Photo: Keith Allison
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Anthony Brown takes on the Texas Rangers. Enjoy!
by Anthony Brown
2017 Record: 78-84 (4th in AL West)
2017 Payroll: 185,899,040 (8th)
Projected 2018 Lineup:
All player projections for 2018 from Steamer
- DH Shin-Soo Choo, .259 AVG/.357 OBP/.432 SLG, 1.0 WAR
- SS Elvis Andrus, .280 AVG/.334 OBP/.411 SLG, 2.1 WAR
- RF Nomar Mazara, .273 AVG/.342 OBP/.462 SLG, 2.0 WAR
- 3B Adrian Beltre, .288 AVG/.352 OBP/.473 SLG, 3.1 WAR
- 1B Joey Gallo, .227 AVG/.338 OBP/.511 SLG, 2.2 WAR
- 2B Rougned Odor, .256 AVG/.303 OBP/.479 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- C Robinson Chirinos, .233 AVG/.316 OBP/.431 SLG, 1.5 WAR
- LF Willie Calhoun, .276 AVG/.328 OBP/.483 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- CF Delino DeShields, .249 AVG/.332 OBP/.363 SLG, 1.5 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Cole Hamels, 201.0 IP/4.65 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 2.4 WAR
- Mike Minor, 120.0 IP/4.67 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.3 WAR
- Matt Moore, 157.0 IP/5.30 ERA/1.48 WHIP, 0.7 WAR
- Doug Fister, 168.0 IP/4.91 ERA/1.47 WHIP, 1.5 WAR
- Martin Perez*, 135.0 IP/4.85 ERA/1.51 WHIP, 1.3 WAR
* out until mid-April
After trading Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline last season, many assumed the Rangers would be active in the offseason in order to compete in 2018. However, they lost several key players to free agency, and their biggest trade was sending Russell Wilson to the Yankees. Losing pitcher Andrew Cashner was the biggest blow, seeing as his 4.6 rWAR was second on the team, and his 3.40 ERA was the best of the rotation by far. The Rangers also lost Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli, although it won’t be difficult to replace Napoli’s -0.4 WAR. Most of the new additions this offseason have been veteran pitchers that nobody else wanted. They acquired Matt Moore in a trade with the Giants and signed Doug Fister and Mike Minor early in the offseason. Also, over the last few months, Jon Niese, Edinson Volquez, Bartolo Colon, and, most recently, Tim Lincecum have all signed minor league deals, as well as infielders Darwin Barney and Trevor Plouffe.
Heading into 2018, the Rangers are in a pretty bad position. The Astros are looking to defend their World Series title and are clear favorites to win the division, the Angels are gearing up for a run at the postseason, and even the Mariners have some semblance of a chance to make the Wild Card. Just two years ago the Rangers won 95 games before losing in the ALDS, but that was with Yu Darvish, Ian Desmond, and a solid season from Cole Hamels. Now, with only two prospects in the top 100 and very few valuable trade assets, the Rangers find themselves in baseball purgatory, not bad enough to tank, but not good enough to contend.
This past offseason, after failing to sign Shohei Ohtani, the Rangers decided that older is better and signed a bunch of veteran pitchers who are way past their prime. Instead of trying to sign Lance Lynn or Jake Arrieta in order to shore up the weakest part of their team, they decided that Doug Fister and Matt Moore would be better (and cheaper). Rangers starters had an ERA of 4.66 last season, good for 17th in the league, but that was with four months of Darvish and a breakout season from Andrew Cashner. Without those two in the mix, the Rangers ERA will likely be in the bottom ten in the league in 2018. The only good part of signing all these old pitchers is the chance to watch Bartolo Colon and Tim Lincecum pitch again. Although Colon is no guarantee to make the team, and the Rangers plan on Lincecum pitching out of the bullpen, it will still be fun to watch these two pitch.
While the Rangers will have a hard time replacing their pitchers, replacing their offensive pieces won’t be too difficult. Jonathan Lucroy struggled most of last season, earning a WAR of -0.3 and a 66 OPS+ in 77 games. Robinson Chirinos should be able to easily better those numbers, as his 122 OPS+ and 2.7 WAR were among the best on the team. Moving Joey Gallo to first base will definitely replace Mike Napoli’s offensive output, as well as improving the defense there. The only difficult player from last year to replace will be Carlos Gomez. While he didn’t have a great season last year, he was solid offensively and wasn’t too bad on defense. The best way to replace him would be to move Delino DeShields into center field, as he is a much better defender and only a little bit worse on offense.
