Heading into 2019, the Rangers appeared to be rebuilding after a 67-95 season in 2018. During Spring Training, the organization proclaimed this year was more about the development and “process” set forth by new manager Chris Woodward. However, with the emergence of Joey Gallo, excellence from Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, and pleasant surprises of Hunter Pence and Danny Santana, the Rangers held a playoff position into the first week of July. Some around the industry began to wonder whether GM Jon Daniels might change course and become a buyer at the deadline. However, an eight game losing streak following the All-Star break significantly buried the Rangers’ postseason hopes as their Baseball Reference playoff odds decreased down to a little more than 1%. Therefore, with valuable commodities such as Minor, Lynn, Pence, and Santana, the possibility of boosting the farm system became more realistic. However, with the exception of reliever Chris Martin, who was traded to the Braves for LHP Kolby Allard (ATL #10 Prospect), the Rangers were quiet on July 31st. Is this good for the organization’s future or not? Here are some pros for holding these assets as well as some cons for the missed opportunity to cash in while their values are high.
The Good News: The Organization is Committed to Winning Sooner Rather than Later
By trading either or both Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, the Rangers 2020 pitching rotation candidates without any additions in the offseason would most likely be consisted of Ariel Jurado, Adrian Sampson, Taylor Hearn, Kolby Allard, and Yohander Mendez. Say what you want about the potential of Hearn, Allard, and Mendez, but the chances of this team competing with that rotation are slim to none without a doubt. By keeping Minor and Lynn, the Rangers have two bonafide starters they can walk into the new Globe Life Field with and could easily add more to the mix with additions in free agency in the Winter.
Sure, luring Gerrit Cole or Madison Bumgarner to Arlington will be difficult, but signing other quality options like Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi, Zack Wheeler, Tanner Roark, Wade Miley, etc. could give the Rangers much improved depth heading into 2020. Speaking of free agency, the Rangers have shied away from the big name free agents in recent years, but things could change this winter. The organization’s payroll before arbitration for 2020 stands at $93 million per Spotrac, whereas in 2017, it was over $163 million. With the revenue from the new Globe Life Field and the team’s solid performance so far in 2019, the organization might be more willing to spend big money. I already mentioned some of the pitchers they could look into, but Jon Daniels could upgrade the offense as well by filling the third base position left behind by none other than Adrian Beltre last year. Anthony Rendon will command a large multi-year contract, but the Nationals’ slugger is from the Lone Star State and attended Rice University in Houston, so he might be willing to come home. In addition, Josh Donaldson is free after his one year deal with the Braves, so he could also be an option as well. Other potential offensive options include Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, and Yasmani Grandal to add a right-handed bat to lefties like Gallo, Choo, Odor, Calhoun, and Guzman.
Finally, while some might say Danny Santana’s performance has been a fluke, the way he has improved with the increase in playing time probably has the Rangers thinking he could be a viable option moving forward. With Rougned Odor’s lack of consistency, Santana is a nice safety net to have behind him and others on the team, as he had played every position besides third base and catcher this year. By trading away Minor, Lynn, and Santana, the Rangers have little chance of even finishing in third place in the division in 2020. Keeping them, along with adding to the roster in the offseason, allows the team to compete for a postseason berth under the retractable roof of the new ballpark.
The Bad News: Opportunities to Stock the Farm System Were Missed and the Current Roster Might not be as Close to Competing as Some Think
In the last two seasons, the Rangers farm system has improved from where it was following the trades for Cole Hamels, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Beltran that displaced many of the top 10 prospects in the organization. However, Bleacher Report’s latest system rankings had the Rangers in the bottom 10 at number 21. Seeing the writing on the wall for the 2019 season, GM Jon Daniels had the opportunity to add quality, if not superstar, potential to the organization moving forward. Starting pitchers Mike Minor and Lance Lynn ranked number 1 and number 2 according to Baseball Reference War, and many contenders such as the Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Cardinals, Phillies, and Braves could’ve all used upgrades to their pitching rotations. DH Hunter Pence, while most likely limited to an American League club, could’ve been flipped to help lineups in Tampa Bay or Cleveland for the rest of his expiring contract. The team also could’ve sold high on super utility man Danny Santana, who could’ve helped any contender down the stretch. Instead, all of those players remained Rangers on August 1st, which could possibly impose consequences for the team in the long haul.
First off, retaining Hunter Pence for the 2020 season seems unlikely given the state of the roster with Shin-Soo Choo, Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, and Joey Gallo all in the corner outfield/designated hitter fold. Therefore, getting at least a modest prospect return may have been the right play for the team moving forward.
Secondly, Mike Minor has undoubtedly had a terrific 2019 so far. The fact that he ranks above Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jacob DeGrom, and others in WAR for pitchers speaks to that. But his 6.59 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and .287 AVG Against in July certainly raises the question about his ability to sustain the success. And although his ERA looks nice at 3.06, he only has 13 quality starts in 23 trips to the mound. Looking at Minor’s career, this would only be his second season as a starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.00, so his track record is a little unsettling given he also has undergone a shoulder procedure. While Minor probably wouldn’t of netted a top 50 prospect, selling high on him might’ve been the better option over counting on him to sustain his early season success in 2020.
The decisions to hold onto Lance Lynn and Danny Santana makes more sense given the amount of control they have left. Both players will not become free agents until 2022, and have showcased consistent performance this season. While wins might not be the best stat to evaluate pitchers, Lance Lynn is tied for the MLB lead with 14, and has thrown at least 6 innings in 20 consecutive starts. In addition, he ranks 4th in the AL with 17 quality starts in 24 appearances. Some may call Danny Santana’s 2019 a fluke, but the man will not stop hitting. His 139 OPS+, 44% Hard Hit Rate, and .394 wOBA along with his defensive versatility make him a huge asset for the Rangers not only now but over the rest of his contract in Texas. I think GM Jon Daniels made the right call to hold on both Lynn and Santana.
Overall, the quiet deadline is encouraging in the short term because it appears the organization is ready to win in the near future. But by holding on to everyone except Chris Martin, the question of how high the Rangers ceiling is moving forward remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.