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Rangers to improve starting rotation over offseason

After an unceremonious exit from the postseason, the Rangers vow to be better.

Chicago White Sox v Texas Rangers

The Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels was unwavering in his commitment to fielding a competitive team on Tuesday according to TR Sullivan of MLB.com. Despite having the best record in the American League, the Rangers were swept at the hands of the wild card Blue Jays. Already boasting a good roster, Daniels doubled down saying that the team ‘expects to win’ next year and that they ‘will be better.’

In his commitment to making the team better, Daniels named specific areas of the team suggesting the starting rotation, centerfield, and corner infield spots will require the most attention.

The main departure from the starting rotation with free agency looming could be Colby Lewis—who started game three for the Rangers. While Lewis is a serviceable major league starter, there is little doubt that the team would be better off with someone of his skillset perhaps deeper in the rotation. The Rangers boast one of the best one-two punches to start a rotation in the American League with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Interestingly though, their inability to perform in the postseason was largely their undoing.

Whether the Rangers retain Derek Holland remains to be seen as well. He is on a club option for the 2017 season worth $11 million that would cost $2.5 million total to buyout—including the buyout of the 2018 option as well. The 30-year-old left hander pitched 107 innings this season with a 4.75 FIP, so the decision to keep him or let him go is still very much in the air. With Hamels and Darvish firmly set at one and two, Daniels can turn his focus to strengthening the back end of the rotation. If he thinks there are more cost effective replacement available, then perhaps Holland becomes expendable.

As for the centerfield spot, that could be vacated by the pending free agent and natural shortstop Ian Desmond. Following an unfortunate free agent period, it was a relatively dream scenario of a season for Desmond. Not only did he prove to the league that he could convert to a corner outfield spot if necessary, he also converted admirably to centerfield. In fact, Desmond posted the second-highest UZR/150—the rate version of Ultimate Zone Rating—among left fielders with at least 200 innings in the field. As a centerfielder, Desmond was worth roughly the same as Billy Burns, each costing their teams just under six runs.

With Desmond’s $8 million coming off of the books, that isn’t a whole lot of capital to reinvest in anyone else. It will be interesting to follow whether or not Desmond receives a qualifying offer from the Rangers. After he turned his down from the Nationals last season, it played a huge role in suppressing his free agent value.

Of course, the Rangers could opt to try to retain Carlos Gomez instead. Having a terrible first half of the season with the Astros would likely suppress his free agent value and a team could sign him for less than Desmond perhaps. That being said, having just come off of a three-year deal that went sour for the Astros, it might be ill-advised for any team to make a term commitment to Gomez.

Lastly, the corner infield spots. With pending free agent Mitch Moreland possible departing, it’s unclear what the team plans to do with first base. There is a possibility that that vacancy gets filled from within by third base prospect Joey Gallo. A good showing in Winter ball could certainly say a lot about the prospects of that happening. Especially since dethroning Adrian Beltre is out of the question. The 37-year old is coming off one of his best seasons yet in which he hit 30 percent above the league average by wRC+.

With the impending free agent crop not being especially impressive, Daniels may be forced to explore trades more often this offseason. For a team in the Rangers’ position, that’s not a bad spot to be in. The 29 other teams have the same free agent crop to deal with and likely know to be active on the trade market; meaning Daniels will likely have plenty of potential partners. Furthermore, the Rangers boast one of the better farm systems in the majors, meaning they can deal from a depth that many other teams do not have.

Following an unceremonious exit from the postseason, Daniels and the Rangers will be an interesting team to follow this offseason, especially given their recent track record for putting together blockbuster deals.