It is hard not to feel for teams that are stuck at the bottom of really good divisions. In 2018, one of those teams was the Texas Rangers. They’ll have some company this year with the Seattle Mariners, but the Rangers went 67-95 in a division with four other teams that won at least 80 games.
The prospects don’t look much brighter for the Rangers this year. There is a lot of financial flexibility on the horizon with Joey Gallo as the only potential big-priced player approaching arbitration. Nomar Mazara’s escalating salary isn’t going to be too much of a hit. Texas enters the season with only two players making more than $10 million this season, so free agency will be very much available for the Rangers as they transition into a new ballpark for the 2021 season at the latest. The park is expected to be done in time for the 2020 season, but the team’s ongoing lease with the venue formerly known as the Ballpark in Arlington runs through 2024. Ownership wants to move sooner rather than later..
While the Rangers aren’t going to be impressive from a wins and losses standpoint, a lot of younger players will get a chance to play and the team has some intriguing rental players that could draw trade interest if they are healthy. Drew Smyly, Shelby Miller, and Edinson Volquez are all signed to short-term deals and the Rangers could restock their farm system in July if that trio performs well enough to generate trade buzz.
It’s a sad state of affairs when that is the most exciting thing about the season, but the Rangers haven’t drafted or developed particularly well and traded away some prospect talent during their contention window from 2009-16. The Rangers went to the World Series twice in that span and won four division titles.
Interim manager Don Wakamatsu, who was the skipper for the team’s last 10 games last season, is now the bench coach for new manager Chris Woodward. Teams continue to pluck assistants from the coaching staffs of savvy organizations, as Woodward served as the Dodgers third base coach last season. Woodward is only 42 years old and only got his start in coaching in 2013 in the Mariners organization as a minor league infield coordinator. We’ve seen a lot of young managerial hires lately, which is hardly a coincidence.
The task in front of Woodward is a big one, but at least expectations are extremely low this season. Adrian Beltre, the team’s third all-time leader in Baseball-Reference’s calculation of WAR, retired. The team’s most polished hitter is 36-year-old Shin-Soo Choo, who just posted his first season above replacement-level since 2015. The rotation is full of red flags and injury risks.
Usually I like to stay away from really bad teams because answering the question of “How bad will they be?” is not easy, but this is one where I think I can find an answer.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 67-95
Run Differential: -111
Pythagorean W/L: 71-91
BaseRuns Record: 69-93
BaseRuns Run Differential: -126 (4.44/5.22)
3rd Order Win% Record: 68.1-93.9
Record in One-Run Games: 12-19
Additions: Asdrubal Cabrera, Jeff Mathis, Patrick Wisdom, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Shelby Miller, Shawn Kelley, Jesse Chavez, Jason Hammel, Matt Davidson, Zach McAllister, Kyle Bird, Jordan Romano, Jett Bandy, Eli White, Chase d’Arnaud, Nolan Fontana, Jack Reinheimer, Danny Santana, Brock Burke, Luke Farrell, Phillips Valdez, Rafael Montero, Jeanmar Gomez, Ariel Hernandez, Michael Tonkin, Tim Dillard, Taylor Guerrieri, Miguel Del Pozo, Jack Leathersich, Yoel Espinal, Jeffeson Medina, Adam Moore, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere, David Carpenter, Logan Forsythe, Zack Granite
Losses: Robinson Chirinos, Adrian Beltre, Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Moore, Martin Perez, Tony Barnette, Drew Robinson, Alex Claudio, Jurickson Profar, Rollie Lacy, Shawn Tolleson
The Rangers aren’t going to be very good, but at least they’re trying to plug some holes. The rotation is one of the most interesting in baseball with Edinson Volquez, who missed all of last year, Drew Smyly, who did the same, Shelby Miller, who pitched 16 MLB innings, Lance Lynn, and last season’s lone holdover Mike Minor.
Asdrubal Cabrera was inked at a ridiculously low cost and will net a couple solid prospects come July. Shawn Kelley and Jesse Chavez will also be pieces that are moved in July. Beyond that, the Rangers added a fair amount of Triple-A and Quad-A talent in hopes of finding some MLB depth.
Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre retired, leaving a gaping hole at third base. Robinson Chirinos is a solid defensive catcher, though not the best hitter. Jeff Mathis also fits that description, so the catching situation should be fine. Big Sexy Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Moore, and Martin Perez have been replaced by the aforementioned group of previously injured hurlers.
BA: .240 (23rd)
OBP: .318 (15th)
SLG: .404 (19th)
wOBA: .315 (16th)
wRC+: 90 (22nd)
BABIP: .292 (21st)
K%: 24.1% (27th)
BB%: 9.0% (10th)
Putting up numbers like that while playing 81 games at the hitter haven that is Globe Life Park is rather sad. But, the Rangers don’t have a lot of plus offensive pieces. Joey Gallo can hit a ball so far that it leaves the Earth’s atmosphere, but he also strikes out over 35 percent of the time. Shin-Soo Choo draws a lot of walks and hits 20 homers a season. He just had his first good offensive season since 2015, so it’s hard to buy into that for 2019 as he’s now 36 years old.
