Projecting The Rangers Offseason: 3 Big Keys
Another promising season that ends too soon for the Rangers. Now, the Rangers offseason begins.
They looked like as complete a team as this franchise has ever seen. The result was getting swept in the ALDS against the Wild Card Toronto Blue Jays. For me, though, I don’t like looking back at a season that didn’t end with Adrian Beltre hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy. That being said, let’s look forward to next season to see what needs to happen to make that dream a reality.
I want to start this off-season with a high-level overview of what the Rangers should do to improve their team and go for a third-straight division title. I will try to avoid the classic vague and cliché concepts like “get better players” and focus on key areas that will not only mean success in 2017 alone but success in 2017 and future years.
#1 – ACQUIRE A CONTROLLABLE, TOP OF THE ROTATION ACE
The Rangers must have someone whom they can lean on at the top of the rotation. Someone who can stop a losing streak and strike fear into the hearts of opposing hitters. What the Indians have in Corey Kluber or the Cubs have in Jake Arrieta, is what I thought the Rangers had in Cole Hamels and/or Yu Darvish. Times are changing. I absolutely want Hamels and Darvish in Texas until their careers end, but I have some issues with each one of those guys.
With Hamels, the soon to be 33-year-old is not what he once was. Through his first 16 starts in 2016, he had a 2.60 ERA and was looking like the ace the Rangers acquired at the 2015 deadline. The walks were a little high, but he was keeping the ball on the ground. He had a 50.9 percent groundball rate, league average in 2016 was 44.7 percent. He was also stranding runners at an 87.5 percent rate (league average in 2016 was 72.9 percent).
In short, the extra runners that Hamels was putting on via the walk were getting stranded or wiped out on a double play. All good!
Then it wasn’t all good. In his last 16 starts, his walk rate did not go down. In fact, it went from 3.30 walks per nine to 3.62 walks per nine. That wouldn’t have been a problem if he could have maintained his strand rate, but it dropped to 73.1 percent and posted an ERA of 3.81 in his final 16 starts.
Hamels is still an effective pitcher, and I’m thrilled that he’s a Ranger, but he’s not a top of the rotation guy anymore.
With Darvish, I feel much more confident in him. In 14 starts post-Tommy John surgery, he looked good. He was striking out 11.84 batters per nine innings and even lowered his walk rate to a career-best 2.78 per nine innings. I honestly think that 2017 could be Darvish’s best year yet, which would be good and bad for Texas.
Darvish, of course, is entering a contract year but do not expect him to take a hometown discount. If you are hoping for an extension before the 2017 season, then Jon Daniels has some cap room to clear (be sure to check out the Shutdown Inning 2017 salary cap projections here). In an ideal world, we could find the money to keep Darvish, but he’s going to demand close to $28 mil a year and handing that out to a 30-year-old fresh off Tommy John, and some unknown workload in Japan is a dangerous game. If Jon Daniels (now allegedly without his right-hand man, Thad Levine) can go out and get a controllable top of the rotation guy, that puts Texas in a position to compete in 2017 and does not sink the ship if or *gulp* when Yu Darvish leaves in free agency then he should do it.
#2 – FREE JOEY GALLO
There is a lot to like about Joey Gallo. Jaw-dropping power and one sexy swing. There is also a lot to be worried about with Gallo. Possible attitude problems, loads of strikeouts with not enough walks and he is blocked at his true position of third base by the aforementioned Adrian Beltre.
Texas is stuck in a “Deal or No Deal” scenario with Gallo. You can send him off in a trade for under full value and watch another team bear the risk, or you can give him the first base job and see what the kid can do with a full workload. I want to point out three sections of Gallo’s Major League career so far.
Section A — When Gallo first came up to replace an injured Adrian Beltre in 2015, he hit .279/.380/.581 with four home runs and seven RBIs in his first 50 plate appearances. Sure he was striking out literally a third of the time, but he also had a 14 percent walk rate. He looked ready.
- Section 1A: this is when Gallo was at third base playing for an injured Adrian Beltre. He had a position. He knew he was going to be on the lineup card and he knew which glove to grab for warm ups.
Section B — He then crashed back down to earth hitting .154/.247/.308 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his last 73 plate appearances, striking out over half the time. Yikes, not looking ready now.
- Section 1B: Beltre returned, but Banister wanted to keep Gallo in the lineup. So, he put Gallo in left, where he had very little work, and he even started a game in center field!
Section C — In 2016, he had 30 plate appearance and posted a dreadful .040/.200/.160 line with just one home run and one RBI. I’m not saying this is something, but I’m not saying it’s not something.
- Section 1C: The entire 2016 season. Gallo played in 80 games in AAA, 32 at first base, 44 at third base, four in the outfield. When he was up in the majors, spent most of his time on the bench. He was on the Major League roster for 34 games and appeared in only half of them, amassing only 30 plate appearances. Much uncertainty and inconsistent at-bats.
- 6/2/2015 – 6/15/2015. Manning third base for Adrian Beltre. 279/.380/.581 with four home runs and seven RBIs in his first 50 plate appearances. 34% K rate, 14% walk rate.
- 6/16/2015 – 10/4/2015. He was being moved around and had no real position or solid lineup spot. .154/.247/.308 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 73 plate appearances. 54.8% K rate, 11% walk rate.
- 5/23/2016 – 10/2/2016. Lots of time on the bench bounced between the MLB and AAA. .040/.200/.160 with one home run and one RBI in 30 plate appearances. 63.3% K rate, 16.7% walk rate.
