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Mailbag: What Will The Rangers Do After This 'Stupid & Pointless' Lockout?

When will baseball return? What will the Texas Rangers do when the lockout is over? Your questions are answered in the latest mailbag on InsideTheRangers.com.

It's a frustrating time to be a baseball fan. In typical fashion, one minuscule step forward in negotiations on Friday was followed by two gargantuan steps backward Saturday. If you're still hoping for Opening Day on March 31, it will take much more than a Twitter prayer circle to bridge the massive gap between the owners and players.

Even so, the return of baseball is (somehow) growing closer. Whether it's 32 or 320 days away, we are still one day closer to the return of Major League Baseball. This owner-imposed lockout has created a lot of unknowns for what will happen after baseball's second-longest work stoppage is over.

Though this is being published on a Sunday, I do not have the power to answer your prayers for baseball's return. But I do have the power to answer your Twitter questions.

Can you please make baseball happen?
-Brice Paterik (@BricePaterik)

What did I just say?!?! Ugh... 

As much as I would love to do my best Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson impression and mediate these negotiations until a deal is swiftly done, we're going to have to sit back and wait until the owners and players figure this out.

If both sides are actually willing to sacrifice games, don't expect the lockout to end this week. We could go all of April with no big league games. There will be a season, but without a deal by the MLB-imposed Monday deadline, it's difficult to pinpoint just how long it will be.

After this stupid and pointless lockout, what are the three main things you see the Rangers doing to finish the roster?
-Chris (@Trapt35)

1. Sign/acquire a starting pitcher. Clayton Kershaw tops their list, but there are still other contingency plans to add depth to a very young rotation. 

This also addresses Josh Dack's Twitter question of the first priority once the lockout is over. It's pretty much a 50/50 shot with Kershaw. There's seldom been a better chance to land a veteran of this caliber, even if his best days are behind him. If Kershaw is healthy, he'll produce solid numbers while providing an invaluable presence in the clubhouse.

2. Sign an outfielder. Seiya Suzuki is probably their top priority, but there are a number of ways they can go to add a veteran bat in the outfield.

3. Trade for Matt Olson. This is probably the most unlikely of the three, but Olson is a player that's hard to pass up. He has two years of club control remaining and 2022 will be only his age 28 season. The Rangers have the capital to trade for Olson, which would give the Rangers arguably the best infield in baseball. That's a pretty good foundation for a team that will more realistically contend in 2023.

If games get cut, would they cut games from the beginning/end of the season? Or do you think they would start by cutting interleague play?
-Cody Smith (@CodySmith1997)

Ah, one of the aforementioned unknowns.

Truth be told, it's difficult to say. If the season is only cut by a couple of weeks, maybe they just cut from the beginning of the season. If we go a month or two into the season without games, MLB might have to devise an entirely new schedule.

If you had to guess, what do you think the Opening Day lineup will look like?
-Scotty (@MrDavisPlease)

With the way the roster looks today:

  1. DH Willie Calhoun
  2. 2B Marcus Semien
  3. SS Corey Seager
  4. CF Adolis García
  5. 1B Nathaniel Lowe
  6. RF Kole Calhoun
  7. 3B Isiah Kiner-Falefa
  8. LF Nick Solak
  9. C Jose Trevino

For fun (which we need right now because of this God-forsaken lockout), I'll also include what it could look like after potential free agent signings and/or trade acquisitions.

  1. DH Willie Calhoun
  2. 2B Marcus Semien
  3. 1B Matt Olson
  4. SS Corey Seager
  5. CF Adolis García
  6. RF Kole Calhoun
  7. LF Andrew McCutchen
  8. 3B Andy Ibáñez
  9. C Jose Trevino

Yeah, I'm (currently) buying into the Rangers' interest in Matt Olson. If the New York Yankees spend their money on Freddie Freeman, the Rangers have one of the better chances to put together a trade package good enough to sway Oakland and still keep the nucleus of their farm system intact.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not there because I still believe there's a possibility the Rangers trade him. Whether that's part of a deal for Olson or how the Yankees address their shortstop need, the Rangers might have to seriously entertain an offer for Kiner-Falefa is the return is worth it. That would definitely hurt since Kiner-Falefa is a well-liked player in the clubhouse and he's the ideal choice to fill third base with Josh Jung now out six months.

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But as the saying goes, "You have to give up something to get something." If the Rangers were willing to part with Joey Gallo when he had more than a year of club control remaining, it's difficult to imagine they're against the idea with Kiner-Falefa.

