- The Rangers hope to fill their pitching coach vacancy by the conclusion of the World Series, reports T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. That individual is expected to come from within the organization, Sullivan adds. Texas parted ways with former pitching coach Julio Rangel earlier this month.
A couple of notable international signings:
- The Pirates announced they have signed 19-year-old pitcher Po-Yu Chen. The Taiwanese righty will receive a $1.25MM signing bonus, reports Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link). Chen has evidently been on the organization’s radar for quite some time, with GM Ben Cherington noting the club has scouted him extensively over the past three years (via Rob Biertempfel of the Athletic). Notably, the Bucs’ only trade at this summer’s trade deadline netted them additional international pool space, as outfielder Jarrod Dyson was dealt to the White Sox for $243,300 in bonus availability.
- The Rangers signed 17-year-old outfielder Alejandro Osuna out of Mexico, per Baseball America’s Ben Badler (via Twitter). As Badler notes, Osuna is the brother of Astros’ reliever Roberto Osuna. Alejandro Osuna also has a twin brother, Pedro Osuna, who also plays outfield, but bats and throws right-handed, unlike Alejandro, who bats and throws lefty.
Rangers pitching coach Julio Rangel and catching coordinator Hector Ortiz won’t be returning to their positions in 2021, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Rangel’s contract won’t be renewed, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds, and Ortiz has been offered another role in the organization but it isn’t yet known if he will accept.
During Rangel’s two seasons as pitching coach, Texas hurlers combined for a 5.09 ERA in 2019 (24th of 30 teams) and a 5.02 ERA in 2020 (23rd). While ERA isn’t the sole determining factor in a pitching staff’s effectiveness, and the Rangers hadn’t been getting consistent results from their arms for years prior to Rangel’s arrival, clearly the club felt a change was necessary.
The next pitching coach will likely be charged with developing some younger pitchers, as GM Jon Daniels is on record as saying the 2021 team will look to incorporate more “youth and energy on the field.” With this mindset and a lower payroll in mind, it appears as though the Rangers are viewing at least next season as something of a rebuilding year.
Prior to joining the Rangers, Rangel was a coach in the Indians organization from 2007-17 and then worked as the Giants’ minor league pitching coordinator. His first official big league job was technically with the Reds as their bullpen coach, though Rangel was hired by Cincinnati after the 2018 season but never actually suited up for the team, as the Rangers came calling with the pitching coach offer (Rangel had the blessing of Reds manager David Bell, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal detailed).
Ortiz’s final Major League games came in a Rangers uniform in 2002, and he has spent the last 15 seasons working in a variety of coaching and managerial roles at the major and minor league levels. 2020 was his first season as catching coordinator, after previously working on the big league staff as a first base coach and bullpen coach since 2015.
A trio of players appear ticketed for free agency this offseason after being outrighted off clubs’ rosters yesterday, per the MLB.com transactions log:
- Cubs’ reliever Josh Osich cleared waivers after being designated for assignment earlier this week. Chicago acquired Osich from the Red Sox at this year’s trade deadline, although he only wound up pitching in four games for them down the stretch. Osich combined for a 6.38 ERA in 18.1 innings for the two teams this year, although he did rack up an impressive 24:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
- White Sox reliever Alex McRae also passed through the wire after being designated this week. McRae spent the first six seasons of his professional career in the Pirates’ organization before joining the Sox last offseason. He tossed three scoreless innings for the South Siders this year. McRae has a 7.50 ERA/7.09 FIP in 36 career MLB innings.
- Also passing through waivers was Rangers’ infielder Yadiel Rivera. The 28-year-old utilityman was reported to have been designated for assignment in early September, but he instead reverted to the injured list after being diagnosed with an elbow injury. Rivera wound up having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reported late last month, and is expected to be out for five to six months. Rivera has just a .175/.244/.217 line in 319 MLB plate appearances across six seasons.
Like many or most other teams, the Rangers are planning to trim their payroll in response to the revenues lost during the shortened 2020 season. In a session with media earlier this week, managing partner Ray Davis told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News and other reporters that “two major factors” will contribute to less spending next year.
“The first is how much baseball is going to lose [financially] in 2020. And also, the life cycle of our club,” Davis said. “We have some high-paid contracts rolling off our payroll. We will have some minimum salary players coming on. So, it gives a justification, if you will, to not to spend as much. The economics of baseball has been so sad this year and there is uncertainty about what 2021 will bring.”
