2016 Texas Rangers 2.0: Win Now
By the time 4:00 PM EST/3:00 PM CST rolled around on Monday, August 1st, 2016, the Texas Rangers had changed from utilizing role players with a perpetually fighting “next man up” mentality to a balanced, fairly reliable, and an even mix of experience and youthful energy. Jon Daniels showed three things: 1) He’s in charge of one of the deepest talent pools in Major League Baseball, 2) He knows how to use them, and 3) After using them, he’s still in charge of one of the deepest talent pools in Major League Baseball. It might take a little longer for the current talent to be considered Major League ready. This isn’t about the future, though. It’s about the Win Now mantra.
“Prospects are cool; Parades are cooler.” – Casey Stern, MLB Network Radio.
I’m seriously thinking about getting that phrase, along with “Flags Fly Forever” tattoo’ed somewhere on my arms. After all, the idea of giving up future potential for current day opportunity isn’t just a baseball theme, it’s a life theme.
80% of the talent that Jon Daniels has acquired for his Major League club in the last five months will likely not be here when 2017 Spring Training starts. This isn’t about the future, though.
With the acquisition of Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Beltran, and Jeremy Jeffress, the Texas Rangers have signaled to their fans that 2016 is going to be the year they become serious again about raising a World Championship pennant in Arlington.
WHAT THEY GOT
Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher. 30 years old, under contract through 2016, team option 2017
Lucroy represents something the Rangers haven’t had in roughly four to five years – a consistent offensively-productive, highly-rated defensive catcher. After the departure of Mike Napoli, the Rangers have had to deal with a revolving door at catcher, and almost every single one of them was brought in more for their defense than their offense – and most of the time, their defense was simply passable.
So far, with the Milwaukee Brewers, Lucroy has compiled a .299/.359/.482 slash line with 13 homers and 50 RBI. The slash line for Rangers catchers to this point is, to be nice, a lot worse: .233/.287/.422. Defensively, Lucroy is a skilled thrower, receiver and game caller, with a Catcher ERA of 4.00 (compared to current Rangers’ catchers’ ERA of 4.36 – by the way, Robinson Chirinos sports the worst at 5.08) and a caught stealing percentage of 40%. Current Rangers catchers have only thrown out 22% of would-be base-stealers. Read more about Lucroy here.
Carlos Beltran – DH/Outfielder, 39 years old, under contract through 2016
The 19-year veteran has been having an outstanding last season and a half with the New York Yankees, offensively producing at levels he hasn’t seen since he was on the 2013 World Series losing St. Louis Cardinals. In 99 games with the Bronx Bombers, Beltran is slashing .304/.344/.546, and in coming to the Rangers, takes the lead in all of those categories, as well as home runs, with 21. Rangers fans are well aware of the dearth of offensive production coming from their designated hitter slot: .223/.305/.349 with just 10 homers. Since Beltran’s time in the outfield will be sparse at best, there’s no need to look at his defensive numbers, but they’re not bad either. Be concerned with the absurd jump in numbers that now slots right into the middle of your lineup.
Jeremy Jeffress – Reliever, 28 years old, under contract through 2019
Don’t think that the acquisition of the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers closer is just an add-on piece. Jeffress has slid right into the high-leverage situations at the back end of the Brewers’ bullpen like it was a perfect-fitting glove, converting 27 saves with a 2.22 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 3.18. He won’t be taking over the full-time closer role from Sam Dyson, and he doesn’t need to. Dyson, while a bit less effective than in the second half last year, he’s still converted 22 of 24 save opportunities and is posting a 2.42 ERA while still sporting his bowling ball sinker. Jeffress’ main purpose here is to lengthen the bullpen, give the other high-leverage relievers a reduced workload, and still provide shutdown relief. Read more about Jeffress here.
WHAT THEY GAVE UP
It’s no secret that the price Jon Daniels paid to acquire the above three players was steep. Take heart, though, in knowing that he didn’t give up the entire farm and future for this World Series chance – but the next window might be a little further off than originally intended.
- Nick Green – Traded for Carlos Beltran. Green was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2013 but opted not to sign. He was then drafted and signed by Texas in the 7th round of 2014. He has worked primarily as a starter in Short Season Spokane and has put up a 4.98 ERA in seven starts so far.
- Erik Swanson – Traded for Carlos Beltran. Swanson was taken by Texas a round after Green and has been pitching in Hickory. He’s a power arm and over 15 starts has increased his durability and pitched to a 3.43 ERA.
- Dillon Tate – Traded for Carlos Beltran. The first round pick from last year has seen his stock fall drastically since a hamstring injury and modification of his mechanics. So while, yes, he is listed as a Top 5 prospect by Baseball America, Tate’s drop in velocity and inability to go deep into games while batters tee off on him, dropped his value so low, that it took two additional players on top of his #4 Overall Draft Pick Status to secure a rental.
- Lewis Brinson – Traded for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. Brinson, the 2012 first round pick, will probably be in Milwaukee’s starting outfield next year and for years to come. He might even be there in September. Brinson is regarded as a top outfield prospect defensively. He’s fallen off the path a bit offensively, but he still owns a five-year minor league slash line of .275/.343/.486. Of everyone that Texas gave up on Monday, Brinson is the most Major League ready.
- Luis Ortiz – Traded for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. Ortiz was the Rangers’ first-round pick from 2014, and the only reason I, personally, might say he hurts worse than losing Brinson is because he’s a projected starting arm. Modeling his mechanics after King Felix Hernandez, Ortiz had put up decent numbers before this year, but his struggles are surely the result of adjusting to much better competition. It was never a question of if Ortiz was going to be a Major Leaguer, just a question of for which team.
WHERE THE NEW GUYS FIT
Lucroy will assume the primary catcher position, both this year and next. Chirinos will be his backup, which makes for one severely impressive duo. Chirinos’ familiarity with the pitching staff and Lucroy’s incumbent ability will feed off each other the longer they spend time with each other. If they can learn from each other, then the pitching staff, without having made any acquisitions (yet) becomes better just from having good game callers and receivers.
Beltran becomes the Rangers’ primary designated hitter, which will free up Jurickson Profar to show off his defensive chops all around the diamond, thereby increasing his value – either to this club or another. Beltran can hit four, five, or six, depending on who else you have in the lineup that day. Lucroy becomes your six, seven, or eight hitter, and when you look at the lineup in its totality, you potentially have your 18-HR first baseman or your .290 shortstop hitting eighth or ninth. Pitching wins championships, but at some point, a starter either gets pulled or stops giving up runs, and the #NeverEverQuit mentality of this clubhouse, combined with the increased offensive production ensures that this team is never out of any ballgame.
Jeremy Jeffress becomes a setup reliever, a role he’s not unfamiliar with and allows an already over-worked bullpen to slow it down some over the stretch run. Texas now has a legitimate alternative closer on days when Dyson is down, and a game that, on any given day, can be shortened to five innings.
For those of you concerned with the future of this ball club, I have some news for you – the future is now. This isn’t about the future. The time is now.