What are your general thoughts on Willie for '22? I love and feel for the guy, but where do the Rangers draw the line?
-Sean Daniel (@LuckyGuy2017)

I understand this sentiment from fans, and we in the media have asked similar questions to Rangers management. If the Rangers were ready to move on from Willie Calhoun, it's possible they would have non-tendered him in November. Yet, he is still a Texas Ranger (pending any post-lockout trades).

Yes, Calhoun has been horribly unlucky with injuries. But these aren't soft tissue injuries. He's not constantly pulling groins and hamstrings. Two pitches have broken bones in two different parts of his body, one of which had a serious psychological impact.

Fortunately for Willie, the second hit-by-pitch that broke his left forearm did not deter him like the 95-mph fastball that shattered his jaw. Willie remained strong mentally. Now he just needs an actual chance to play baseball consistently. We haven't seen that since 2019, where he slashed .269/.323/.524/.848 with 21 home runs and 48 RBI in only 83 games.

The Rangers know the upside is still there, and 2022 is still a year where they can afford to give him a chance to play an entire season and see what happens.

Does Kohei Arihara have a shot at the No. 5 spot in the rotation if the Rangers want someone to log some innings now that he is healthy? Rather than using Glenn Otto, A.J. Alexy, Taylor Hearn, etc.? Or even if Kershaw is added? Kohei may not be a bad No. 5 option if healthy, correct?
Kyle Power (@K_Wee_Zee)

The Rangers would prefer Arihara's $3.6 million produce numbers at the big league level rather than count as buried salary. That said, he must prove that his struggles last year were a direct result of his health. The Rangers like his stuff, but he has yet to prove himself. Otherwise, he would be on the 40-man roster right now.

As for where he fits among the other names you mentioned, Taylor Hearn is essentially a lock for the rotation at this point, at least to start the season. He, Dane Dunning and Jon Gray take up three spots in the rotation. The final two spots will likely be filled by an external addition (free agent or trade) and one of several internal candidates, including A.J. Alexy, Glenn Otto, Spencer Howard, Kolby Allard and John King.

Kohei Arihara can also throw his hat in the ring with a strong spring.

What is the bullpen looking like this season?
-multiple tweets

I'll go into more detail when we do our positional previews for the 2022 season. But here's a compact rundown:

  • Joe Barlow will likely start as the closer. He earned it last year.
  • When Jonathan Hernández and José Leclerc return (most likely in June), they'll provide exceptional depth for the back of the bullpen. It's unclear what the roles will be exactly. But unlike 2021, Chris Woodward will have plenty of options.
  • Spencer Patton, Dennis Santana and Josh Sborz all earned a second look.
  • If John King doesn't win a spot in the rotation, he could be a valuable multi-inning arm for the bullpen.
  • I would expect the Rangers to bring in multiple veteran relievers on minor league deals with a chance to compete for a roster spot. They also have Jake Diekman's number. Maybe they give him a call.

Possible bullpen in mid-July:

  • Joe Barlow
  • Jonathan Hernández
  • José Leclerc
  • Spencer Patton
  • Dennis Santana
  • Josh Sborz
  • John King
  • free agent signing

Based off each of the seven internal pitchers' most recent full season (2020 for Hernández, 2019 for Leclerc), they collectively add up to a 3.4 bWAR. Adding a free agent like Diekman would bump that to 3.8. That's not too shabby for a team that lost 102 games last year.

How much does Josh Jung's injury affect how the front office will approach other prospects that can play third base and middle infield? Especially since some of them (Ezequiel Duran, Dustin Harris, Josh Smith) are starting to look at outfield now. Also, after another injured year, does Jung's prospect ceiling change significantly?
-Evan Tenenbaum (@e10nbaum)

There were several questions regarding Josh Jung's injury, but I chose this one since it focuses on the big picture. I also received a question about Jung's six-month timeline. We reported on this last week, but to reiterate: the timeline of "six months before Jung can DH in games" was given as a rough estimate by general manager Chris Young. Ultimately, Jung's rehab will decide when he returns. Don't expect anything less than six months.

As far as how the front office approaches other infield prospects, I believe the long-term plan stays in place. Jung is still very much part of the Rangers' future. Young gave us every indication of that in our call with him last week. Sure, Duran, Harris and Smith could all log some playing time at the hot corner, but that position is still currently earmarked for Jung in 2023 and beyond.

In the wake of Jung's injury, I had a chance to talk to a few people in the Rangers organization about him this past week. They still believe he is very capable of being a successful big leaguer. One person even told me he shares the same qualities of some of the best hitters in the game regarding the ability to come up with his own solutions to combat big league pitching.

How the industry ranks him after this injury will probably not maintain that same level of confidence. However, the Rangers were confident they had one of the better farm system in the game heading into 2021. One year later, their farm system moved up more spots than any other in Baseball America's organizational rankings.

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