Texas Rangers Mailbag: Pre-Summer Camp Edition

Chris Halicke

The return of baseball allows us to bring back the Inside The Rangers Mailbag!

With Summer Camp workouts beginning this week, this seems like the perfect time to bring back the mailbag. Hopefully, COVID-19 doesn't impact the baseball world too much and we still get a baseball season. Thank you to everyone who submitted their questions. 

What happens for players that choose not to play in 2020? They don't get paid, I assume. Does the year still come off their contract or what? Meaning if they were supposed to be free agents at the end of the season, would they still be?
-Bob Hazlewood (@BobHazlewood on Twitter)

Per the March Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, players that are deemed "high-risk" can opt out and still receive their salary and service time. As of now, players that are not classified as such would forfeit both their salary and service time. 

In the example of Nationals' RHP Joe Ross, because he's opted out of the 2020 season, he will not gain another year of service time toward becoming a free agent unless the club deems his situation as high-risk. He was currently on pace to be a free agent after the 2021 season. If circumstances remain the same, he wouldn't become a free agent until after the 2022 season.

Have any of the Rangers decided not to play this year because of COVID?
-Kenzie, Austin TX

The Rangers have not been made aware of any player that will opt out. The one player everyone is keeping their eye on is Kyle Gibson, who would undoubtedly be considered "high-risk" per the March Agreement mentioned in the previous question.

Gibson has ulcerative colitis, which is an autoimmune disease. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest reasons Gibson was attracted to the Rangers over the winter was because of how well the Rangers could work with him on his condition. Former Ranger Jake Diekman also has ulcerative colitis. 

With players like Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, Mike Leake, and Ian Desmond beginning to announce their intentions to sit out, the situation could snowball. So, stay tuned to InsideTheRangers.com or follow me (@ChrisHalicke) for any updates on Rangers news.

JD has said 1st base is still wide open, but who are the legitimate contenders for the job and who ends up getting the opening day start?
-Walker B., Oxford, MS

This is kind of a loaded question, so here we go...

Both Ronald Guzmán and Greg Bird are still the top candidates for first base, with Guzmán probably having the upper hand ever so slightly. The truth is neither one grabbed the bull by the horns at Spring Training, so Chris Woodward is expecting both of them to come in and take advantage of this second opportunity.

One guy who did take the bull by the horns was Isiah Kiner-Falefa. His play at Spring Training was the main reason why Todd Frazier was beginning to work over at first base before spring camps were suspended. That's what Guzmán/Bird need to do over the next three weeks—make Chris Woodward have no choice but to put one of them in the lineup every day. 

Nick Solak and Rob Refsnyder will get looks there too, but this job will come down to Guzmán, Bird, or Frazier if Kiner-Falefa looks the same as he did in Surprise. 

If I had to lean one way, I'd go with Guzmán. The 60-man roster rules change everything. Greg Bird has an opt-out, which any kind of flexibility on the 60-man roster will be attractive. The only way to get a man off the 60-man roster is through release or waivers—a release in Bird's case—which pretty much means you're going to lose that player. Unless Bird gives the Rangers no choice but put him on the major league club, I see a 60-man spot opening up. 

Might this season give the Rangers a unique opportunity to sell big on some guys on the tail-end of their contract? Perhaps Choo, Minor, Odor?
-Sean D., Redwater, TX

While Shin-Soo Choo and Mike Minor's contracts are up after this season, Rougned Odor still has two years left after 2020, plus a $13.5 million club option in 2023. 

To be honest, I don't see a lot of activity happening at the trade deadline. The Rangers would have to have a catastrophic first month of the season to give up and sell. A two-month season gives nearly every team a shot to make the postseason if they get on a hot streak. I also don't see too many clubs buying prospects given the lack of development many of them will suffer this year. 

This might be the quietest trade deadline ever.

How long of a leash does Rougie get? Who steps up in his place first if/when he falters?
-Jeff H., Keller, TX

Even without the coronavirus pandemic derailing the season, Odor was going to get a shorter leash in 2020. In a 60-game season, it will be even shorter. 

That being said, manager Chris Woodward is still committed to process over results. And the truth is, Odor committed to that process and it ended up paying off for him as 2019 rolled along, especially in September. Woodward believes Odor is a potential game-changer for the Rangers, so he will get every opportunity. On the flip side, Woodward understands the level of urgency a 60-game season demands. If the Rangers are falling behind in the standings, Woodward's hand might be forced to bench Odor if he isn't playing up to expectations.

There are a number of options to replace Odor. Isiah Kiner-Falefa could move anywhere around the infield. Danny Santana could also be an option if he is struggling defensively in center field. Nick Solak could also be an option, but the Rangers seem pretty committed to having him as an outfielder. Some outside chances could also be guys like Andy Ibáñez or Yadiel Rivera. 

One of the names that really sticks out on the Summer Camp roster is Alex Speas. Why do you think he’s included in this group? Seems like somewhat of a forgotten name after being a 2nd round pick in ‘16. The arm talent is for sure there but seems surprising.
-Josh D., Arlington, TX

Alex Speas came up in a conference call with Jon Daniels on Sunday. The Rangers believe he's taken some huge steps since coming off Tommy John surgery. He pitched briefly last year and came back really strong. The Rangers wanted to slow it down just a little. Daniels also mentioned he had a couple of life events that have helped him grow. 

The Rangers also really liked what they saw in Arizona during spring training. Daniels said he was a "bright spot" out there. He would definitely be down the list in terms of immediate options, but the Rangers clearly like where his development is trending.

Follow Inside The Rangers on SI on Twitter: @SITexasRangers
Like Inside The Rangers on SI on Facebook: facebook.com/SITexasRangers
Follow our Rangers insider Chris Halicke on Twitter: @ChrisHalicke