The Rangers were projected to have a payroll in the $153MM range heading into the season, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the season was reduced to 60 games (thus reducing Texas’ outlay to roughly $65MM). Grant figures the club won’t go much, if at all, beyond the $100MM figure in 2021, though as Davis noted, some of that reduction was already baked into the future plans. Approximately $47.1MM will come off the books in the form of departing free agents, most notably Shin-Soo Choo and Corey Kluber — Texas holds a $14MM club option on Kluber for next season but that will surely be declined in the wake of Kluber’s injury-plagued year. It’s also worth mentioning that 2020 was the final year of the Rangers’ outstanding obligation to retired slugger Prince Fielder.
Assuming Grant’s $100MM projection is correct, that leaves Texas GM Jon Daniels with some room to maneuver, as Roster Resource has just under $62MM in payroll commitments on the Rangers’ books for the coming season. However, as Daniels has already publicly committed to a “youth movement” year in 2021, major expenditures don’t seem likely. The Rangers had already taken a generally more conservative approach to free agent spending in recent years, most notably their strategy of signing veteran pitchers (such as Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Jordan Lyles, and Kyle Gibson) to multi-year deals that didn’t break the bank.
It remains to be seen if the Rangers will consider even those modest types of contracts this winter, though Davis did make it clear that Daniels will be the one continuing to weigh those decisions. Daniels has been running the team’s baseball operations department for 15 seasons, and though the Rangers have suffered through four straight losing seasons, Davis still believes in Daniels’ track record.
“Jon has demonstrated that he and his team can put together winning ballclubs,” Davis said. “If you thought about going out and replacing him, all you have is a question mark. We have a known entity. We have a group of guys that know how to get it done and I think they are going to get it done again.”
On the heels of another disappointing season, one that saw the Rangers finish 22-38 and extend their playoff drought to four years, general manager Jon Daniels spoke to media, including Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and TR Sullivan of MLB.com.
With their starters having ended 2020 with the majors’ seventh-worst ERA (5.32), Daniels said the Rangers are interested in bringing in a veteran rotation member during the offseason. The only starter on the team who provided high-end production across a large number of innings in 2020 was Lance Lynn, who’s only signed for another year and whom the Rangers could trade for a solid haul. Kyle Cody gave the team outstanding results, albeit over a small number of innings, and the Rangers traded Mike Minor to the A’s before the Aug. 31 deadline.
Texas has Lynn, Cody, Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson (he and Lyles had rough years) among their most proven starters going into next season. Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber’s still on the roster, but as someone who missed nearly the entire season with shoulder troubles, he seems like a shoo-in to be bought out for $1MM (as opposed to guaranteeing him $18MM).
Turning to the offensive side, the Rangers aren’t planning on gifting starting spots to second baseman Rougned Odor or shortstop Elvis Andrus going forward, per Daniels. Frankly, neither player deserves one. Both players could be trade candidates in the coming months, and if that’s the case, the Daniels-led Rangers are confident they won’t have to eat any of their contracts. That may be wishful thinking, as Odor has two more seasons and $27MM left on his contract, while Andrus has $28MM over two years remaining.
Odor has three seasons of two-plus fWAR in his past, and he’s someone the Rangers signed to a six-year, $49.5MM guarantee entering 2017, but his production has been terrible of late. Despite 10 home runs in 148 plate appearances, the 26-year-old ended 2020 with a .167/.209/.413 line. His 51 wRC+ ranked second to last among 223 hitters who racked up at least 140 PA this season.
Andrus was even worse than Odor this year, as he logged a 48 wRC+ in 111 trips to the plate. Like Odor, Andrus looked like a cornerstone for the Rangers in his earlier days, which is why they extended him to an eight-year, $120MM contract in early 2013. However, his production has fallen flat over the past few seasons.
The Rangers have activated outfielder/DH Shin-Soo Choo from the 10-day injured list, and the veteran slugger will be in the lineup for what might be his last game in a Texas uniform. To create roster space for Choo, infielder Sherten Apostel was placed on the 10-day IL with lower back tightness.
A right hand has kept Choo out of action since September 7, and the 38-year-old has a .229/.317/.394 slash line over 126 PA for Texas this season. While Choo has said that he wants to keep playing in 2021, today’s game could serve as something of a final bow on his seven seasons with the Rangers. Choo signed a seven-year, $130MM free agent contract during the 2013-14 offseason that ultimately didn’t provide the return Texas was looking for in such a big investment.
Choo has hit a decent but unspectacular .260/.363/.428 over 3479 PA for the Rangers, good for an 109 OPS+ and 111 wRC+. This production was rather offset, however, by subpar defense in the corner outfield, and Choo spent quite a bit of time as a designated hitter. All told, Choo has generated 8.8 fWAR as a Ranger.
