Winter Report Card: Texas Rangers
With five weeks left before pitchers and catchers report, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2014.
2014 Results: 67-95 (.414), fifth place in AL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key Departures: OF/1B Jim Adduci, C J.P. Arencibia, RHP Scott Baker, LHP Neal Cotts, LHP Michael Kirkman, 3B/1B Kevin Kouzmanoff, RHP Miles Mikolas, RHP Alexi Ogando, LHP Aaron Poreda, OF Alex Rios, OF Daniel Robertson
Thanks to a slew of injuries, the Rangers' 2014 season was disasterpiece theater. After five straight seasons well above .500 — the last four with at least 90 wins — they limped their way to their worst record since 1985. Though they played .500 ball through their first 70 games, the ineffectiveness and/or absences of marquee offseason additions Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, as well as Jurickson Profar, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Martin Perez, ultimately sealed their fate. Manager Ron Washington resigned in September under curious circumstances, and while a surprisingly strong showing (14-8) under interim manager Tim Bogar may have allowed them to salvage some dignity, it cost the team the No. 1 pick in the June amateur draft; instead, they'll pick fourth.
Despite the rally on Bogar's watch, it was Jeff Banister who got the nod as the team's next skipper. A 49-year-old who had previously spent all 29 years of his professional career with the Pirates, he has minor league managerial experience but no major league experience in that capacity. As a coach for the big club since August 2010, he evolved into a key point man between the Pirates' front office and their players with regards to the team's increased use of analytics, working as an intermediary to communicate information on infield positioning and opponent tendencies. His hiring may hint at a more analytical approach by the Rangers, particularly relative to Washington's old-school style.
Among the departures, most of them were roster filler, overexposed by the myriad injuries. Jim Adduci hit a grand .168/.239/.228 in 114 plate appearances, J.P. Arencibia .177/.239/.369 with 10 homers in 222 PA, Dan Robertson a thin .271/.333/.333 in 197 PA. Scott Baker, Miles Mikolas, Alexi Ogando — a useful swingman for years, but brought down by arm woes — and Aaron Poreda were all tagged for ERAs of at least 5.47 in their various roles. Neal Cotts was actually less effective against lefties than righties, but his 4.32 ERA wasn't terrible, particularly in light of strong peripherals en route to a 3.58 FIP. The one loss of note is Alex Rios, who hit just .280/.311/.398 with four homers in 521 PA while playing through ankle problems and a thumb contusion. The Rangers turned down his $13.5 million option, so he signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Royals instead.
Choo, who slumped to .242/.340/.374 in the first-year of his seven-year, $130 million deal, needed season-ending surgeries to remove a bone spur in his left elbow and repair cartilage in his left ankle. He should be ready for spring training and may shift back to rightfield, his regular position from 2009-12 with the Indians. Leftfield appears to be up for grabs, with Kyle Blanks, a 6-foot-6, 265 pound behemoth, an intriguing candidate. The 28-year-old righty was limited to 26 major league and 34 minor league games last year due to a calf strain; he's a career .234/.319/.407 hitter with 30 homers in 862 major league PA, most of them with the Padres.
Also in the mix, at least for now, are in-house options Michael Choice (.182/.250/.320 in 250 PA in a rough rookie season), Ryan Rua (.306/.378/.488 with 18 homers in Double and Triple A) and Jake Smolinski (.267/.349/.459 with 10 homers at the same two stops), the last two of whom enjoyed small-sample success with the big club late in the year. If Blanks doesn't crack the outfield, he could figure in the first base/DH mix as a complement to lefty Mitch Moreland in whichever position Fielder isn't playing.
Ross Detwiler, a 28-year-old southpaw acquired from the Nationals in exchange for prospects Chris Bostick and Abel De Los Santos, is the closest thing to a marquee addition, which says it all. After making a combined 69 starts and 15 relief appearances for the Nats from 2009-13, he spent the entirety of last season in the bullpen, mostly in low-leverage duty, posting a 4.00 ERA, 4.16 FIP and a mere 5.6 strikeouts per nine in 63 innings. He's in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and the Rangers intend to use him as a starter alongside Yu Darvish, Holland, Nick Tepesch and Colby Lewis, the last of whom re-signed with the Rangers via a one-year, $4 million deal after being tagged for a 5.18 ERA in 170 1/3 innings.
