In 2020, the Texas Rangers had the 15th-highest payroll in baseball, while sitting just over $3 million above the league average. The result amounted to having the lowest win percentage amongst teams in the upper half of that category and the second-worst record in the league. Conventional thinking would lead to a full rebuild for the Rangers. Whether it is made official or not is irrelevant; the process for a rebuild has already indirectly begun.
The team’s 2019 offseason headliner, Corey Kluber, pitched all of one inning in 2020 before having his season shut down after being diagnosed with a torn teres major (shoulder). Despite an eventual strong performance from fellow starter Lance Lynn, Kluber’s injury put a damper on any hopes the Rangers had of competing in the expanded postseason. Texas finished the 60-game schedule 22-38 in its brand-new Arlington ballpark. The core position players on this roster underperformed for the most part, and as a result Texas finished last in the AL West. It’s time for a reevaluation in the Lone Star State.
The Rangers are slowly getting younger and the influx of youth has to continue. The veteran pieces that have been mainstays in Arlington for the better half of the last decade appear to be on their way to taking a backseat. For some of those players, being a Ranger in 2021 may not be a reality at all. However, there are bright spots on this roster that have to be acknowledged, and General Manager Jon Daniels will have to embrace them moving forward.
Keys to the Offseason
Decisions on the Infield
Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus are both under contract for the 2021 season. Question marks surrounding the Rangers middle infield are significant after an injury-riddled and disappointing 2020 campaign from both. Odor would surely draw interest from teams in trade talks this winter. After all, the native of Maracaibo, Venezuela is still only 26-years-old. The Rangers also have options. Nick Solak and Danny Santana both have experience playing in the infield, though it appears unlikely the team will commit to one or the other anywhere but the outfield. Versatility is a plus, just ask Tampa Bay. That current flexibility on the roster will directly impact the Rangers’ decision whether to keep or part with one of the two.
Add Starting Pitching
This key to the offseason could have also included the bullpen, but for Texas it has to begin with the starters. The Rangers’ pitching posted an ERA of 5.02 in 2020. The potential shakeup in the rotation has already begun, evidenced by the trade deadline deal when Mike Minor was traded to Oakland. Lynn was also the subject of trade rumors, though he was a bright spot for Texas and has been the team’s most productive starter over the last two seasons. The 33-year-old hurler has one year remaining on his contract, and if the Rangers start the 2021 season like they did in 2020, he will be a surefire deadline trade chip. GM Daniels’ approach to pitching this offseason begins with that potential scenario.
Kiké Hernández, 29, Utility
Hernandez has established himself as a sought-after utility player in the league, and would fit on any roster. The World Series champion’s slash line last season (.230/.270/.410) was below the league average, but the Rangers are not in any position to rely on top-level production from anyone. The Puerto Rico-born utility player would contribute on a team that has the opportunity to build a flexible roster. Hernandez has played at seven different positions and could join Solak, Santana, Derek Dietrich and Willie Calhoun as players that have made starts at least three different positions.
If the Rangers go for a youth movement, Hernandez’s World Series pedigree will be much needed in that clubhouse. The 29-year old would receive more playing time in Texas than he would with the defending champs. As a result, look for Hernandez to consider signing a one-year deal as a way to set up his contract negotiations beyond 2021 with contending teams.
Taijuan Walker, 28, Starting Pitcher
It appears both Kluber and Shin-Soo Choo won’t be on the Rangers’ books in 2021. Depending on how active Daniels is in the trade market, there could be an opportunity to add a mid to high-tier free agent. Walker could be the guy to help start the retool of Texas’ rotation. The native of Shreveport, Louisiana has recovered well on the mound since requiring Tommy John surgery in 2018.
Texas is expected to rely on a younger rotation in 2021, and under the presumption that Lynn could be dealt if the Rangers are indeed sellers, having an established arm available would be ideal. Walker is at a point in his career where a deal that exceeds the three-year length would make sense, but taking into account the current trend of free agents signing one-year deals, the 28-year old starter would likely bet on himself for 2021. A one-year deal and an opportunity to carry over his momentum from his six appearances in Toronto to close the seasonー1.37 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 26.1 innings.
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