ARLINGTON, Texas — When the Texas Rangers embarked on the 2021 season, it was widely known that this year would come with its fair share of lumps. It was a wildly young team with veteran leadership at a premium. And when management comes out and says words like "evaluation year", there's a good chance it could get ugly.
It did. And the Rangers have no alibi.
The 2021 squad gave fans hope with an 18-18 start to the season. But they followed it with a really rough stretch, including a franchise record for the longest road losing streak in franchise history at 16 games. Then the Rangers finished out the final 19 games prior to the All-Star break with a 10-9 stretch. But all of that was seemingly erased when the team went into a free fall, losing the first 12 games coming out of the break.
And just after snapping that streak, the Rangers decided to cash in on their most valuable trade asset. On Wednesday night, the Rangers and Yankees agreed to a six-player trade that sends Joey Gallo to the Bronx. The clubs confirmed the deal on Thursday morning.
In return, the Rangers get a haul of four prospects: 2B Ezequiel Duran, SS Josh Smith, 2B/OF Trevor Hauver and RHP Glenn Otto. Though none ranked in the Yankees' top 10 prospects on MLB.com (which are announced prior to the season), both Duran and Smith have risen into the organization's top 10 in Baseball America's midseason rankings.
But why did the Rangers have to part with Joey Gallo? Why couldn't he have been a part of what the Rangers are trying to build? He's a homegrown talent. He likes living in Dallas. He loves being a Ranger. And despite the crowd that has steadfastly criticized him over his batting average and strikeouts, Gallo has become the fan-favorite — the face of the franchise.
And the selling won't stop there. The Gallo trade all but confirms that Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy will be traded before Friday's 3:00 p.m. CT deadline. You may even see Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt get dealt to contenders that could use valuable and flexible veterans.
So what happened? How did it come to this? Weren't the Rangers supposed to compete when this new $1.2 billion ballpark opened?
There were a few problems that forced the Rangers into this situation.
First, Joey Gallo was the lone survivor from a group of players that were supposed to be the core of the next contending team. Jurickson Profar? He's bounced back from injuries with other clubs, but has never lived up to the No. 1 overall prospect hype. Nomar Mazara? He couldn't hit the next level and has been non-tendered and designated for assignment in less than a calendar year. Rougned Odor? Two strong years early on earned him a long-term contract that eventually became so bad, the Rangers ate the vast majority of the final two years just to move him.
Martín Pérez. Ronald Guzmán. Delino DeShields. Chi Chi Gonzalez. Luis Ortiz. Dillon Tate. Julio Pablo Martinez. Too many names that the Rangers needed to hit on but didn't.
Second, the Rangers tried to take a shortcut in 2019 and 2020. When things looked like they were turning around during Chris Woodward's first year as manager in 2019, the Rangers decided to hold onto Mike Minor when they should have capitalized on his value. They spent the 2019-2020 offseason parting with a valuable young reliever in Emmanuel Clase to acquire Corey Kluber and build an exciting trio to spearhead the rotation.
To be fair, the Rangers were dealt a bad hand with the COVID-19 pandemic. But everybody was. And when baseball eventually resumed in 2020, any efforts to build a team that could compete for an outside chance at a wildcard fell apart.
Mike Minor wasn't the same. Corey Kluber got hurt after just one inning. And for the final nail in the coffin, a lineup built of aging veterans and leftover remnants of the group mentioned previously failed to produce anything at the plate.
It's understandable why the Rangers tried to piece together a contending team in 2019 and 2020. The new ballpark was set to open, and there's going to be pressure to put a winner on the field when the organization asks the citizens of Arlington for $500 million to help build a retractable-roof stadium.
But there are no shortcuts worth taking when rebuilding. The club should have started the painful process earlier. And while they took too long to start cashing in on players and restock the farm system, they did begin to pivot in a new direction further down the organization.
Over 2018 and 2019, the Rangers overhauled their player development and minor league staff. They also shifted their draft strategy, especially in the first round. Then after last season's debacle, the Rangers made a massive change in the front office when they brought in Chris Young to be the executive vice president and general manager.
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But the final issue that led to this year's fire sale is the lack of answers with the current group of big league players. This team is very young. There's no doubt about that. However, the jury is still out on nearly every player on the roster.
Dane Dunning looks like a rotation piece. Nathaniel Lowe has more questions than Dunning, but shows enough promise to deserve more opportunities in the lineup next season. Adolis García looks like a late-bloomer, but has really struggled for more than a month. The final two months of the season are critical for both him and the Rangers.
Outside of that trio, with the exception of Gallo, there just isn't enough build around yet. It would be a very risky move to invest a lot of money in Gallo and spend big money on free agents this winter only to have another crop of players fail. The Rangers need more accomplished talent from the inside. Add in the fact that Gallo's trade value has never been higher and he only has one more season of club control.
In short, the timing just isn't working out.
So, the Rangers are restocking. And with this trade, the Rangers will add much needed depth to their crop of position players on the farm. If you're looking for optimism, many believe this trade helps make the Rangers farm system one of the deepest in all of baseball.
According to a source, the Rangers are excited about the offensive ability in all three position players they've acquired, specifically naming their ability to control the strike zone and impact the baseball. That makes perfect sense considering Josh Jung and Justin Foscue—two of the club's last four first-round picks and two of the hottest hitters in the organization—represent the shift in the Rangers' player development strategy.
If the Rangers were closer to putting a competitor on the field, their conviction to keep or even overpay for Gallo might have been stronger. Alas, the Rangers just aren't there yet.
As for when the club might compete again, look no further than the Double-A team in Frisco. Not only does it include many of the organization's top prospects—seven of which are in the top 10 on MLB.com—the RoughRiders have been in first place virtually all season.
Pitchers Cole Winn and Cole Ragans were both selected to the Futures Game with the former getting the starting nod. The rest of the rotation that includes Hans Crouse, A.J. Alexy, Yerry Rodriguez, Jake Latz and Ronny Henríquez has been the bright spot of the entire organization. Nick Snyder and Cole Uvila have been stellar in relief. And Josh Jung looks like the real deal.
In addition, Justin Foscue might be joining them soon if he continues to post video game numbers at High-A Hickory.
And if you're looking for the cherry on top, the Rangers officially signed this year's No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter on Wednesday.
How long will it take for this crop of players, the players acquired in the Gallo trade and anyone else the Rangers acquire over the next couple of days to get to the big leagues? More importantly, how many of them become legitimate pieces the Rangers can build around?
All of that is virtually an unknown. But the failures of 2021 have dampened any hope this club could compete by 2023. It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility, but it sure looks like it's going to take a bit longer until the Rangers are ready to buy in with another crop of players.
Even with a contract extension, that pushes the Rangers' contention window further down the road. That's likely the reason why Gallo will be shaving his beard and wearing pinstripes for the foreseeable future.
More From SI's Inside The Rangers:
- Rangers Trade Joey Gallo To Yankees For Four Prospects
- Rangers GM Chris Young Helped Make Jack Leiter's Road To Texas 'Extremely Special'
- 'I'm A Ranger': Gallo Thanks Fans After Rangers Snap 12-Game Skid
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