As we prepare for the 2021 season, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s offseason and previewing the season to come. Today, Joey Bohley takes a look at the Texas Rangers!
The Texas Rangers have been one of the quieter teams this offseason, not necessarily in the number of moves they have made, but more in the impact those moves are expected to have on the club’s performance in 2021. This will be an interesting year in the Rangers’ rebuild, as some notable players approach free agency and top prospects prepare to fill the holes they leave.
2020 Record: 22-38, 5th Place in AL West
Team MVP: Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Team Cy Young: Lance Lynn
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was the best hitter who played full-time on the worst offensive team in the American League in 2020, and he will look to build on his .699 OPS in 2021. Joey Gallo was largely disappointing at the plate, but at least he and Kiner-Falefa both came away from the season with Gold Glove Awards. Lance Lynn was pretty much the only consistent starter for the team last year, and as a result was shipped to the South Side of Chicago for a pair of prospects including Dane Dunning, who will be fighting to replace him in the 2021 rotation.
Notable Trades: Acquired Nate Lowe from Tampa Bay for prospects; Acquired Dane Dunning and Avery Weems from Chicago White Sox for Lance Lynn; Acquired Jonah Heim, Khris Davis, and Dane Acker from Oakland for Elvis Andrus, Aramis Garcia, and cash.
The Rangers actually had a pretty active offseason, but it consisted of mostly minor moves, many of which were financially motivated. Much to the chagrin Detroit Tigers fans (just search #DahltoDetroit on Twitter if you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon), David Dahl signed a one-year contract with the Rangers worth $2.7 million. Dahl was non-tendered by Colorado after a dismal 2020; he will look to return to his 2019 All-Star form on a “prove it” deal in Texas. Mike Foltynewicz received a similar contract (1 year/$2 million) for similar reasons: a seasoned veteran looking to return to form after a couple of down years. Nate Lowe is a controllable, lefty-hitting infielder who will look to provide some versatility off the bench, and possibly get some starts against right-handed pitching. Arihara joins the Rangers after spending six years in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). There, he put up a 3.74 ERA and 1.209 WHIP across 836 innings. He will be looking to bolster a starting rotation that has some glaring holes.
The Rangers also have made some notable roster moves as Spring Training winds down, cutting long-time infielder Rougned Odor, and instead selecting veteran utility man Brock Holt as the Opening Day third baseman.
2021 Season Preview
Projected Lineup: List Lineup Below; Bold Additions from 2020 to 2021
1) SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa
2) 2B Nick Solak
3) LF David Dahl
4) RF Joey Gallo
5) DH Ronald Guzmán
6) 1B Nate Lowe
7) CF Leody Taveras
8) 3B Brock Holt
9) C Jose Trevino
Frankly, this Rangers team is not very good at the moment. That being said, this lineup still has some players in it that have the potential to be exciting. Kiner-Falefa is a versatile defender and was the best Rangers hitter in 2021, so it makes sense to have him getting a lot of plate appearances at the top of the order. Joey Gallo is probably the best true-talent hitter on the team, but he will have to perform to stay at the top of the order. Brock Holt had a good enough spring to take the starting third base job from Rougned Odor; he will look to rebound from a rough 2020 (53 wRC+ compared to career mark of 92) while providing a veteran presence and left-handed bat. The rest of the lineup is made up mostly of young players who the team will be looking to develop more this year. Keep an eye on Nick Solak and Leody Taveras from this group. Willie Calhoun and offseason acquisition Khris Davis will be starting the season on the IL, but you can expect them to get a lot of plate appearances when they return.
On the pitching side, the Rangers were in the bottom five in the American League in 2020 in just about every major stat category. The additions of Arihara, Foltynewicz, and Dunning to Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles in the rotation could help to assuage this clear shortcoming of the roster. As far as the bullpen goes, it will be made up of a number of inexperienced big leaguers looking to make a name for themselves and leave a mark on the team’s 2021 season. It also features some veterans looking for back-end career resurgences (Ian Kennedy, Matt Bush). The bullpen is also currently ravaged by injuries. Jonathan Hernandez and José Leclerc will be out for extended periods of time with elbow injurers, with Leclerc’s Tommy John surgery recovery timeline potentially extending to this time in 2022.
The most intriguing aspect of this team is definitely the potential to see some exciting prospects called up to the majors this year. Catcher Sam Huff (MLB #78, TEX #2) and infielders Josh Jung (#63, #1), Sherten Apostel (TEX #11), and Anderson Tejeda (TEX #12) all have an ETA of 2021. We definitely will see RHP Kyle Cody (TEX #22) in the majors this year, on Opening Day, nonetheless, due to a good-enough spring and a bevy of injuries. LHP Joe Palumbo (TEX #23) and LHP Demarcus Evans are also intriguing young pitchers that will probably get big league innings in 2021.
FanGraphs Projected Record: 71.1-90.9, 5th place in AL West
PECOTA Projected Record: 66.7-95.3, 5th place in AL West
Personal Projection: 68-94, 5th place in AL West
I believe that the PECOTA projection for the 2021 Rangers is going to be pretty much right on the money. Despite modest improvements, I would expect this offense to finish near the bottom of the American League again. Kiner-Falefa will look to build on his momentum from 2020, and Gallo is probably due for a bounce-back. Willie Calhoun is another bounce-back candidate coming off of a down 2020. On the pitching side, Dunning, Foltynewicz, and Arihara should help to boost the rotation, which actually has a chance to be the bright spot of this team. The bullpen should be fine, especially with the depth they have in the high levels of the minors.
What could really drag down the Rangers’ record at the end of the day will be the trade market. If one of their soon-to-be free agents is playing well, like a Gallo, Lyles, or even Dahl, they could be moved for prospects around the trade deadline. In that case, the aforementioned prospects will likely be called up to take those roster spots, which will likely result in a large number of losses, but good development for those prospects.
2021 has the potential to be a vital year in the Rangers’ rebuild. If they end up moving some of their veterans for more pieces, they could end up putting together a really good farm system, something they lack now (ranked #21 by MLB Pipeline). Overall, this year’s focus in Arlington ought to be much more on development than anything else.
Author’s Note: Quick shout-out to Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEehpus on Twitter) for all of the breaking Rangers roster news over the past couple of days.. If you are a Rangers or even just a baseball fan, I would highly recommend tossing him a follow.