- Shortstop Luisangel Acuna, the younger brother of star Braves prospect Ronald Acuna, will be a sought-after name in the next July 2 international signing period, Heyman writes in a separate piece. The Rangers are one of multiple teams interested in the younger Acuna, who could receive a bonus as high as $500K. This estimated price tag will keep the Braves out of the running, as they are limited to spending no more than $300K on any single international prospect for the next July 2 period. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez writes that some scouts feel Acuna will eventually have to move to second base, and he “has shown some power and has the potential to be an average-or-better hitter with proper instruction, but he’ll have to grow” beyond his current 5’9″, 160-pound frame.
The Rangers have signed righty Yovani Gallardo to a minor-league deal, per a club announcement. He’ll report to Triple-A to begin his second stint with the Texas organization.
Gallardo has already spent time with the Brewers and Reds organizations this year. He was cut loose by each, though, after a middling spring with Milwaukee and then a messy three-appearance stint with the Cincinnati organization.
Now, the 32-year-old hurler will become the latest notable pitcher to seek a bounce back in Texas. He was acquired by the organization before the 2015 season in a swap that cost the Rangers future closer Corey Knebel. Gallardo originally launched his professional career after being drafted from a Texas high school, so there are multiple connections at play here.
That ’15 campaign is the last in which Gallardo has been effective. He worked to a 3.42 ERA in 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers, wrapping up an impressive run of success dating back to his debut season of 2007. Since, though, he has managed only 251 frames of 5.81 ERA ball with 6.5 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9.
After a 78-84 finish to their 2017 season, the Rangers came out of the gates in aggressive fashion but ultimately wound up with a series of low-risk, buy-low pickups that leave the club in limbo.
Major League Signings
- Mike Minor, LHP: Three years, $28MM
- Chris Martin, RHP: Two years, $4MM
- Doug Fister, RHP: One year, $4MM plus club option
- Tony Barnette, RHP: One year, $1.5MM
- Tim Lincecum, RHP: One year, $1MM
- Jesse Chavez, RHP: One year, $1MM
- Total spend: $39.5MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired LHP Matt Moore and $750K international bonus allotments for minor league RHPs Sam Wolff and Israel Cruz
- Acquired RHP Ronald Herrera from the Yankees in exchange for minor league RHP Reiver Sanmartin
- Acquired Rule 5 OF Carlos Tocci from the White Sox in exchange for cash (Tocci was selected out of the Phillies organization)
- Acquired INF Eliezer Alvarez from Phillies in exchange for cash
- Claimed C Juan Centeno off waivers from the Astros
- Claimed 1B Tommy Joseph off waivers from the Phillies (since outrighted to AAA)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Bartolo Colon, Kevin Jepsen, Edinson Volquez (two-year minor league deal) Trevor Plouffe (released), Zeke Spruill, Chi Chi Gonzalez (re-signed), Hanser Alberto (re-signed), Austin Bibens-Dirkx (re-signed), Shawn Tolleson, Deolis Guerra
The Rangers entered the 2017-18 offseason with holes up and down their roster –particularly on the pitching staff — and a sizable gap between their overall talent level and that of the division-winning, World Series champion Astros. Rather than spend aggressively in what could largely have been a futile effort to return to the top of the AL West, Texas instead spread out a modest array of investments across multiple budget-friendly assets.
Mike Minor was the lone big-ticket item signed by GM Jon Daniels & Co. — if one can refer to a $28MM guarantee as “big ticket.” (Although, certainly this offseason, that was no small amount as clubs veered away from free agency at unprecedented rates.) Minor shined as a dominant reliever in the Kansas City bullpen last season, but the Rangers are plugging him into their rotation to see if he can sustain some of that magic in the larger role that originally got him to the Majors with Atlanta. If the experiment doesn’t pan out, then the three-year, $28MM term isn’t exactly a bargain for a reliever, but it’s also more or less commensurate with the going rate for top-notch setup men in 2018.
Doug Fister and Matt Moore were the other primary additions to the starting mix, as the Rangers will be paying that duo a combined $13MM in hopes of receiving something resembling 25 to 33 serviceable starts out of each. Moore is coming off far and away the worst season of his career, while Fister posted an ugly 2017 ERA but more intriguing secondary metrics thanks in large part to some restored velocity. They’ll be part of a patchwork rotation in Arlington that is fronted by 34-year-old Cole Hamels and also includes southpaw Martin Perez. The addition of veterans like Colon and Chavez were made in the name of creating some depth, but it was clear to see even before a tough start to the season that this piecemeal approach to the staff could be problematic.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Rangers didn’t pursue more meaningful rotation upgrades. Texas was one of seven finalists in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. They not only came up short, though, but also had to suffer the additional frustration of watching the 23-year-old sensation sign with the division-rival Angels. Texas also remained on the periphery of the Yu Darvish market all offseason long, though it seemed clear for the bulk of his free agency that the Rangers would only bring him back at a discounted rate as they sought to scale back the payroll.
