The 2019 Texas Rangers season can be described in many different ways depending on how you viewed it. For some, it can be labeled as a feel-good ending to outdoor baseball in Arlington at Globe Life Park where the Rangers performed above expectations. For others, it can be described as another year of not entering relevance in not only the league, but also in the DFW market where football reigns as king. With that being said, let’s look at what went right, what went wrong, and preview the offseason for the team as it moves into a new stadium in 2020.
What Went Right?
Entering the season, very few if anyone at all had the Rangers as a contender in the American League. PECOTA had the team finishing dead last in the AL West at 70-92 on the heels of their 95 loss campaign in 2018. In addition, very little was expected of the team by its own fans. Considering this, the fact that the Rangers were 8 games over .500 as late as July 12th and a mainstay in the wild card race throughout the first half is an achievement in and of itself.
First year manager Chris Woodward appears to be the right leader for the team, as you could see the improvement of the team’s hitting approach from ‘18 firsthand. No one exemplified this improvement better than Joey Gallo, who without a doubt had his best year in the majors to date. Before he had season injury surgery after a hamate bone injury, Gallo was an MVP candidate for much of the first half. His .986 OPS and 22 homers in 70 games were encouraging to see for Rangers fans who were skeptical on the 25 year old’s ability to be a complete hitter.
Despite having some measure of success earlier in the decade with the Minnesota Twins, Danny Santana seemed to disappear off the radar. Nonetheless, even after starting the year off of the 25 man roster, Santana was arguably the most productive offensive player on the team (Given that Gallo missed 92 games). His OPS of .857, 28 HR, and 20 SB while playing pretty much every position on the field definitely lends him to be a piece for the future.
Finally, it would be an extreme mistake to leave out the strongest area of the Rangers in 2019: The top of the starting rotation. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn had enjoyed solid MLB careers coming into the season, but nobody would’ve labeled either as a top of the rotation guy. When the season started, the Rangers were trying to patch together the pitching staff with bounce back candidates coming off injury. That allowed for Minor and Lynn to eat up most of the innings, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. In 208.1 IP, Minor’s 3.59 ERA ranked 6th in the AL and he made the All Star Game for the first time in his career. In coincidentally the same amount of innings, Lynn racked up 246 strikeouts, which was top 5 in the AL. According to Baseball Reference, Minor finished tied for first with Justin Verlander for Pitcher WAR and Lance Lynn was right behind. It’s safe to say the Rangers unexpectedly hovered around .500 for most of the season because of the two anchors at the top of their rotation.
What went wrong?
Even if winning the World Series probably wasn’t one of the realistic goals the team had leaving Spring Training, the Rangers definitely wanted to see development among what they perceived to be their young ‘core’ in Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, and Ronald Guzman. While Gallo did seem to have a breakout year, the other three really didn’t show any progress and even regressed. Starting with Odor, his batting average was below the Mendoza line for most of the season and finished tied for the lead in the AL in strikeouts. It has become an annual tradition to see Odor show flashes of excellence before diving into prolonged slumps during the course of the season. Staying on the right side of the infield, Ronald Guzman’s 2019 was extremely disappointing to say the least. He was given the starting first base job on opening day but eventually was sent to Triple-A due to early season struggles. Finally, Nomar Mazara’s season wasn’t terrible by any stretch of imagination. It’s just that he hasn’t seemed to improve much since his rookie season in 2016. For a top prospect like he was, 19 HR and a .786 OPS with subpar defense in the outfield isn’t much to brag about. It will be interesting to see what the Rangers do in the offseason with these three lefty bats.
While the Rangers offense was inconsistent throughout the year, the starting rotation behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn was consistently bad all season. Many that covered the team started to say “Minor and Lynn, but what then?” That statement couldn’t be more accurate as despite the strong seasons from those two at the top, the team still finished with a 5.37 ERA from starters, good for 5th worst in baseball. Adding veterans off the scrap-heap like Shelby Miller, Drew Smyly, and Edison Volquez didn’t workout to say the least as Miller and Smyly were eventually DFA’d and Volquez missed the majority of the season after an early injury. It would’ve been interesting to see what the Rangers could’ve been with any depth in their rotation, but there was a significant drop off in production when anyone besides Minor and Lynn were starting games for the team.
There are many areas where this team needs to improve in order to be discussed in the same category with the Astros and Athletics at the top of the division. In order to meet those needs, let’s take a look at where the Rangers currently stand at each position and what they can do this offseason.
