- An American League scout shared his opinion on the Rangers’ three pitching acquisitions (Mike Minor, Matt Moore, and Doug Fister) with Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, noting that the trio’s ability to miss bats will help take pressure off a shaky Texas defense. Most interestingly, the scout suggested that Minor would be most effectively deployed not just as a reliever, but as the Rangers’ closer. Minor has said that he chose to sign with Texas because the club was open to giving him the opportunity to again be a starting pitcher, so while the left-hander has also said he’s fine with continuing as a reliever, rotation work would seem to be his first option. Minor began his career as a starter but shoulder problems cost him all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons before he returned to post excellent numbers out of the Royals bullpen last year.
DEC. 24: The Rangers remain in contact with Wolfe, writes Wilson, who adds that Darvish hasn’t ruled out a reunion with the club. However, it’s up in the air whether Rangers ownership would pay the necessary amount to bring back Darvish, Wilson suggests.
DEC. 19, 10:35pm: Wilson reports that Darvish and Daniels are planning to have dinner this week, but Darvish’s agents will not be in attendance and the two do not plan to discuss business. The two are simply having dinner, per Wilson, adding that Daniels has continually maintained the stance that Texas will not play at the top of the free-agent market. The dinner was actually planned for November but was pushed back to this point. Darvish himself confirmed as much by quote-tweeting Wilson and adding the comment, “Tomorrow night!”
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports the same sentiment, noting that Daniels and Darvish never had much of a chance to have a conversation when Darvish was traded to the Dodgers. Grant likens the meeting to an “exit interview” and emphasizes that Darvish’s lead agent, Joel Wolfe, will not be present.
All of that said, it’s still a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to see Daniels, whose rotation is rife with uncertainty, meet with the top free-agent pitcher on the market under the guise that no business will be discussed.
6:41pm: Darvish is set to meet with the Rangers after he sits down with the Astros, a club source tells Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link). That seemingly runs counter to what GM Jon Daniels told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier today, as Wilson tweeted that Daniels said there was no meeting planned with Darvish at that point.
Obviously, the Rangers are more familiar with Darvish than any other club, and there’s certainly a need in their rotation. Texas has added Mike Minor as a potential starting option this winter and has also swung a trade for Matt Moore and signed Doug Fister. Still, there’s room for improvement among a shaky group of Texas starters.
What remains to be seen, though, is exactly how much payroll capacity the Rangers have remaining. Texas is reportedly aiming for its 2018 payroll to come in around the $155MM mark, and signing Darvish would almost certainly take them beyond that point, barring a heavily backloaded deal.
The Rangers could see a substantial amount of cash come off the books after the 2018 season, depending on Cole Hamels’ option and Elvis Andrus’ opt-out provision, but a long-term Darvish deal would likely mean boosting their commitments for 2020 season north of $85MM. Certainly, finding a taker for Shin-Soo Choo’s albatross contract would alleviate some of that crunch, though that’s a daunting proposition for the Texas front office.
5:00pm: One day after Yu Darvish reportedly met face-to-face with the Cubs, he’s sitting down for a similar meeting with the Astros, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports. Houston joins the Cubs and Twins as teams that have now been prominently linked to Darvish, who topped MLBTR’s free agent rankings at the beginning of the offseason. The Rangers, Heyman writes, are “monitoring” the Darvish market.
The Astros, of course, got an up-close look at Darvish for years when he fronted the division-rival Rangers’ rotation and when they clobbered him in a pair of World Series starts. Though that rough pair of outings was obviously a sour note upon which to end an otherwise solid season, the tiny sample of two starts against a powerhouse offense isn’t likely to alter his perception much among big league teams. (Notably, one unnamed Astros player revealed to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that Darvish was tipping his pitches in both World Series outings.)
Houston isn’t exactly in dire need of a rotation upgrade, as their current group of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock is already strong. Houston also still has Collin McHugh as an option for the back end of the rotation as well as a number of upper-level prospects (e.g. Francis Martes, David Paulino) that could eventually emerge as rotation options.