Texas has had good success in the past in tapping into the NPB market, and their signing of righty Chris Martin to a two-year big league deal was the latest attempt to strike gold. Martin didn’t distinguish himself in his first few attempts at the big league level, but he was a dominant late-inning arm overseas. At a $2MM annual rate, if he’s even a serviceable middle reliever, the Rangers will come out ahead. If he’s anything more, it’s a massive bargain, and if not, there’s little fiscal risk at play here. The reunion with Barnette and the roll of the dice on Lincecum give skipper Jeff Banister another pair of arms to shuffle around the late-inning mix, provided Lincecum builds up strength and overcomes the blister issue he’s currently facing.
As alluded to above, the pitching staff looked shaky, at best, heading into the 2018 season. Hamels’ velocity is down early in the year, while Fister is on the DL with what the club hopes will be a short-term injury. Even if all of Hamels, Perez, Fister, Minor and Moore were healthy, the Rangers would’ve needed some significant rebounds to field a competitive starting unit.
The fact that they’re being backed by a bullpen which cycled through four closers last season and struggled for much of the 2017 season doesn’t create much additional optimism. Granted, the Ranger relief corps will be significantly better in 2018 if Jake Diekman and Keone Kela can stay healthy, but Texas added nothing in the way of established bullpen help this winter. The Rangers will have to lean heavily on Kela, Diekman, Matt Bush and Alex Claudio. If any of that bunch falters and/or Martin can’t approach his NPB success to some extent, it could be a long year for the Texas bullpen.
The catcher position was also a question for Texas for much of the offseason and remains as such. Robinson Chirinos undeniably had a nice season last year when he hit .255/.350/.506 with a career-high 17 home runs, but he’s never tallied more than 338 plate appearances in a season. The 33-year-old has dealt with concussion, shoulder and forearm issues in previous seasons. Backup Juan Centeno has never reached 200 PAs in a season and has only logged more than 10 MLB games in a season twice. Texas seemed like a logical fit for a backstop like Alex Avila or Chris Iannetta, who each signed for about $4MM annually, but they passed to stick with in-house options and dealt away one minor league depth piece (Brett Nicholas) shortly after Opening Day.
With Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre lined up around the infield and Jurickson Profar on hand as a utility option, the Rangers looked to be set there. (The depth will now be tested after early-season injuries to Odor and Andrus.) The outfield, though, was perhaps a different story, but the Rangers elected to primarily stick with in-house options. Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields, Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Rua and Willie Calhoun were expected to be leaned upon heavily in the outfield/DH carousel, with Drew Robinson and the aforementioned Rule 5 pickup, Tocci, serving as additional depth. Mazara’s ceiling is enormous, but there again seemed to be an opportunity to capitalize on a stagnant market for outfielders which the Rangers forewent. Choosing not to break the bank is understandable, but it was a bit of a surprise to see players such as Jon Jay and Carlos Gomez come off the board for just $3MM and $4MM, respectively, when so many teams, the Rangers included, seemed like clear fits.
That’s perhaps the most glaring oddity of the entire offseason for the Rangers. While they elected to patch together a pitching staff of buy-low candidates and spare-part depth options, Texas decision-makers wholly avoided making any meaningful additions on the position-player side of the equation despite some fairly evident openings to do so behind the plate and in the outfield.
It’d be one thing to see the Rangers sit out in terms of additions if they were among the league’s many tanking teams, but they still spent nearly $40MM on the pitching staff. If the goal was to try to piece together a team with a chance at contending in a stacked division, then why not take advantage of a buyers’ market for position players? And if the 2018 season is to be more of a transitional campaign in which the club aims to pare back its payroll, was a $28MM investment in Minor a shrewd move? It’s possible that Minor could lead a surprising pitching staff in Arlington or turn into an appealing trade asset if things go south for the rest of the roster, but the manner in which the Rangers approached the construction of their pitching staff and their lineup/bench seem to be somewhat contradictory in nature.
