The Texas Rangers were amongst the most active teams in the early moments of the 2020/2021 MLB offseason. They started their offseason work by making multiple trades, bringing in a couple of lineup additions, but also losing two potential parts of their 2021 rotation. Although Texas has been much quieter lately, a team that had postseason aspirations but failed last season still has a long way to go to complete in a difficult AL West division. Therefore, the Texas Rangers offseason could still have something in store, especially with free agency running at the slowest pace ever.
The Arlington-based club has already added Nate Lowe at second base in a trade with Tampa Bay. Moreover, the Rangers brought in outfielder David Dahl and Japanese pitcher Kohei Arihara. The former two promise to provide a much-needed boost to their lineup, however, after Lance Lynn was dealt the White Sox, the struggling rotation might have even more problems in 2021.
Heading into the new campaign, tasks are still waiting undone on the Rangers’ to-do list. President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels has already claimed the team is unlikely to make headlines for the remainder of the Texas Rangers offseason. Nonetheless, without a few more signings by new general manager Chris Young, Texas will find it hard to return to contention during the 2021 season.
Texas Rangers Offseason: Lineup – Past Struggles and New Faces
The 2020 MLB season, shortened to just 60 games, could be deceiving as regards some teams’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their overall potential. However, the lineup stood out as one of Texas’s most notable issues. Eventually, it also became a top focus once the offseason began. Still, were the upgrades enough?
During the 2020 campaign, the Rangers finished as the second-worst team in terms of batting and scoring runs. The club was 31st in both runs scored and on-base percentage, trailing only the Pirates in both categories.
However, that data might indeed be very unreliable. The Rangers’ lineup wasn’t nearly as bad during the team’s previous two years, when it finished 13th and 14th in run production, respectively. The only valuable contributors missing from those teams were Delino DeShields and Robinson Chirinos.
Therefore, the unit might not be the huge failure it seemed like in 2020. It is walking on thin ice, facing the prospect of being unsustainable. Despite its middle-of-the-pack finish in 2019, the group was merely 20th in on-base percentage.
The lineup, in its current state, is bound for a tough campaign, especially with Shin-Soo Choo joining the free-agent market. The acquisitions of Nate Lowe and David Dahl, who both posted OBP figures over the league average in 2019, boost Young’s efforts to get the group back to its level from before 2020.
Nick Solak still hasn’t played a full campaign. Despite posting an OBP of .326 in about 230 at-bats, the workload is too small to justify the numbers from the Rangers’ projected starter at second base. Three times as many at-bats (in a normal season) means a chance of a steady regression to the mean. Elvis Andrus, who hasn’t posted an on-base figure over .320 since 2017, is in the same boat. That also applies to Rougned Odor, whose career-high OBP is .326. Moreover, he has put up a figure sub-.300 in five of seven campaigns on the major-league level.
Joey Gallo returning in the outfield is certainly good news, however, youngsters Willie Calhoun and Leody Taveras are liabilities, whether that is in the outfield or the designated-hitter post. The moment for both to unveil their potential is in front of them but, given their previous track record, it would be difficult to mark 2021 as the breakout year for either. Still, Taveras, who is entering his second year, might be a bigger risk to name a starter.
It’s very obvious that, while most starters have already locked their jobs up, the lineup has avid holes. Young could look to bring in at least one more productive bat. It seems more convenient for that player to be a second baseman, replacing Odor and giving time to the Taveras and Calhoun experiments.
Texas Rangers Offseason: The Rotation Remains a Liability
Texas’s starting rotation has also been amongst the units that massively disappointed in 2020. In contrast to the lineup, these struggles have been running in full force for at least a few seasons.
The Rangers and their starting pitching staff posted a 5.01 ERA, which was the fourth-worst in the majors. This didn’t transpire much differently in the previous two years – 5.09 ERA in 2019 (seventh-worst) and 4.92 ERA in 2018 (third-worst). The conclusion is that the team’s rotation mightily lacked depth even during the Mike Minor/Lance Lynn years.
The 2020 season marks the start of a new era. Now, Lynn and Minor have moved on to the White Sox and the Royals, respectively. Kyle Gibson is set to be the Rangers’ ace for the start of the campaign. Meanwhile, Jordan Lyles is going to be the first starter behind Gibson in the rotation.
Both have been subpar throughout their careers. In fact, they have been very similar to each other. Between 2013, Gibson’s rookie year, and 2019, both averaged around seven strikeouts, 3.0-3.5 walks, and one home run per nine innings. Those are numbers similar yet unimpressive and not eye-opening in any way. Nonetheless, Texas has made sure to make the rotation more balanced alongside losing Minor and Lynn.
As a part of the Lance Lynn deal, the Rangers received right-hander Dane Dunning. Dunning, now the organization’s third-best prospect, spent three seasons in the minors and racked up some great numbers. The Florida native put together more than ten punchouts per nine and sub-1.0 HR/9. Young also acquired Kohei Arihara after he conceded just 0.9 HR/9 and about seven strikeouts per nine innings in his first six seasons for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in the NPB.
Meanwhile, Kyle Cody, who made his debut in 2020, currently sits as Texas’ fifth member of the pitching staff. In just five starts, Cody was up-and-down, allowing five walks per nine innings alongside less than a homer.
Lyles and Minor struggled throughout the first half of the 2020 season. The promises for balance in last year’s rotation ended in disappointment. Heading into 2021, Dunning and Arihara’s stats indicate that a surprise campaign might be in the making. Therefore, that could provide the much-needed balance.
However, Lyles and Gibson have been average-to-mediocre during their careers and at their peaks. That won’t allow the rotation to register a significant improvement without adding another starter during the Texas Rangers offseason. Cody could still be good in a full campaign and in the long term. Nevertheless, his ceiling as a rookie is only so high. It will end up in the Rangers’ rotation moving not more than five to ten places at most in starters ERA.
Texas Rangers Offseason: Payroll Situation and Tasks
Then-GM Jon Daniels said back in September that he expects the Rangers’ budget for 2021 to be south of 2019’s $145 million.
Texas is currently sitting at $65 million in payroll expenses and $70 million in luxury tax payroll. These numbers are well under the average MLB team payroll of $105 million and the tax threshold of $210 million. Considering their slow activity since early-December, there’s little chance that the final pre-Opening Day payroll will be above $100 million.
Still, the Rangers have about $40 million until they reach that point. Without knowing insider information, we could only wonder if the budget might not even be well under $100 million. Yet, the very fundamental point here is that Texas should be capable of at least one or two significant upgrades by Opening Day 2021.
Houston and Oakland are set to run the show in the AL West this upcoming season. In addition, the LA Angels have made reasonable improvements to reverse their luck compared to last year’s debacle. The Texas Rangers, with a lineup with over-average potential and a rotation with potential much lower than being average, could struggle to remain in that conversation for long. Unless they add another bat and a fifth starter in the Texas Rangers offseason, that is.
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