Juan Oviedo — who under the name Leo Nunez saved 92 games for the Marlins from 2009-11 — returned to the majors after missing the previous two years due to legal trouble and Tommy John surgery, posting a 3.69 ERA in 31 2/3 innings. He'll serve as a bullpen option, as will Kyuji Fujikawa, another TJ recoveree, who was limited to all of 25 innings with the Cubs across two seasons under a $9.5 million deal.
Of some interest is Delino DeShields, a Rule 5 pick from the Astros whose stock has fallen considerably over the last couple of years. The son of the former major leaguer best remembered as the Dodgers' acquisition in the Pedro Martinez deal, he caught the industry's attention by swiping 101 bases at two levels of A-ball in 2012, and cracked the lower reaches of the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus top prospect lists in 2013. His stock has since fallen with a shift to the outfield; in 2014, he hit just .236/.346/.360 with 11 homers and 54 steals at Double A Corpus Christi, though a broken cheekbone from an April beaning couldn't have helped. If the Rangers have use for an extra outfielder/pinch-runner, he could snag a spot on the 25-man roster, but the 22-year-old would benefit with more minor league seasoning.
Unfinished Business: Starting pitching, catcher, leftfield, middle infield logjam
There's simply no confidence to be had in the rotation, where Lewis was the only pitcher healthy enough to make at least 25 starts in 2014. Darvish was strong in his 22 starts, but he missed the final seven weeks of the season due to elbow inflammation, that after starting the year on the DL due to neck soreness. Holland should be good to go after being limited to five starts due to microfracture surgery in his left knee, but nobody knows what they can expect from Harrison, who has undergone four back surgeries in the past two seasons, the last of which resulted in the fusion of two spinal vertebrae. Detwiler owns a career 4.02 ERA and 41 percent quality-start rate as a starter. Lewis, Tepesch and Nick Martinez, who made a combined 75 starts with a 4.74 ERA and 4.77 FIP, look like back-rotation filler for the moment. Perez won't be back until at least mid-season, and prospect Luke Jackson needs more seasoning after being tagged for a 5.40 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A last year.
If the Rangers aren't merely waiting out injuries and the arrival of the next wave of prospects such as Jorge Alfaro and Joey Gallo, they need considerable help in the rotation, and if Max Scherzer is too rich for their blood, James Shields would appear to be a good fit — his 200-plus innings would provide a significant upgrade on what's here. General manager Jon Daniels told reporters last week that a deal for Shields is "not in the cards," though he did concede that the team would like to add another starter. Also on his shopping list is a catcher to complement incumbent Robinson Chirinos, who in his first year of regular major league play at age 30 hit .239/.290/.415 with 13 homers and adequate defense.
Amid this underwhelming set of moves, the team does have it in them to make a substantial upgrade by dealing from their middle infield depth, though admittedly the individual stocks could be higher. Incumbent shortstop Elvis Andrus, 26, put up a career-low 1.0 WAR last year via .263/.314/.333 hitting and -13 Defensive Runs Saved (-4 Ultimate Zone Rating). He's entering the first year of an eight-year, $120 million extension that guarantees him $15 million per year but has opt-outs after 2018 and '19 and a limited no-trade clause starting in '16. Profar, the game's top prospect coming into 2013, missed all of last year due to a torn teres major, and the team is planning to take it slowly with the soon-to-be-22-year-old in spring training. Rougned Odor, who turns 21 on Feb. 3, may need more minor league work after a shaky rookie season in which he hit .259/.297/.402 with a 71/17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and -11 DRS (-5 UZR). Luis Sardinas, who turns 22 on May 16, is a well-regarded prospect who will likely wind up back at Triple A if everybody is healthy. Somebody has to go sooner or later, but Daniels may not be comfortable dealing anyone until sometime during spring training, when health and progress can be assessed.
Preliminary Grade: D
The Rangers' fall from being an AL West powerhouse was sudden, and with so many injury-related questions hanging in the air, they may well wind up palookas again if a substantial number of things don't go right. Even if they do, they've taken a surprisingly conservative and uninspiring course thus far this winter.