That said, adding Darvish to a rotation that already includes Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers and Morton would make for a potent starting five. Peacock thrived in a multi-inning relief role on multiple occasions in 2017 and could function in a similar capacity in 2018, should the ’Stros ultimately elect to add a significant arm to their rotation. Picking up Darvish could also bode well for the club in the long term, as both Keuchel and Morton are set to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
From a pure payroll standpoint, Houston can certainly absorb a significant multi-year deal. The Astros do have just shy of $150MM committed to the 2017 payroll (including projected arbitration salaries), but that number plummets to $56MM on the books for 2019 when Keuchel, Morton, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp and Marwin Gonzalez are all eligible for free agency.
The ’Stros will no doubt look to lock up Jose Altuve beyond the 2019 campaign, when their control over the 2017 AL MVP runs out, though, and they probably want to keep George Springer around beyond 2020 as well. Those will be considerations when deciding whether to offer a long-term deal to any high-priced free agent, though it’s worth pointing out that Houston only has $21.5MM committed to the 2020 roster at present and does not have a single guaranteed contract for the 2021 season on its current books.
Let’s check in on a few notable international signings that have just gone down …
- The Yankees have struck agreements with two Venezuelan talents, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. With cash still left to spend after missing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Yanks are moving to bring in another big haul of talent from Latin America. Outfielder Raimfer Salinas and catcher Antonio Cabello will join an already strong haul from the current July 2nd class. Per BA’s rankings, these two are the 11th and 15th-best players available, respectively, leaving the Yankees with five of this year’s top twenty talents.
- Another spurned Ohtani suitor, the Rangers, has found another investment opportunity with some of its funds. The Texas organization has added shortstop Osleivis Basabe out of Venezuela, Badler also reports. Basabe, who has a few family members already playing in affiliated ball, is said to be a quality athlete with excellent speed and a good arm. Though Basabe ranked as only the 46th player on the BA board due to questions about his hitting acumen, Badler says he has shown well in winter ball action.
- It seems the Twins have finalized a deal with Taiwanese righty Kai-Wei Teng. That agreement was first reported by LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star-Tribune and was noted as going in the books recently on Twitter by MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. The 19-year-old is said to be receiving a bonus in the $500K range.
Former Rangers closer Shawn Tolleson is returning to the organization on a minor league contract, per a team announcement. Texas also announced minor league deals for right-hander Paolo Espino, outfielder Brett Eibner and right-hander Zeke Spruill. (Spruill’s deal had been previously reported.) Tolleson and Espino received invitations to Major League Spring Training, though Tolleson will still be working his way back from Tommy John surgery at that point.
Tolleson, 30 in January, was cut loose by the Rangers after a dreadful 2016 campaign. Tolleson shined with the Rangers from 2014-15, tossing 144 innings and logging 35 saves with 9.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 against a 41.4 percent ground-ball rate. Tolleson limped to a 7.68 ERA and served up eight homers in just 36 1/3 innings with the Rangers in ’16, and he never appeared in a game for the Rays after signing a one-year deal last offseason before TJ surgery in May. Tolleson was used heavily in 2014-15, including five straight games to close out that 2015 regular season.
Espino made six appearances for the Rangers last year after being picked up from the Brewers. Though he’ll turn 31 next month, last year marked Espino’s first taste of the big leagues — a debut that included 24 innings with a 6.00 ERA and a 20-to-10 K/BB ratio. Espino brings a 3.76 ERA, 8.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 505 1/3 career innings at the Triple-A level and will bring some depth to a rotation mix that has plenty of injury question marks.
Last season, the Dodgers attempted to convert Eibner into a pitcher, but he ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery on Aug. 1. The Rangers announced Eibner as an outfielder, seemingly indicating that they won’t continue experimenting with him on the mound. Once healthy, Eibner can handle all three outfield spots and will come to the Rangers organization with a .274/.348/.464 career batting line in parts of four Triple-A seasons and a .191/.263/.355 slash in 244 MLB plate appearances.