As bad as this year may be for the Rangers, it is likely to only get worse from here on out. Their position is similar to the Detroit Tigers from a few years ago, where they were good for a couple of years, but now are struggling and have a bad farm system. The Rangers farm system ranks 20th and the best prospects are still years away from the majors. Top prospect Leody Taveras (#34 prospect according to MLB.com) is only 19 years old and still two or three years from the majors. However, the Rangers number two prospect, Willie Calhoun (#53 prospect), is projected to be the starting left fielder for the team and should contribute right from the beginning. No other prospect appeared in the top 100, which doesn’t look good for the Rangers future.
Possibly the biggest news from the Rangers this offseason is that they will likely try a six-man rotation during this season. This is obviously huge news for everyone in baseball, as it could either revolutionize the game or prove to be a complete disaster. As with all changes in baseball, there are people who are unhappy with the news, most notably Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels, who said “it’s not part of baseball.” In theory, a six-man rotation would keep pitchers healthier by limiting their innings pitched, but that doesn’t always hold true in practice. Besides, the Rangers have a bunch of old veterans in their rotation, would adding one more into the mix really benefit anyone? It is interesting, however, and the Rangers are in a position where they are able to experiment and mess around with their rotation, as they are unlikely to make the playoffs.
Basically the only hope for the Rangers is that Cole Hamels has a bounce-back season, the rest of the rotation doesn’t completely collapse, and the offense stays healthy and combines for a really strong performance. If all that manages to happen, the Rangers could be able to contend for a Wild Card spot. However, it’s also possible that the rotation will prove that newer is always better, Cole Hamels will continue his downward spiral, and the offense struggles at times and doesn’t stay healthy. If the latter turns out to be true, it will prove to be a long season for Rangers fans.
Projected Record: 75-87
Player to Watch: Adrian Beltre
Adrian Beltre has been a solid baseball player for the past two decades. Although he is now in his 21st season at age 39, Beltre shows no signs of slowing down. Last season, he led all Rangers regulars with a 135 OPS+ and a .312 AVG. His BABIP of .321, in line with his career average suggests that another strong season is definitely possible. After reaching the 3000 hit milestone last year, Beltre is a surefire Hall of Famer and could even make it in on his first ballot. The only concern for Beltre this season will be his health. Last year, Beltre only played 94 games due to calf problems at the beginning of the season and hamstring problems at the end of the season. As he gets older, it will be interesting to see how his body holds and whether or not the Rangers will move him to DH or keep him at third base. Either way, look for Beltre to have another strong season as he continues to build his HOF resume.
Player to Watch: Willie Calhoun
Willie Calhoun was a top prospect in the Dodgers organization before he came over to the Rangers last summer in the Yu Darvish trade. He is now the Rangers second-ranked prospect and is projected to start in left field for the team. Throughout the minors, Calhoun displayed good home run power and a very low strikeout rate. While his strikeout rate jumped up during his brief call-up in September, that would likely be because it was his first taste of major league pitching, so look for it to decrease as he plays a full season. The only foreseeable problem about Calhoun is his defense. He is projected to be a below-average fielder with a below-average arm, which is one reason why he is projected to only have a WAR of 1.6. However, if his defense isn’t as bad as it’s expected to be and he hits the way he did in the minors, expect Calhoun to be a contender for Rookie of the Year.
Player to Watch: Rougned Odor
Rougned Odor had an interesting season last year. While has counting stats were good, he had an average of .204 and a BABIP of .224. This resulted in a WAR of -0.2 despite hitting 30 home runs and playing league average defense. During the season, his K% jumped up to 25% and his OPS+ fell to 64, making him among the least valuable players in the league. While his very low BABIP makes him a prime candidate for a bounce back season, Odor has always had a high K% and a very low BB%, which could indicate otherwise. If Odor can contribute to the Rangers, it would really help out their offense and could potentially make them contenders. No matter what happens this season, however, it is likely that Odor will improve his stats, mostly because it would be incredibly hard to do worse than he did last year.