Catcher: The Jeff Mathis/Isaih Kiner-Falefa platoon experiment didn’t work, to say the least. Mathis was one of the worst offensive players in the game in 2019, and his defense didn’t make up for that. The Rangers also don’t see Kiner-Falefa as a catcher moving forward, but not all hope is lost behind the plate. While the team could potentially look to add a Yasmani Grandal, Jose Trevino’s play down the stretch will most likely vault him as the starting backstop on opening day. Due to the other areas of need, Trevino should probably be the placeholder until top prospect Sam Huff is ready for the big leagues.
First Base: As previously mentioned, Ronald Guzman struggled mightily in 2019. The problem is, there isn’t an abundance of free agents at this position. With Jose Abreu accepting the qualifying offer, the lack of options might lead to GM Jon Daniels and the front office to give Guzman another chance to develop into an everyday player. If not, bringing back Mitch Moreland could be a choice. Utility man Danny Santana could see action here as well.
Second Base: As much as Rangers fans might not want to hear this, Rougned Odor still under contract through 2023 and will earn north of $40 million during that time. Needless to say, the Rangers are in a tough spot on what to do with their 25 year old second baseman. His spurts of greatness are outweighed by his massive slumps and strikeouts. After Jurickson Profar was traded to Oakland, it seemed like there was no competition for Odor’s spot in the lineup. But the emergence of Danny Santana and rookie, Nick Solak, have changed this dynamic heading into 2020. Odor will really have to perform well next spring in order to still be considered an everyday player on this team moving forward. It’s hard to imagine the Rangers making any transactions at the keystone because they have some in house options to work with.
Shortstop: With Elvis Andrus not opting out of his contract as expected, he is a lock to be the team’s shortstop in 2020. Next year will be his 12th year at short for the Rangers.
Third Base: There are two areas where the Rangers will look to spend on, and third base is one of them. Luckily, there are many options to choose from. Whether or not the front office will pay enough to win the Anthony Rendon sweepstakes is to be determined, but there are definitely solid consolation prizes. Josh Donaldson on a shorter term deal could be a choice. Also, Mike Moustakas is a free agent as well. Given the Rangers have an abundance of left handed bats in their lineup, expect the Rangers to look more into Rendon and Donaldson. The internal options include Nick Solak and Danny Santana potentially, but it would be shocking to see the Rangers leave the hot corner unaddressed.
Outfield: Willie Calhoun and Joey Gallo appear to be locks to be regulars in the Rangers outfield in 2020. As previously mentioned, Gallo broke out last year and was an AL All Star. Calhoun has done nothing but hit in his time in the majors, and has earned everyday playing time moving forward. With those two lefties most likely occupying the corners, what the team does in centerfield will be interesting. Delino DeShields has played a lot over the last 4 seasons and has yet to inspire confidence that he is anything more than just a speed guy. With that being said, I see center as a position the Rangers could boost via the trade market. Nomar Mazara doesn’t seem to have a definite spot on the team next year, and trading him for a quality player like Starling Marte or Mitch Haniger could be an option.
Pitching Staff: After Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, the Rangers currently have young left handers like Kolby Allard and Brock Burke that could potentially factor into the opening day rotation. Both Allard and Burke showed flashes in their second half stints in Arlington, but more development could be needed. Therefore, I expect the Rangers to attack the second tier of free agent pitchers such as Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, and Cole Hamels. They will probably need at least two of the pitchers on the market with at least one of the mentioned hurlers, and potentially a buy-low candidate such as Michael Wacha or Alex Wood. The Rangers have never been known to have any sort of a dominant rotation, but in order to compete in the AL West, the Rangers are going to need to spend to improve drastically.
As far as the bullpen goes, the Rangers have some pieces such as Jose Leclerc, Emanuel Clase, Rafael Montero, and Brett Martin to work with. Bringing back Chris Martin or Jake Diekman, who are ex-Rangers could be options as the bullpen still isn’t complete by any stretch of the imagination. Conversely, if the Rangers want to splurge more on the starting rotation and/or third base, quality relievers are always available at the trade deadline.
With all that being said, the Rangers appear to be in a position to spend big for the first time since the 2013 offseason. Moving into a new stadium, expect the Rangers to be a candidate for one of the “surprise teams” everyone seems to be talking about in spring training after a good offseason.