How The Rangers Can Use This Offseason To Be Competitive in 2015 and Beyond

Jon Daniels
The Texas Rangers enter the 2014-15 offseason coming off of a last place finish due to a myriad of reasons which have been covered at length by many columnists, bloggers, and hot takers. The author will spare the reader the banal details as to why because if one is reading the author’s article, one is probably cognizant as to why the team played so horrendously in 2014.

The Rangers will have a new manager in 2015, former Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister. Billy Casey scribed a piece which describes Banister’s character, determination, and resolute inclination, which I recommend checking out, and this is a piece written by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh informing the reader about Banister’s prior employer’s collaborative effort between the front office, field management, scouting, and analytical department.

As one mentioned on a previous episode of The 20 Grade Podcast (Episode 3 I believe), if the Rangers were going to take the more risky route and hire someone other than Tim Bogar, I believed Banister was the likely choice due to working for an organization which conducted business in the way the Pirates did. While Ron Washington excelled at what was unquantifiable in locker room presence and handling the media, Washington was reportedly not as receptive to analytics or heeding advice from the front office. Now that Jon Daniels has a manager which has experience in using analytics to optimize his team’s chances of winning, and allowing the front office to have more of a voice in a collaborative effort with the field management team, the Rangers can now be part of the paradigm of more teams operating in a similar fashion. This is something which should excite Rangers enthusiasts, not anger them and cause them to spew ridiculous generalities.

The reader has probably read several opinion pieces which subjectively claim the 2014-15 offseason is the most important offseason in Rangers history. A quick Google search will show these kinds of generalities are said every offseason about every team in baseball, including the Rangers. Clicking here and here will provide Ranger examples, and this is just what one found the last two years. A local columnist claimed the 2012-13 offseason was the worst offseason in Rangers history, and the club proceeded to win 91 games in ’13, but failed to play postseason baseball. 91 wins is an excellent achievement, and would have been enough to host a Wild Card game in each league in ’14, but baseball, ya know.

Bold claims and subjective hot takes are part of what is the baseball offseason, and while empirical research cannot prove or disprove such scorching opinions, the truth is each offseason is important in roster construction for all teams. Here is also what is currently true for the Rangers, Fangraphs Steamer projections currently project the Rangers to finish with the fourth most WAR in the American League West in 2015, based on their current roster. Obviously, Steamer cannot detect a change in player mechanics, and is based off of past production, but Jeff Sullivan explains in this piece why the Mariners are projected to yield the highest WAR in the American League, and why projected WAR is predictive of success the following season. The following chart represents the projected total WAR for teams in the American League West for 2015.

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Texas is currently projected to win around 76-79 games as currently constructed, and Steamer has not yet deducted Miles Mikolas 0.6 fWAR projection. One can determine the Rangers do need to bolster both their offense and pitching, and the author is sure the club is cognizant of their current weaknesses at RF, DH, and SP. However, buying wins during the offseason is not exactly like going to purchase bread at the grocery store. The free agent market being thinner than in past years due to productive players accepting club friendly extensions early in their careers complicates things, and trading for key contributors is now more difficult due to clubs rightly valuing their young, cost controlled prospects more highly than in the past . Plus, paying exorbitant salaries for the better players who actually reach free agency might not exactly be an optimal strategy anymore anyways.

Cultivating talent in the minors is how teams stay competitive for extended periods of time. Advocating the Rangers should trade their young, cost controllable assets to go “all in” for 2015 seems both myopic and suboptimal. Yes, Yu Darvish might not be around forever, and Adrian Beltre will not be either. The Rangers would also like to try and be competitive while Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are in the early stages of their expensive contracts. But, signing the more lucrative free agents and trading potential value in the minors will cost the team down the road, and that will not be much fun (sorry Phillie fans).

The author recommends pursuing players in free agency which will not require the club to forfeit draft picks in the 2015 draft (the team’s fourth overall pick is protected), and will not cost the team much financially. Remember, this is a team which reportedly does not have much financial wiggle room despite a hefty television sum buried in a gold coffer somewhere at Globe Life Park. Trades should be considered, but only trades which do not sacrifice much future value.

Free agent names which we discussed on the most recent episode of The 20 Grade Podcast include former Ranger Brandon McCarthy, Nori Aoki, Mike Morse, and Brett Anderson. The author also suggests considering Justin Masterson, and Jason Hammel to bolster the rotation. The advantage to signing any of the above mentioned free agents is that none of them turned down a qualifying offer from their previous team, which means Texas would not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign any of them. Also, none of them are predicted to sign deals longer than three years, with most of them more than likely only requiring one year deals to sign, and one year deals are great things.

Current San Diego starting pitcher Ian Kennedy and New York Mets starting pitcher Jon Niese should also be considered, but they would have to be acquired via trade. Andrew Cashner is the sexier Padre, but Kennedy would not require the Rangers to give up as much via trade. Niese would also not be very steep in cost.

The Rangers have options which can help increase their current WAR that will not sacrifice future value, and help keep the team competitive in the future when players such as Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Jorge Alfaro, and Chi-Chi Gonzalez begin arriving in Arlington. Assembling a super team is not necessary to compete, and mediocrity is kind of being embraced in baseball. Not to say the Rangers should aspire for mediocrity, but they are currently nine projected wins behind the Mariners, and the Mariners have yet to do anything. The shrewdest move for the Rangers might be to add a few wins via short term deals, and hope for some luck here and there, and maybe they earn a playoff spot. Remember, both teams in the most recent World Series did not even win 90 games during the regular season. Also, the Royals Base Runs record, which essentially strips out sequencing, was only one win better than the Cubs. Yes, while not very predictive or repeatable, clutch hitting and pitching can be the difference between the 2014 Cubs and the 2014 Royals.

So, if the Rangers do not sign one of the more appealing free agent names such as James Shields (his projections for ’15 are similar to Brandon McCarthy) or Russell Martin, do not overreact and feel as if the team failed, and just had the worst offseason ever. The team is already well behind three other teams in the division in projected wins. Signing some of the names the author has suggested should help keep the Rangers (barring injuries) competitive in ’15, and increase the probability the team is competing after ’15. Maybe the team plays poorly, but going “all in” in ’15 when three other teams have seven to nine current projected wins would not be an optimal strategy, and really is not even necessary. Regardless of what happens, the author recommends preparing for plenty of hot takes.

Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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