It’s an incredibly small sample size, but I believe that if Banister announced in the second week of Spring Training “Gallo is our starting that he might just get the experience he needs to grow into a Major League stud.
This does not mean that a guaranteed starting position turns Gallo into Giancarlo Stanton but he has to have the chance. If you want him to excel in Texas, you have to give him a chance. If you want to play it safe and take the banker’s halfway offer, that’s fine too. It will be interesting to see how Jon Daniels plays this situation out.
#3 – FIGURE OUT MIDDLE INFIELD
Stick with me here, because this section is long winded. The middle infield has been so important for about three or four seasons now because we’ve heard the same thing over and over. If I had a dollar for every time I heard/read about how the Rangers depth at shortstop/second base was a good problem to have, I could pay for the rest of Prince Fielder’s contract after insurance.
For what feels like the 10th consecutive off-season, the Rangers have more middle infield players than open spots. The time is running out to turn that surplus into filling a need elsewhere. Elvis Andrus had a revival season offensively. Jurickson Profar got healthy and played everywhere except catcher and pitcher. Rougned Odor had quite an impact on the offensive side of the game — and on Jose Bautista’s face (yeah, that will never get old). So now Jon Daniels can move one of those guys and probably get a decent return, but which one should be moved?
Let’s start with Elvis. For the record, I think trading Elvis is the least likely scenario. Andrus signed an 8-year extension in 2013, and he is going to make $15M a year in 2017-2020. That drops to $14 mil in 2021 and 2022, the final two years of the contract. He does, however, have a vesting option for 2023 which I will get to in a second.
Eight years at $88 mil is what remains. He could probably fetch that or something close to that if he were a free agent this year. That is not where the problem lies. The problem lies in three not-so-little clauses Scott Boras got in his contract.
Clause 1: He has a vesting option for a 9th year at $15 million that becomes guaranteed if he has 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 plate appearances in 2021-2022 combined.
Clause 2: Andrus had a ten team no-trade clause that kicked in this year. I don’t know what ten teams are on this list, but the list of trade partners just went to 19.
Clause 3: Contract contains a player opt out in either 2018 or 2019. This is the biggest roadblock. Which of the 19 available teams are going to trade a valuable commodity for a player that could leave after one or two seasons? In addition, Andrus is a valued member of this clubhouse and a comical sidekick to Adrian Beltre.
To get a deal done, you would essentially have to eat a bunch of his salary or accept spare parts. By doing that, though, you potentially send a bad message to your team. If I were a betting man, I’d bet every dime I had on Elvis starting the six hole on Opening Day 2017.
Next is Rougned Odor. I don’t want to see Rougie leave. He turns 23 in February and he enjoyed a breakout season in 2016. His slash of .271/.296/.502 with 33 homers, 88 RBIs, and 14 steals is nothing to sneeze at. That being said, it would probably make the most sense to dangle him out on the market and see what he is worth. Not because I am eager to get rid of him, but because I am expecting some regression in 2017.
Odor had a walk rate of three percent, which was dead last among qualified hitters in 2016. I don’t think that would worry me quite as much if it wasn’t paired with a 21.2 percent strikeout rate. Rougie was swinging at everything, and if he can’t improve his discipline, Major League pitchers are going to make him chase.
Rougie’s great offensive numbers also masked the fact that he played some pretty awful defense. Per FanGraphs, Odor posted a -11.0 defensive WAR. He’s not all warts, though. He plays gritty, hard-nosed baseball, can steal you a base, and you do not hit 30 homers by accident. I’m not suggesting that Odor is actively shopped, but if you get a shot to get your controllable ace and the Odor is the ask, it’s worth the conversation.
Finally, Jurickson Profar. It seems like he is a 29-year-old prospect bust given how long we have heard his name. In reality, he is still a young pup, turning 24 in February. I think this is the guy that should/will get moved this winter. His name was thrown around a lot at the trade deadline this year, but the Rangers managed to get Jonathon Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress and Carlos Beltran without parting with the former number one prospect.
Is that because Profar has lost his luster as a valuable commodity or because Daniels held him out of any talks? Profar came up while Odor was serving his suspension for socking Bautista. Much like the 2015 Joey Gallo, he hit the ball so well that Banny had to find ways to keep him in the lineup. He played every infield position and spelled Prince Fielder at DH. He even flashed some leather at first base, which he never played until this last season.
From when he came up to the end of July, Profar batted .295/.351/.428 with 11 extra base hits, 28 runs and 15 RBIs in 189 plate appearances. In August, the Rangers kept trying to find him at-bats, but Profar’s bat all but disappeared. From August on, Profar hit .141/.274/.182 with nary a home run and only three extra base hits in 118 PA. Probably nothing, but Profar is still having some growing pains. Profar could be moved to the outfield or in theory first base. (He made appearances in 17 games at first in 2016) However, Profar made comments during the season that he “expects to be a shortstop in 2017” hinting that even if it’s not for the Rangers, that’s ok.
I think the Rangers need to trade him. He has no real position, if they try to move him to the outfield, it could become a precarious situation. He just had a season where he showed excellent hitting ability. Profar still has three more years of control and could be a highly valuable commodity to a team who needs help in the infield.
For a team that felt so close to championship caliber, the Rangers sure do have their work cut out for them. I don’t know if the Rangers window is closing, but Jon Daniels and company are sure acting like it is. I doubt that the Rangers actions are limited to the things I listed here, but I would expect at least some resolution in all these areas.