.
It’s been a pretty smooth return to the mound for Volquez, who has allowed two runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts in six innings of relief since returning from the injured list. He’s managed to average a hefty 95.6 mph on his heater in that short-relief role — an increase over the 93-94 mph he averaged while working as a starter with the Pirates, Royals and Marlins from 2014-17. Texas has been judicious in affording Volquez ample rest between relief outings; he’s yet to pitch on consecutive days and hasn’t tossed more than 27 pitches in a single appearance.
Whether the Rangers have interest in Volquez retaining Volquez remains to be seen, though the Texas organization certainly has prioritized instilling some veteran experience in its clubhouse in recent seasons. And the team thought highly enough of Volquez to not only sign him to a two-year minor league contract after his 2017 Tommy John surgery but also select his contract last November to prevent him from being eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. (Yes, even at 35, he’d have been eligible for a team to take and plug into its pitching staff.)
Any reunion with Volquez would surely be on an affordable deal. He’s pitched just 13 2/3 innings in the Majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2017 when he was a member of the Marlins’ rotation and turned 36 years old back in July. But there’s enough uncertainty on the Rangers’ pitching staff — both in the rotation and in the bullpen — that Volquez could be a sensible low-cost depth piece.
In the rotation, the Rangers are currently slated to be led by veterans Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. Young lefty Kolby Allard has likely done enough to cement himself as a favorite for one of the three remaining spots, and the Rangers seem likely to pursue some additional veteran upgrades this winter as they look to field an improved team in the first season of a new ballpark. It’s unlikely they’d simply commit a rotation spot to Volquez, but allowing him to battle for the fifth spot in camp with the fallback of a bullpen role could make sense.
Alternatively, the club could just look to try Volquez in a relief role for the whole season. As previously noted, his velocity has improved in that role. It’s also not as if the Rangers’ relief corps is largely solidified. Jose Leclerc and Jesse Chavez are under contract for next season, and the Rangers hold a reasonable $2.5MM option on another veteran righty who has voiced a “Rangers or retire” mentality: Shawn Kelley. Beyond that veteran trio, 24-year-old lefty Brett Martin has thrown rather well, while reclamation project Rafael Montero has posted exceptional K/BB numbers in a smaller sample of work. As with the rotation, the bullpen has a few veteran locks but some room for competition further down the ladder. Texas seems likely to pursue some established offseason upgrades but could at the very least have Volquez compete for a spot in 2020 — particularly with MLB rosters set to expand to 26 players next year.