It wasn't too long ago that the Texas Rangers were considered to be the envy of the league. Following the 2012 season, the club had an embarrassment of riches, coming off three straight postseason appearances (including two AL pennants), signing a multi-billion dollar television contract, and owning one of the best farm systems in the game, led by shortstop Jurickson Profar, widely considered to be the top prospect in the sport.
Since then, things haven't exactly gone according to plan. After missing the playoffs despite winning 91 games in 2013, the Rangers took a nosedive in 2014, going 67-95 (the franchise's worst record since 1985) and finishing with the third worst record in the league. They saw a bevy of major acquisitions and star players such as Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, and Yu Darvish disappoint or get injured, and also dealt with the abrupt departure of manager Ron Washington.
Injuries were seemingly the main culprit for the club's sudden demise, as Texas led the majors in days spent on the disabled list, while using a total of 64 players. Things figure to positively regress in 2015, as it's unlikely the Rangers are hit as hard as they were last season. However, they already have a fair amount of injury questions, with Fielder coming back from neck surgery, Matt Harrison possibly never playing again, and Martin Perez likely missing most of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last May. The 22-year-old Profar, who missed all of last season due to injury, also seems set to miss the entirety of the 2015 season after succumbing to shoulder issues.
With new manager Jeff Banister now at the helm, the Rangers will look to bounce back in 2015. With a rather quiet offseason, they are banking on players returning to health, their stars living up to expectations, and young players providing value. As it stands, the Rangers don't seem to be favored to reach the playoffs, but that could change rather quickly.
Departures: Adios Alex Rios
|LHP||Robbie Ross Jr.||Red Sox|
|RHP||Abel De Los Santos||Nationals|
|3B||Kevin Kouzmanoff||Free Agent|
|RHP||Alexi Ogando||Red Sox|
The Rangers didn't lose much this offseason, mostly pitching depth that they easily replaced. Alex Rios was the most notable name to depart, landing with the Royals on a one-year deal. Of course, after posting a very strong 3.1 WAR season in 2013, Rios was a lost cause last year, essentially playing at replacement level (0.2 WAR). He hit for just a 92 wRC+, as his slugging dropped below .400 (.398) and he walked at just a 4.4% clip. He also lost value on the basepaths (including a stolen base total that dropped from 42 to 17, while his caught stealings rose from 7 to 9) and in the field, posting a -4.3 UZR. It shouldn't take much for his production to be made up for and exceeded, though his replacements (likely Jake Smolinski to start) probably don't have the same type of upside as Rios, who posted a combined 7.3 WAR in 2012 and 2013.
Additions: Pitching, pitching, and Carlos Corporan
|OF||Delino DeShields Jr.||Astros|
|RHP||Anthony Ranaudo||Red Sox|
The Rangers' most significant additions this winter came in the rotation. The club added Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler in deals with the Brewers and Nationals, respectively. Gallardo gives the Rangers a formidable top thrio of Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Gallardo. The 29-year-old Gallardo has been an above-average starter for essentially five of the past six seasons, with his only blip coming when he posted a 92 ERA+ in 2013. Last year, Gallardo returned to form, posting a 3.51 ERA, 108 ERA+, 3.94 FIP, 2.70 K/BB, and 2.4 WAR over 192.1 innings pitched. A free agent next winter, he also seems to fit in well with the Rangers' goals for the season. If they contend, he should prove to be a vital piece. However, if they falter, he could easily be sold off at the trade deadline to accrue more assets.
Also 29, Detwiler is much less of an established arm, with just one campaign of more than 20 starts under his belt, and that came two seasons ago. He was relegated to a relief role last season due to the Nationals' abundance of starting pitching, and didn't exactly excel despite the shorter stints. He posted just a 94 ERA+ and 4.16 FIP in 63 innings in 2014, and not much should be expected out of him in 2015. But he does give Texas some upside at the back of their rotation, and like Gallardo, could be used as trade bait this summer due to an expiring contract.