Texas looked like a plausible midseason seller even before the season began, but with a 4-10 start and several key injuries already having unfolded, those rumblings will only intensify. Any of the shorter-term pickups they made this offseason could become available if the Rangers are out of contention. The same is true of Hamels, though they may have a hard time acquiring much in return given his age, the $22MM he’s owed this season (plus at least the $6MM buyout he’s owed on next year’s $20MM option). The more interesting question, if Texas is out of the race, will be whether they send franchise icon and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre to another organization.
The Rangers came out of the gates in fairly aggressive fashion this offseason. Before the Winter Meetings had even kicked off, Texas had added some depth to the rotation by acquiring Herrera from the Yankees and quickly signing both Fister and Minor by Dec. 4. All of that, of course, coincided with a spirited pursuit of Ohtani that ultimately fell short, and the Rangers curbed their activity from that point forth.
Perhaps the offseason would’ve played out differently had Texas been able to add Ohtani to the mix, but in retrospect, the maneuverings add up to a fairly puzzling half-measure. Texas doesn’t look like a team that’s built to contend, but they also didn’t place an emphasis on restocking the farm this offseason. At a time when teams seem increasingly reluctant to be caught in the middle, the Rangers find themselves precisely there.
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TODAY: Andrus will not need surgery but will miss approximately six to eight weeks of time, the club announced. It is not fully clear whether that estimate includes any anticipated time spent on a rehab assignment, though it seems the organization can anticipate that its regular shortstop will be back in the majors at some point in the month of June.
YESTERDAY, 11:35pm: The Rangers issued a press release on Andrus’ injury, indicating that initial X-rays “indicate the probability of a fracture in the elbow.” He’s set to undergo additional X-rays and a CT scan tomorrow, and his elbow has been placed in a splint for the time being.
10:57pm: Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has been diagnosed with a fracture in his right elbow, tweets Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Andrus was hit by a pitch late in Wednesday’s contest, and post-game X-rays revealed the break. The extent of the fracture hasn’t been revealed, though it seems clear that a DL stint for Andrus is likely on the horizon. Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets that Andrus will have more tests performed tomorrow and notes that a DL trip would, remarkably, be the first of the shortstop’s career.
Obviously, the news comes as a blow to a Rangers club that has gotten off to a dreadful 4-10 start to the 2018 season and is currently sporting baseball’s second-worst run differential at -33. The 29-year-old Andrus was off to a torrid, hitting .327/.426/.500 with a pair of homers and three doubles through his first 61 plate appearancesÃÂ as he looked to recreate last season’s career year at the plate.
Andrus is the latest in a recent string of DL placements for a Rangers club that has also lost Delino DeShields, Rougned Odor and Doug Fister to the disabled list since Opening Day. With both Odor and Andrus on the sidelines, former No. 1 overall prospect Jurickson Profar seems likely to at last be ticketed for regular at-bats with the Rangers for the foreseeable future. Catcher/infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa is already with the big league club and has experience at second base, and the Rangers also have March trade pickup Eliezer Alvarez on the 40-man roster, though he has only limited experience above A-ball. Versatile Hanser Alberto in Triple-A Round Rock, but he’ll need to be re-added to the 40-man roster after previously being non-tendered and re-signed to a minor league deal.
One other scenario that could play out would be a move of Drew Robinson from the outfield to the infield, as he comes with experience in both regards at the minor league level. Shifting Profar to shortstop and Robinson to second base could then open the door for top prospect Willie Calhoun to return as a left fielder, although that alignment would likely force Ryan Rua into center field, where he’s played just 14 big league innings. Carlos Tocci remains an option in center as well, though as a Rule 5 pick, asking him to take on regular center field work would be a lot.
Certainly, the timing of the injury is brutal for Andrus from a personal standpoint as well. The shortstop’s eight-year, $120MM deal was viewed for several seasons as a misstep by the front office, but Andrus’ sensational 2017 season and strong start to the 2018 campaign suddenly made the possibility of him exercising an opt-out clause after the season look entirely possible.
Andrus has $58MM guaranteed to him over the next four seasons, but with a repeat of his 2017 season he’d almost certainly elect to test the open market in search of a lengthier, more lucrative contract. If he’s able to return in the near future, that may still be the case, but the length of his absence and the degree to which he is able to bounce back from the injury will now carry added significance with the possibility of free agency looming.