It remains to be seen if a player of Choo’s age and somewhat limited skillset will be able to catch on with another team in 2021, but his left-handed bat is still quite potent against right-handed pitching. Choo has consistently mashed righties over his career, and even in this down year still has a .766 OPS in 88 PA against right-handers.
- Rangers designated hitter Shin-soo Choo is hoping to play in 2021, per MLB.com’s TR Sullivan (via Twitter). The 38-year-old is wrapping up a seven-year, $130MM deal with Texas. A longtime productive hitter, Choo has taken a big step back offensively this season as he nears free agency. He’s amassed just a .229/.317/.394 line. It’s the first year Choo has been below-average at the dish since he established himself as an everyday player back in 2008.
Longtime big league outfielder Hunter Pence announced he’s retiring from baseball (Twitter link). This brings to an end a fourteen-year career spent with four teams, although he’ll surely be remembered most for his time with the Giants.
Pence originally broke into pro ball in 2004, selected by the Astros in the second round out of the University of Texas-Arlington. Notably “awkward and unorthodox” as a prospect, in the words of Baseball America, Pence nevertheless played himself into top prospect status by 2007. He broke into the big leagues with a bang, hitting .322/.360/.539 en route to a third place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting that season. Pence continually produced over his time in Houston, earning his first two All-Star nods there, before the struggling Astros shipped him off to the Phillies at the 2011 trade deadline for four prospects.
He continued to perform well in Philadelphia, hitting .289/.357/.486 over parts of two seasons, but the Phillies lost in the Division Series in 2011 and were en route to a playoff miss in 2012. Pence again headlined a deadline deal, this one sending him to San Francisco. His midseason acquirer fared much better the second time around, as the Giants erased a pair of big playoff deficits against the Reds and Cardinals before sweeping the Tigers in the 2012 World Series.
Set to reach free agency after the 2013 season, Pence instead re-upped with the Giants that September. Already a highly productive and popular player, that extension set the stage for Pence to become permanently identified with the San Francisco organization. He combined for a .280/.335/.464 line between 2013-14, garnering down ballot MVP support each year. He was perhaps even more instrumental in the Giants’ 2014 World Series run than he’d been in 2012, going 12-27 with a home run in San Francisco’s seven-game triumph over the Royals.
Of course, it wasn’t simply Pence’s productivity that made him so revered, both among diehard Giants’ loyalists and many baseball fans generally. He played with an endearing energy and exuberance. Coupled with his oft-awkward hitting mechanics and general lack of gracefulness on the diamond, Pence brought something of an everyman feel to the sport that resonated with outside observers, teammates and coaches.
Unfortunately, that high-energy style of play caught up to him in his 30’s. After 2014, Pence only once again managed to exceed 110 games in a season. He continued to produce when healthy up through 2016, but he seemingly hit a wall thereafter. Pence struggled through a pair of poor years with the 2017-18 Giants, seemingly ending his time with the organization (and putting his career in jeopardy).
Forced to settle for a minor-league deal with his hometown Rangers entering 2019, Pence remade his swing at age 36. He rebounded to post a .297/.358/.552 line over 316 plate appearances in Texas last year, picking up his fourth and final All-Star trip in the process. That also inspired the Giants to offer a major league deal last winter, setting the stage for a tremendous return story.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Pence got off to an abysmal start and was released after just 56 plate appearances. That’ll mark his last work in the big leagues, although it’s fitting that his final games came in the orange and black.
All told, Pence will hang up the spikes with a .279/.334/.461 line over 7006 plate appearances, good for a 115 wRC+. He hit 244 home runs, 324 doubles and 55 triples, while stealing 120 bases. Pence was worth around 31 wins above replacement, in the estimation of both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. He’s obviously most notable for being an integral part of two World Series winners in San Francisco and for the infectious joy he spread to teammates and fans alike. MLBTR congratulates Pence on a stellar career and wishes him the best in retirement.
- The Rangers will be looking for starters in the offseason, especially if they trade Lance Lynn, but it doesn’t appear reliever Jonathan Hernandez will fill any voids in their rotation in 2021. Hernandez informed the Rangers that he’d rather stay in the bullpen next year than transition to a starting role, TR Sullivan of MLB.com tweets. The rookie Hernandez has been one of the main bright spots this season for Texas, with which the 24-year-old has posted a 2.51 ERA/2.49 FIP and registered 9.42 K/9 against 1.57 BB/9 across 28 2/3 innings. Hernandez has averaged almost 98 mph on his fastball along the way.