The additions of Gallardo and Detwiler seem to fortify a Rangers' rotation that ranked just 22nd in the majors in WAR (and 29th in FIP) last season, and will be without Harrison and Perez. Darvish should return to be among baseball's pitching elite, while Holland and Gallardo are two very strong mid-rotation starters. Detwiler gives some upside from the back-end, and Colby Lewis is a solid innings-eater who's FIP (4.46) seemed to indicate that he was actually better in 2014 than his ERA (5.18) would indicate. Overall, it's not a shabby group, though there are still certainly a number of question marks.
The bench was also overhauled this winter, as the Rangers added a very capable back-up catcher and strong pitch framer in Carlos Corporan, as well as a quartet of outfielders (Luwick, DeShields, Schierholtz, Blanks) that, along with Michael Choice, should give them a number of options to plug in as their fourth outfielder.
Texas also added former first round pick Delino DeShields Jr. from the Astros in the Rule 5 draft. A known speedster, DeShields' top-of-the-line speed that enabled him to steal 101 bases in 2012 has clearly declined in the eyes of scouts. However, despite his skills dropoff and a noticable lack of effort, DeShields still carries some upside, though it is probably more in a reserve role at this point. The 22-year-old was somewhat of a surprise selection in the Rule 5 draft due to his clear deficiencies, and it seems unlikely that he will stick with the Rangers. However, he should be an intriguing name to watch this spring.
Estimated Payroll: $140.385 million
The Rangers' payroll situation for the near future is quite lackluster. They are currently locked into three mega-contracts that run through at least 2020, and all three players (Fielder, Choo, and Elvis Andrus) are coming off disappointing season. That trio will combine to make $53.25 million in 2015 and $59.25 million in 2016, 2017, and 2018. That's an awful lot of money to be paying for three non-star players.
Unfortunately, the Rangers will also be paying Matt Harrison nearly $40 million over the next three years, when it's very possible that his pitching career may be over. There also doesn't appear to be a ton of money coming off the books after the season, with only Gallardo, Detwiler, Lewis, Adam Rosales, and Neftali Feliz slated to hit free agency (Gallardo is the only one making a nice chunk of money this year).
The Rangers do still have a number of good contracts. Derek Holland is owed just over $17 million over the next two years, and Texas then carries a pair of team options on his services. Martin Perez could prove to be a substantial value if he fully recovers from Tommy John, as he is guaranteed just $9 million over the next three seasons, with three more cheap years attached via options. The club's undisputed top two players, Adrian Beltre and Yu Darvish, will also make a very reasonable combined $28 million in 2015. However, Beltre is nearly 36 and a free agent following the 2016 season, while Darvish could hit the open market in the 2017-18 offseason.
Boosting the Rangers' payroll is a lack of pre-arbitration eligible starters. Second baseman Rougned Odor is currently the only significant starter to be making the big league minimum. This certainly hurts the Rangers' financial flexibility, though an influx of young talent with the likes of Joey Gallo, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Jorge Alfaro over the next couple years should help their situation significantly.
Odds (Via Bovada)
World Series Odds: 50/1
Over/Under: 78.5 wins
Vegas is expecting a middling season for the Rangers, albeit with much better results than 2014. When your World Series odds are the same as the Astros, you know you're probably not dealing with lofty expectations.
The Rangers' 2015 season could very well go a number of ways, with a return to the cellar a distinct possibility, while a division crown isn't entirely ludicrous. Ultimately, the Rangers seem to be a roughly .500 team as is. There is quite a bit of talent, but a great amount of injury risk and potential sunk costs. Rebounds from Fielder, Choo, and Andrus are going to be among the most pivotal factors, while there is also quite a bit of wishing that Beltre can hold off his age once again, and the rotation can actually stay healthy. There really are quite a bit of question marks here, but some reasons to be optimistic.