ARLINGTON, Texas — Cast all of your doubts aside. The Texas Rangers are fully committed to a rebuild. The club used the trade deadline to sell three of their five best players — in terms of bWAR — to restock the farm system and unloading more future financial commitments.
While "Team Tank" supporters are rejoicing while the Rangers own the second-worst record in baseball, others are mourning the loss of Joey Gallo. Most importantly, fans want to know when they can show up to a $1.2 billion ballpark with postseason rally towels in hand instead of paper bags.
Surprisingly, Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels wasn't afraid to acquiesce to the media when asked if 2023 was still in play for when the team can become competitive again.
“I do think that’s reasonable,” Daniels said on Friday. “We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do. But — we touched on this a little bit the other day — there are two basic platforms that a team can build off of. One is having a foundation of young talent that gives you a ton of options: They can play for you, they can be attractive to other clubs, they provide competition for each other and create a winning atmosphere. The other is to have the financial ability, the wherewithal, to compete."
The rebuild should have started in 2018 after the big league team clearly showed the window for contention had closed with a 78-win season in 2017, despite opening the campaign with a payroll north of $175 million — the sixth-highest in baseball. The club then went through three seasons of playing in the middle, failing to capitalize on value within the organization, hoping to put a team on the field that could contend for a second wildcard when Globe Life Field opened in 2020.
It also didn't help that many of the players within the organization that were expected to perform, well, didn't.
Halfway through the truncated 2020 season, Daniels had enough. No more playing in the middle. The Rangers sold Mike Minor, Robinson Chirinos and Todd Fraizer at last year's trade deadline, traded Lance Lynn last winter, hired Chris Young as the club's general manager in December, traded Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor in the spring and opened the 2021 season with sights set on 2023 as a potential year for competing once again.
Not many expected the Rangers to do much in terms of winning in 2021 — not even management. But the big league club has had some of the worst stretches in franchise history in what has been a season laden with growing pains. And now, the Rangers have traded a piece away that some thought could be a player to build around.
But, in the long-term, the Rangers are making moves they believe will lead to the next window of contention.
"It's hard to see, to some degree, at the Major League level based on the wins and loss column," said Rangers general manager Chris Young. "Certainly that resonates with me. Our fans deserve a winning team. Our intent is to do that. But these things do take a little bit of time."
Daniels and Young decided to not repeat past mistakes. The farm system already had a decent amount of depth, but the Rangers know "decent" won't get the job done. So the Rangers cashed in on the best homegrown talent in well over a decade along with two veterans whose stock had drastically risen while donning Rangers red, white and blue.
Now the farm is much deeper, despite having to part with a pitching prospect like Hans Crouse in one of the trades. The Rangers have coveted Phillies' pitching prospect Spencer Howard for "quite some time", as Daniels put it. They clearly expect Howard to be a better pitcher in the long-term, and management has multiple ways of utilizing the depth from the farm system to improve their chances of competing down the road.
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"We're starting to see some guys pop from that depth," Young said. "It's pretty exciting as we hear the interest throughout the league at times like this. I think it's an important part for us to stay the course with our player development and continue to push these guys to get better. Our player development side has done a great job. Our coaches have done a great job. I think the culture is in place, and we are creating winning expectations."
While the most exciting part of the organization currently resides at Double-A Frisco, the big league team still has a great opportunity in front of them. Sure, these last two months could be brutal to watch. The team already suffered from a lack of veteran leadership. Now, three of the most influential voices in the clubhouse are gone — one from the position player side, one from the rotation and one from the bullpen.
Even so, manager Chris Woodward expects his team to seize opportunity.
“I expect our team to play with their hair on fire the rest of the way,” Woodward said on Saturday. “We’ve got two months of games left. We’ve said all along that this is a tremendous opportunity. The trade deadline is over. Heads aren’t spinning anymore. Some (players) were upset. They didn’t like seeing their teammates (Gallo and Gibson) go. Now we have to get back to playing baseball. This is invaluable experience for these guys, to show us what they can do, and someone has to rise up right now.
"There are jobs on the line that they can take. It’s up to them. At no point have we made our roster for next year. They have a chance to say, ‘I belong.’”
This year's trade deadline provided pain for Rangers fans. It's never easy to say goodbye to a fan-favorite like Joey Gallo. In addition, fans had to say goodbye to Elvis Andrus earlier in the year, who was the final remaining member of the treasured 2010-2011 seasons.
But the trade deadline also offered hope for the future. The Rangers added depth up and down their farm system, including three infielders in Ezequiel Duran, Josh Smith and Trevor Hauver that drastically improve the position player group, along a couple of pitchers that will help out at the big league level this season.
The club also continued to unload future financial obligations. After 2022, the Rangers currently have a whopping $6 million committed to 2023's payroll (José Leclerc's contract). Of course, that doesn't account for pre-arbitration players or the 13 arbitration-eligible players, but the roster could look very different by that time.
Those are the two assets the Rangers are aiming to maximize: organizational depth and financial flexibility. Whether it helps the club compete by 2023 remains to be seen.
"We’re going to be smart about how we allocate those resources," Daniels said. "But it does provide us with a lot of options and that’s our task. Now that we have these two unique assets — the two currencies of the game, so to speak — we need to put it together and start building on it.”
More From SI's Inside The Rangers:
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