Texas has worked hard to build out its pitching depth this winter, and that’s all the more important now given that Martin Perez is slated to miss some time early on. While the Rangers will surely still hope to find more impactful additions, a little spring competition never hurts.
Bibens-Dirkx reached the majors for the first time in 2017 with the Rangers. Working as a swingman, he provided 69 1/3 innings of 4.67 ERA ball over 18 relief appearances and six starts. He also managed only 4.9 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 and allowed 1.8 home runs per regulation outing. The 32-year-old was outrighted off of the 40-man roster at the end of the season.
As for Goeddel, who turns 29 tomorrow, he’ll step into the bullpen competition after appearing in each of the past four seasons with the Mets. The UCLA product has shown some swing and miss, recording 9.4 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 while carrying a 3.96 ERA through 104 2/3 career MLB frames. Goeddel managed a hefty 15.2% swinging-strike rate in 2017, though he also coughed up eight long balls in just 29 frames on the year.
Rangers left-hander Martin Perez is set to miss approximately four months after undergoing surgery for a fracture to the radial head in his right arm, the club announced. He is said to have incurred the injury at his ranch in his home country of Venezuela.
Perez, 26, is expected to hold down a starting spot for the Rangers in 2018. Odds are, though, that he’ll miss a bit of time to open the season, perhaps increasing the organization’s need for rotation depth. Four months from today puts the potential return in mid-April, but perhaps it’s wise to build in a bit of extra padding to expectations.
Though Perez limped to a 4.82 ERA in 2017, he enjoyed a second consecutive healthy campaign and has thrown 383 2/3 innings since the start of 2016. Texas decided to pick up a $6MM option to retain him in hopes that he’d again fill up some frames and might also improve his results.
While there’s not much to love about Perez’s peripherals of late, he has long generated good rates of grounders and has been effective in the past when he suppresses home runs sufficiently. He also still delivers a 93 to 94 mph fastball, though his swinging-strike rates are stuck below eight percent.
[RELATED: Updated Rangers Depth Chart]
In any event, the Rangers now have more reason than ever to seek an additional rotation-capable arm. The team has already added Mike Minor, Matt Moore, and Doug Fister to a unit fronted by Cole Hamels, but the organization is short of established options beyond that.
The Rangers have officially acquired lefty Matt Moore from the Giants. Texas will also add $750K of international bonus pool spending capacity while shipping minor-league righties Sam Wolff and Israel Cruz to San Francisco.
With the move, the Giants have cut loose a pitcher that was slated to open the season as part of the organization’s rotation. As a peak at the club’s depth chart shows, the organization doesn’t exactly have an established player ready to step in, though there surely are options. Chris Stratton and Ty Blach will likely enter camp as the favorites to round out the starting unit, with pitchers such as Tyler Beede, Andrew Suarez, and Joan Gregorio also in the picture in the near future.
GM Bobby Evans says that his organization will reallocate Moore’s $9MM salary to upgrade elsewhere. (H/t Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area, via Twitter.) Certainly, the organization has been looking to add power bats all offseason long, and it’s evident now that the goal is to do so without running afoul of the $197MM luxury tax line. Evans says the club’s “focus remains to strengthen our outfield defense and our everyday lineup.” Of course, there are limits to what kind of asset can be had for the level of payroll capacity that was freed with this trade, though further dealing could open more space.
For the Rangers, Moore will fill out a southpaw-heavy starting staff — now and, perhaps, in 2019, as he can be kept at a $10MM price (or turned onto the open market with a $750K buyout). The organization has aggressively pursued pitching this offseason, with this acquisition following earlier moves that brought in Mike Minor, Doug Fister, Chris Martin, and Tony Barnette. Click here to see the updated depth chart after the move. While the Rangers have given some indication of pursuing a higher-end rotation option, at this point the staff seems mostly set unless a new opportunity arises and the organization finds a way to make all the pieces fit.
