Versatility Will Be One of the Rangers' Key Strengths in 2020
The past few seasons have been different for the Rangers – different from the fabulous run from 2010-2016 when the Rangers were in serious playoff contention minus the injury-plagued 2014 season.
2017-2019 gave management time to restock the farm system and see how their young core of players would develop at the Major League level. Joey Gallo is on the cusp of superstardom, Willie Calhoun is turning into a very solid Major League player, and youngsters like Ronald Guzman and Jose Trevino are still young, but have had some good experiences in Arlington.
Now the Rangers are pivoting from the rebuild, retool, or whatever label you want to slap on the three years that closed out the decade. Now it's time for the Rangers to contend again.
"After talking to the front office, we had money to spend and we wanted to make a playoff team," manager Chris Woodward said at Rangers mini camp on Tuesday. "We felt like if some of our younger guys on our team could take some pretty significant steps forward...we can depend on some of those guys to fill legitimate roles for us. We added two legitimate guys and traded for a two-time Cy Young winner, we've got a pretty formidable pitching staff now to go with some offensive players."
Key additions in the past two offseasons, especially this winter, have given the Rangers a roster that can make a push for postseason contention. Last winter, the Rangers added Lance Lynn and Danny Santana, both of which become very productive and valuable in their own way.
This winter has seen more of an overhaul. As Woodward mentioned, the Rangers added three starting pitchers to go with Lance Lynn and Mike Minor. Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles, and prized veteran Corey Kluber give the Rangers a stout rotation. Additions of Robinson Chirinos and Todd Frazier also give the Rangers two quality, right-handed bats that can drive the ball out of the ballpark, as well as defensive upgrades.
Adding those veteran starters allows young Rangers pitchers like Kolby Allard, Joe Palumbo, and Brock Burke to compete for the first call up from Triple-A Nashville. It's likely that one, if not all three pitchers see time in Arlington this season just because of the nature of baseball. Having that kind of depth is vital to the Rangers' success.
"We're going to need 9-to-10 starting pitchers, it's just a fact," Woodward said. "If we don't, we're one of the few teams in the history of baseball that's ever gone through an entire season without needing a sixth guy to pitch. It's a big year for all those guys."
In the bullpen, the Rangers have taken a similar approach to what they've done for the rotation over the past few seasons. The Rangers have found success in several starting pitchers on low-risk, high-reward deals like Minor and Lynn. Now, they are applying it more to the bullpen this year.
The Rangers signed Joely Rodriguez to a two-year deal, who has had two successful seasons in Japan and is looking to bounce back after a forgettable stint in the Major Leagues from 2016-2017. They also brought back veteran Edinson Volquez on a Minor League deal to compete for a spot in the bullpen. Volquez mulled over retirement after the 2019 season concluded, but ultimately decided on a return.
In the field, the Rangers are truly versatile. Several players can play, and are willing to play multiple positions. Projected starting center fielder Danny Santana spent the 2019 season as the Rangers' super-utility man, making multiple appearances at every position except pitcher and catcher.
Santana's versatility allows Rangers management to keep their options open. While they plan on Santana starting in center field, Jon Daniels has spoken to how much he values Santana in the super-utility role.
"I love him in center field," Daniels said at last week's press conference. "But I also love him being an option for Woody all over the place because he was so valuable in that role."
The Ranger may or may not add a full-time center fielder before the season, but they could look to add midseason if the team is in contention. Santana's ability to play all over the field gives the Rangers more options of how they can improve the roster externally.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa entered 2019 as a catcher alongside free agent Jeff Mathis. However, Kiner-Falefa finished the season in his infield utility role, which is where he was employed in 2018. Kiner-Falefa has worked hard this offseason and gives the Rangers a special tool on their roster.
"He looks great. He really took a lot of pride in going home in the offseason and got stronger," Woodward said. "A lot of the things we talked about working on, he did. The fact that he can still catch, if we had to, that gives us another option."
The Rangers are already deep at catcher. The Rangers still have Jeff Mathis and Jose Trevino fighting for the spot on the roster behind Chirinos. It's been a while since the Rangers have had this many options behind the plate.
Even after all the additions to the roster, the Rangers are still active in making additions to the roster. The team has been tied to free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos for a while. It's believed the Rangers would bring him in to play first base.
The addition of Todd Frazier has also kept the ability for the Rangers to stay in touch with Colorado about star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is publicly upset with his current situation. Frazier's ability and willingness to play first base gives the Rangers the flexibility to still pursue Arenado.
Having a lot of versatility makes the six-month marathon season easier for the Rangers. Having quality depth with a mix of young and veteran players who are able and willing to play multiple positions could be the key reason why the Rangers could legitimately make the playoffs in 2020.
Of course, landing a superstar third baseman would help too. But the beauty of it is the Rangers' success no longer relies on landing the big fish. They're building something special and the players and coaches alike can sense it.
Chris Woodward didn't shy away from the Rangers' goal in 2020.
"We expect to compete. We expect to contend."
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