Asdrubal Cabrera looks like a great signing and has been an above average hitter in each of his last three seasons and six of his last eight seasons. Outside of that, the Rangers are in need of offense. Adrian Beltre retired, which leaves a huge hole in the middle of this lineup. Elvis Andrus bottomed out last year and posted a 78 wRC+ after posting a career-high 20 home runs in 2017. He only hit six tanks last year. Rougned Odor is a really bad hitter whose only consistent offensive value was hitting home runs…up until last year.
This is not the type of offense we’ve come to expect from the Rangers and it’s hard to see it getting any better. Gallo, Choo, and Cabrera are a start, but the supporting cast includes guys like Delino DeShields, who can field and run, but can’t hit, and Ronald Guzman, who hit in the minors, but is unproven in the big leagues. Guys like Hunter Pence and Ben Revere have been around the block, but probably a few times too many. The same goes for Logan Forsythe.
The Rangers are looking to do something new with Nomar Mazara. They want to maximize his power potential, as Gerry Fraley wrote in the Dallas Morning News. This only makes sense. Mazara isn’t a high OBP guy, so finding some sort of concrete offensive value is needed. After all, Mazara only owns a career 92 wRC+ in his 1,720 plate appearances. Among players with at least 150 batted ball events, Mazara’s average launch angle of 5.3 degrees ranked 313th out of 332 hitters. That will be the adjustment. If it works and takes hold, Mazara will net some surplus value.
Consider me skeptical of Mazara and this offense as a whole. Gallo might get some help from Choo and Cabrera to keep his home runs from being solo shots, but this is a bad offensive ballclub on the whole.
ERA: 4.92 (28th)
FIP: 4.79 (29th)
xFIP: 4.59 (26th)
K%: 18.0% (30th)
BB%: 7.9% (7th)
LOB%: 69.6% (29th)
Missing bats is essential in today’s game. The Rangers were dead last in doing that last season. As a result, they failed to strand a league average percentage of their runners. The rotation will look a lot different this year without Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, and Bartolo Colon. Mike Minor is the lone holdover, as the Rangers are really taking a leap of faith with the rest of their starters.
Minor fared okay in his first full season as a starter since 2014 with a 4.18 ERA, a 4.43 FIP, and a 4.53 xFIP, but that is hardly front-of-the-rotation material. Edinson Volquez missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery. Drew Smyly hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since 2016 and has pitched all of one inning in Single-A over the last two seasons. Shelby Miller threw 16 MLB innings last season and 22 MLB innings in 2017.
Lance Lynn was the only able-bodied starter last season among the new additions for the Rangers and he posted a 4.77 ERA with a 3.84 FIP and a 3.98 xFIP. He missed a lot of bats for the Twins and Yankees, but he also walked a lot of guys and still fought with his command a couple seasons removed from Tommy John surgery. The Rangers have two proven starters and neither profile to be that good in Texas. Jason Hammel is in camp on a minor league deal and actually stands a chance of making this rotation. He’s really the only proven insurance policy.
Jose Leclerc may be the best-kept secret in baseball, at least, after posting a 1.56 ERA with a 1.90 FIP and a 3.10 xFIP in his 57.2 innings last year. Rubber-armed swingman Jesse Chavez looks ticketed for a setup role and the Rangers recently added Shawn Kelley and Zach McAllister to the mix, but the bullpen beyond Leclerc and Chavez looks disappointing as well. Who knows, maybe Matt Davidson winds up the third-best reliever on the roster.
Positives & Negatives
I like the direction that the Rangers are moving in with the hire of Chris Woodward. Plucking coaches from progressive organizations has worked well in recent seasons and Woodward was the third base coach for the Dodgers last season. He’s only 42 years old, which is another sign of how young managers are the way to go these days.
I’m of the belief that the AL West takes a step back this season, so maybe the Rangers can be a bit more competitive in their division games, as the Mariners are now on their level and I can’t see the A’s being as strong as they were. This is still a team that looks to be clearly the fifth-best team in a five-team division.
Pick: Under 70.5
I probably made it pretty clear throughout that breakdown that the Rangers are not high on my list for 2019. The offense leaves a lot to be desired and the starting staff has three guys that barely pitched last season or didn’t pitch at all. Mike Minor did get stronger as the season went along, which is nice to see because of the injury concerns, but I’m still curious to see how he comes back from his biggest workload in three years.
One thing I do like about what the Rangers did is that they can move guys like Volquez, Miller, and Smyly if they do show well in the first half. It seems unlikely that somebody would take the last $21 million season of Shin-Soo Choo, but somebody may take the last year of Mike Minor or Jesse Chavez. Asdrubal Cabrera will be a highly sought after rental in July.
That always has to be a consideration with bottom feeders. Which guys are actually going to finish out the season? If the Rangers had a better minor league system with more guys that were MLB-ready, maybe I’d feel differently here, but they don’t and I don’t. It is the under for me.