The Rangers announced tonight that second baseman Rougned Odor (left hamstring strain) and right-hander Doug Fister (right hip strain) have both been placed on the 10-day disabled list. In their place, the team has activated reliever Tony Barnette from the DL and recalled catcher/infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa from Triple-A Round Rock. There’s no indication that either injury is considered to be long-term, with both Odor and Fister eligible to return from the DL on April 20. Kiner-Falefa will be making his big league debut the first time he gets into a game; the former fourth-round pick hit .288/.350/.390 through 569 trips to the plate in Double-A last season.
Veteran infielder Trevor Plouffe, who’d been with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, asked for and was granted his release by the organization, the team told reporters (Twitter link via MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan).
Plouffe, 31, opened the Triple-A season by going 3-for-11 with a homer, a double and six walks in 17 plate appearances — good for a .273/.529/.636 slash in that tiny four-game sample. The longtime Twins third baseman struggled in Spring Training with the Rangers and agreed to head to their Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock to open the season, though clearly his stay there will be short-lived.
A former first-round pick of the Twins (20th overall, 2004), Plouffe was a bit of a late bloomer but eventually rose to the Majors and claimed Minnesota’s starting third base job as a 26-year-old back in 2012. From 2012-16, Plouffe hit .250/.311/.423 and averaged 17 homers and 124 games played per season with the Twins. While his glovework at the hot corner was initially questionable, he eventually posted solid UZR and DRS marks with the Twins in 2014-15. His 2016 season — Plouffe’s last as a Twin — was marred by a series of intercostal and oblique injuries that limited him to 84 games.
Plouffe split the 2017 season between the A’s and Rays, struggling at each stop and hitting just .198/.272/.318 in a combined 313 plate appearances. Given that showing and his injury-plagued 2016 season, it seems likely that Plouffe will need to find another minor league opportunity elsewhere — perhaps one with a clearer path to the Majors than he had in Texas, where Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo are locked in at the infield corners. At his best, Plouffe has been a thorn in the side of left-handed pitching (.263/.346/.469 during that ’12-’16 stretch) who is capable of handing either corner infield slot.
- The Rangers announced that second baseman Rougned Odor left his club’s game today with a left hamstring strain. We’re still awaiting word on a full assessment, but it certainly seems as if the organization is anticipating a DL stint. Likewise, Blue Jays DH Kendrys Morales has received a diagnosis of a grade 1 hammy strain, per a club announcement. That said, skipper John Gibbons struck an optimistic tone after the game, as Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com reports (Twitter link). Cardinals first baseman Jose Martinez also had to depart after a collision with Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain. While it seems the latter will be just fine, the former has been diagnosed with a right Achilles tendon contusion, per the club. Hopefully, that ends up representing the extent of the injury.
Rangers right-hander Clayton Blackburn will undergo Tommy John surgery, as MLB.com’s TR Sullivan was among those to report on Twitter. The news comes after Blackburn dealt with elbow issues all spring long.
Blackburn, who was acquired this time last year from the Giants, was once a highly regarded prospect but has yet to earn his first MLB call-up. That may well have come in the current season, but the 25-year-old will instead spend the year rehabbing.
A former 16th-round draft pick, Blackburn has spent most of the past three seasons at the highest level of the minors. In his 355 1/3 innings at Triple-A, he owns a 4.00 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9.
Blackburn still has an option year remaining and won’t burn it in 2018. He is already on the 60-day DL, so there are no immediate 40-man ramifications. But it remains to be seen whether the Rangers will be able to to carry him through next offseason, when there will inevitably be a variety of roster pressures to account for.
- Rangers lefty Cole Hamels is entering a transitional phase of his career, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, as his significantly diminished velocity now forces him to become more of a finesse lefty than a power pitcher. Hamels has never been a flamethrower, per se, but he averaged 92 mph or better on his fastball for the vast majority of his career, including last season in 2017. Through his first three starts of the 2018 campaign, however, Hamels has averaged just 89.7 mph on his heater. While some pitchers build up velocity over the course of a season, Hamels has never started out a year with this lack of life on his fastball. “I’m in between in terms of identifying what I need to do and going out and doing it,” Hamels tells Grant. “You can’t be in between on those two types of pitches and executing them.” To his credit, Hamels has racked up 23 strikeouts in just 16 innings, but he’s also issued nine walks, served up five homers and is currently toting a cumbersome 5.06 ERA.
- Rangers right-hander Tim Lincecum’s ongoing blister issues forced him to postpone a bullpen session Sunday, according to TR Sullivan of MLB.com. Given that he didn’t pitch at all last season and then went without a contract until March 7, Lincecum was already behind schedule before the blister on his right middle finger cropped up last month. It’s now unclear whether he’ll be ready by the beginning of May, the Rangers’ target for him entering the season.