The Rangers Haven't Landed The Big Fish, But Have Still Found Ways to Improve
The Rangers entered the offseason with the ultimate goal being to simply get better.
Of course, once the reports started pouring out of the Rangers being tied to multiple big names in free agency or the trade market, expectations throughout the fanbase rose drastically.
The first major domino to fall was when Zack Wheeler signed with the Phillies. The Rangers' offer was outbid by $18 million, not to mention the Rangers' disadvantage because of Wheeler's personal affinity for playing in Philadelphia.
The biggest blow of the winter came when Anthony Rendon chose to join forces with Mike Trout in Anaheim and become and Angel. The Rangers offered $192 million over six years with an option for a seventh year, but Rendon and his agent Scott Boras ultimately decided to accept the Angels' superior offer of $245 million over a guaranteed seven years.
The Rangers had their foot in the camps of several other marquee names on the market, most notably Josh Donaldson was second to only Rendon. When Donaldson asked for a fourth year and the Rangers said "no, thank you."
And now recently, in the same day no less, two players the Rangers had interest in are no longer available. Nicholas Castellanos signed a unique four-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds and the Pirates traded Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Unless the already highly unlikely situation with trading for Nolan Arenado suddenly starts to materialize, the Rangers will have missed on every big fish this winter. That's a tough pill to swallow for all parties involved – the front office, players, employees of the organization, and of course, the fans.
It sucks. What was once just a fear has become a bitter reality. And fans haven't hid their vitriol of Jon Daniels on social media. And most of the time, when a team misses out on every big name they've targeted with money to spend, the offseason can easily be chalked up as a failure.
The Rangers have proven this winter that this is not always the case.
Before even heading to San Diego for the Winter Meetings, Jon Daniels locked up Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles for the back end of the starting rotation. Those moves gave himself insurance to allow them to focus on their pursuit of Rendon while improving the rotation, which was a huge need this winter.
After swinging and missing on Rendon, Jon Daniels struck with his highlight move of the offseason when he swapped Delino Deshields and Emmanuel Clase for two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. In the wake of missing out on their top target, Daniels then solidified one of the most crucial groups on any baseball team.
The three moves to improve the rotation turned one of the weakest spots on the team into their largest strength before the holiday season. The three rotation spots behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn were in flux throughout most of 2019 and the numbers were absolutely dreadful. The rest of Rangers starting pitchers combined for a 7.22 ERA in 391 1/3 innings. Minor and Lynn alone combined for 416 2/3 innings.
Young pitchers who weren't Major League ready were thrust into a spot prematurely because the Rangers simply needed bodies there. They also couldn't get enough innings out of those other three spots, which has a trickle down effect on the bullpen. Depth was a very serious issue for the Rangers pitching staff in 2019.
Now, they're coming from a standpoint of strength and quality depth at starting pitching, which is not something every team can boast. The Rangers' top trio in Minor, Lynn, and Kluber have all thrown 200+ innings multiple times in their careers. Gibson has exceeded 194 innings twice in his career and Lyles has thrown at least 140 innings three times.
To be fair, there is one thing all of those big fish the Rangers missed on have in common: they are all position players. The Rangers haven't been able to add to the lineup with marquee talent. But, to be frank, it's unfair and quite irresponsible to assume the Rangers haven't upgraded their lineup at all.
The largest upgrade to the lineup is the reunion with Robison Chirinos. He produced in a similar way with Houston as he had in his time as a Ranger. In the process, the Rangers admitted their mistake in not picking up his $4.5 million option for 2019.
The Rangers were abysmal offensively at catcher in 2019 and Chirinos provides a huge upgrade there. Rangers catchers combined for a -3.9 bWAR in 2019, while Chirinos had a 3.8 bWAR last year for the Astros. Chirinos was the best catcher on the free agent market and the Rangers were able to add him on a one-year deal with an option. That's a win in every way possible.
Of course, third base was the main position of need in the field for the Rangers this winter. They obviously missed on Anthony Rendon. They weren't interested in a fourth year for Josh Donaldson. Who was the next best third baseman on the free agent market? Todd Frazier.
Frazier isn't the headline-grabbing choice fans clamored for when they expected big time acquisitions. And I'm not going to pretend Frazier is on the same level as Rendon or Donaldson. But let's not go so far to think Frazier is some sort of scrub.
Nothing is a guarantee, but Frazier is reliable to bat .240, hit at least 20 home runs, and provide solid defense at the hot corner. And with how bad the Rangers were at third in 2019 (-1.9 bWAR), Frazier is an upgrade. It's not the same kind of upgrade the Rangers made at starting pitcher or catcher, but it's an upgrade nonetheless.
Another thing to take into account with the Frazier signing is it allows the Rangers the freedom to pursue the likes of Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, or Miguel Andujar on the trade market. While those moves aren't likely for a wide variety of reasons, they can still engage in those conversations because of Frazier's willingness and ability to play first base.
If the situations with any of those third basemen ever escalate from a pipe dream to a reality, Jon Daniels will suddenly look like a genius with the Frazier signing. And if they don't and none of those players are traded, then they still have upgraded the position from what it was in 2019.
What's Left for the Rangers?
They'll keep their finger on the pulse of the Rockies situation with Arenado. If anything comes to fruition there, the Rangers will likely try to land him at the right price given all of the hurdles there. Do yourself a favor though and don't count on it happening.
The trade market is pretty much all that's left for adding an impact player. Dominic Smith, Trey Mancini, and Miguel Andujar are all candidates for the Rangers to pursue, but their level of interest on any of those players is currently unknown. The Rangers had reported interest in Andujar earlier this winter, but it's unclear if they are still interested or if the Yankees are even still willing to deal him.
If I'm Jon Daniels, I give Pirates' GM Ben Cherington a call and ask about Josh Bell. There's no report of any talks between the sides yet, so this is pure conjecture. But the Pirates just traded away Starling Marte and seem to be closer to rebuilding than trying to contend in what looks like a very competitive N.L. Central division.
Bell is a Dallas-area native, born in Irving and attended Dallas Jesuit College Prep before being drafted by Pittsburgh in 2011. Bell broke out last season with the Pirates, slashing .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI's. He's a switch-hitter and plays adequate defense. He would cost quite a bit, including at least a couple of top prospects, but he's entering his prime years and has three years of control left. He's worth at least a phone call.
What if the Rangers Don't Add Another Impact player?
If the Rangers aren't able to add another impact player, then they are still a better team than they were on paper a season ago. Another bat would surely give them a much better chance to contend, but they are still deeper, more versatile, and statistically better across the board than they were in 2019.
An important thing to remember is the Rangers never committed to being "all in" for 2020. They were looking to get better. They got better. It may be 2021 or 2022 by the time this team becomes a legitimate contender, but that doesn't mean what they've done for 2020 is worth calling for the heads of Jon Daniels or Rangers ownership.
The last thing any front office executive wants to do is making a big deal just to make a big deal. That's irresponsible, cavalier, and could handcuff the team moving forward to potentially make moves next offseason or in future winters or trade deadlines. Having flexibility can be called conservative, but sometimes the patient and opportunistic teams can make the shrewd move at the right times.
Fans shouldn't clamor for the front office to throw money around like Miami did a few years ago. They won the winter and stole the headlines when they signed a bunch of big names, but now they are still trying to get out of the basement years later.
Jon Daniels' goal isn't to win the winter. He's trying to build a better team with a good mix of young and veteran players, all while maintaining flexibility for more moves later.
Mission accomplished. It may not be exactly how fans or even he himself envisioned it. But this team is better. Period.
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