In Moore, they’ll add a hurler who seemed on his way to establishing himself as a top-end starter before Tommy John surgery intervened. Moore looked to rebound somewhat in 2016, the year in which he was shipped from the Rays to the Giants in a deadline deal that sent Matt Duffy and prospects to Tampa Bay. The southpaw ended the year with a 4.08 ERA over 198 1/3 innings, with 8.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.
The Giants’ belief at that point was surely that Moore would at least continue to provide quite a few solid innings, with perhaps some hope that he’d make yet further strides. But his 2017 follow-up effort fell flat, as Moore’s velocity trended down and his swinging-strike rate sat at a full-season-low 8.6% rate. He ended the year with 174 1/3 frames of 5.52 ERA ball. Though he managed a fairly typical 7.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, Moore was harmed by a 1.39 HR/9 rate.
While the primary motivation here is likely financial, the Giants will add two arms in the process. The 26-year-old Wolff had some success upon moving to the bullpen in 2017, posting a cumulative 2.93 ERA with 12.3 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 over 43 innings split about evenly between Double-A and Triple-A. That said, he is expected to miss significant time due to injury in 2017, per ESPN.com’s Keith Law (via Twitter). Cruz, 20, has yet to advance past the Rookie ball level, where he struggled to a 5.91 ERA but did manage 11.8 K/9 against 4.5 BB/9 in 32 innings in 2017.
John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reported the deal (Twitter link). Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area (via Twitter), ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter), and Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (via Twitter) all added components of the return. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News (via Twitter) reported the amount of international bonus pool capacity.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Talks between the Rangers and Diamondbacks regarding Zack Greinke are “mostly dead,” according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (via Twitter). Three other teams, however, have some interest. The Phillies and Yankees have both reportedly checked in on Greinke, though it isn’t clear if either is one of the three teams Heyman references. The D’Backs are willing to cover at least some of Greinke’s huge contract to facilitate a deal.
- The Rangers have interest in Japanese right-hander Kazuhisa Makita, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 33-year-old submariner will be posted by the Seibu Lions before December 31, though there hasn’t been much word on what other MLB clubs may be exploring Makita’s services. Adding Makita would be part of GM Jon Daniels’ overall bullpen strategy of adding lower-cost relief options rather than commit a lot of payroll space in an increasingly-expensive market for free agent relievers.
The 25-year-old Alberto was non-tendered by the Rangers earlier in the offseason, but he’ll remain with the only organization he has known. Alberto missed the bulk of the season due to a shoulder issue but had previously reached the majors, where he struggled in limited playing time. In 616 career plate appearances at Triple-A, Alberto carries a .296/.320/.430 batting line with a dozen home runs.
As for Jepsen, the 2017 season was the first since 2007 in which he had failed to appear in the majors. The 33-year-old reliever had been an effective performer and even stepped into a closing role during the 2015 campaign, but ran into trouble beginning with the ensuing season. He ended up throwing only 23 2/3 Triple-A innings in 2017, over which he permitted 5.32 earned runs per nine — in large part due to surrendering five home runs — but did generate 11.0 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9.
The Rangers have acquired outfielder Carlos Tocci from the White Sox in exchange for cash, tweets Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Chicago had selected him with the No. 4 pick in the Rule 5 draft (out of the Phillies’ system).
Tocci was a fairly high-profile sign out of Venezuela for the Phils back in 2011, taking home a reported bonus of $759K at the time. Though he’s never exactly dominated in the minors, he’s coming off a solid .294/.346/.381 slash line in 528 plate appearances between the Phillies’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates — his first stop at each of those levels on his rise through the Majors. Tocci doesn’t come with any power and isn’t a base-stealing threat, but he’s an excellent defensive center fielder with a strong hit tool, per Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, who had rated him 23rd among Phillies prospects.
Tocci will retain his Rule 5 status with the Rangers, meaning he cannot be optioned to the minors without first being exposed to waivers and then offered back to the Phillies for $50,000. If he lasts the entire season on the Rangers’ big league roster (with at least 90 days on the active roster and not on the DL), he’ll become their property without any restrictions in 2019.