What Could Have Been: A Texas Rangers Rotation Built Around Walker Buehler
The 2017 season was the beginning of a three-year rebuild for the Texas Rangers. As the season developed, it was becoming increasingly evident that impact players were going to be traded by the July 31 deadline.
The Rangers' top trade piece was Yu Darvish, who established himself as one of the greatest pitchers in club history and became a fan favorite in Arlington. Darvish's contract was up at the end of the season and the Rangers could capitalize on his value.
When the Rangers and Dodgers first began their negotiations, Texas' initial asking price centered around pitching prospect Walker Buehler or outfield prospect Alex Verdugo.
In the end, the Rangers hauled three prospects from the Dodgers, including Willie Calhoun, who is now slated to be the everyday left fielder in Arlington. The Dodgers never made Buehler available and now he's taken off in L.A. and become one of the game's brightest young pitchers.
What if general manager Jon Daniels was able to pull off this trade? After all, he pulled off a heist for three key pieces in the Mark Teixeira trade in 2007. What if the market played out differently and the Rangers were able to pry Buehler away from a desperate Dodgers team?
Before we dive too deep into this fictional world where Walker Buehler became a Texas Ranger, it's important to note that the Rangers have a pretty stout rotation heading into 2020. After four free agent signings and a trade with Cleveland, Jon Daniels has constructed a deep rotation, that one through five, could be one of the best in the American League.
However, the median age of that rotation in 32. Mike Minor will be a free agent after 2020. Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber, and Jordan Lyles will become free agents after 2021. Only Kyle Gibson is signed through 2022. The rotation could really be great for the next couple seasons, but there isn't long-term stability with these five guys.
In this fictional world where the Rangers landed Buehler, the Texas rotation would be anchored around one of the game's best young pitchers. Whether you're looking at traditional stats or advanced metrics, Buehler boasts electric stuff. In 2019, he struck out 215 hitters in 182 1/3 innings while walking only 37 batters. His fastball and curveball spin ranks in the 93rd and 96th percentiles respectively. His slider and sinker are both nearly unhittable. At only 24 years old, he's got all the makings of being one of the game's best pitchers for several years.
Even with some major league time in 2017, Buehler didn't exceed his rookie status until 2018. He's a Super Two player, which means he's under club control through 2024, but will go through salary arbitration four times instead of the typical three. If the Rangers handled him the same way the Dodgers have, you're looking at seven seasons of Buehler as the centerpiece to build a rotation around.
Even with Buehler in the rotation, there's a good chance the Rangers would have still signed fellow Vanderbilt alum Mike Minor going into 2018. They may have even still brought in Lance Lynn on his three-year deal, which would have given the Rangers a formidable one through three in their rotation.
Regardless of how Daniels would construct a rotation around a budding star, having a pitcher like Buehler to build around is something every franchise dreams of doing. It opens a number of possibilities, especially for franchises that are willing to dig a little deeper into their wallets when contention is within reach.
The Rangers could very well get a pitcher to build around one day — whether that guy is currently in the farm system or acquired via trade. Yes, landing Buehler would have been a great way to transition away from Darvish, but let's not sleep on Willie Calhoun though. He has all the makings of a very good major league hitter and has done a lot of growing up since being acquired in the Darvish trade. The Dodgers didn't win the World Series in 2017, so there's still a pathway for the Rangers to win that trade.
It's fun, or sometimes painful, to look at a "what could have been" scenario. Buehler is a bright young pitcher that the Dodgers shrewdly held onto in 2017. A desperate general manager might have just dealt him away in a "win now" move for Darvish. It just goes to show that sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.
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