The Texas Rangers were far more active in adding veterans than most teams with similar records. The result is a highly volatile bunch that could be decent or could again challenge for a top-five pick.
- Shin-Soo Choo, DH
- Rougned Odor, 2B
- Elvis Andrus, SS
- Nomar Mazara, RF
- Joey Gallo, LF
- Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B
- Ronald Guzman, 1B
- Jeff Mathis, C
- Delino DeShields Jr., CF
The Rangers are returning most of the lineup they trotted out last season, when they ranked 22nd in park-adjusted offense, per FanGraphs. There would seem to be room for internal growth due to the youth of Mazara (23), Guzman (24), Gallo and Odor (25), and DeShields (26). Last season, Gallo was only one of the five to post an OPS+ above 100. Odor made strides with his plate discipline, however, which bodes well for him moving forward. Mazara and Guzman are both former top prospects who haven't succeeded as expected in the majors. Mazara's launch angle declined significantly, a questionable sign for someone who isn't considered fleet of foot. The Rangers turned down trade overtures from at least one contender at the deadline, suggesting they still believe in his ability to turn into a middle-of-the-order bat. Guzman was ineffective in his rookie season, struggling against lefties and breaking balls. There's no sense giving up on him yet, though another like last will put his future in doubt. Think of DeShields as a downmarket Billy Hamilton: a quality fielder and elite speedster, but he seldom makes good contact and has had two miserable efforts in the past three seasons. Combined with Mathis, the Rangers should have strong up-the-middle defense, albeit at the cost of automatic outs at the dish. Pence and Cabrera are famous names you probably didn't realize had joined the Rangers. Each is looking to extend their career. Expect Zack Granite, Matt Davidson, and Willie Calhoun to figure into the proceedings at some point or another.
If this were a few years ago, the Rangers would have one of the better rotations in baseball. Alas, time is a cruel, fickle mistress. Minor's transition back to the rotation went better than anticipated: in 28 starts, he managed a 116 ERA+ and 3.47 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's an injury risk, but so is everyone else here -- and not in the sense that all pitchers are injury risks. Lynn missed the 2016 season; Volquez missed last year; Smyly has missed both of the past two seasons; and Miller has made all of nine appearances in the same timeframe. Each has a history of success in the majors, making it conceivable they pitch decently. The risks here are such though that it's hard to count on any or all of them taking their turn in the rotation. The Rangers rotation, then, is a lottery. They could be better than expected, or they could get fewer than 100 combined starts from these five. The good news for the Rangers is they have a number of young pitchers who could step in: Ariel Jurado (who didn't show much last season), Yohander Mendez (out for at least half the season), Taylor Hearn, Brock Burke, Joe Palumbo and Jonathan Hernandez are just a few who could figure into the equation.
Leclerc's recent extension has led to him getting more acclaim for a brilliant 2018. In 57 innings he fanned 85 batters and allowed 24 hits. That's absurd. Another season like that should put him in the conversation for best reliever in baseball. Beyond Leclerc, the Rangers added some veteran help in Chavez and Kelley. Both are coming off better seasons than realized. McAllister, on the other hand, is fresh off a horrid season. If he can regain his old form, the Rangers could have a solid back of the bullpen. Sadzeck has a big fastball (that he loves pitching up with) and good enough breaking balls to see him developing into a useful middle reliever. It's tempting to cast any unknown lefty as a specialist, but Springs isn't -- his fastball-changeup combination makes him effective against righties. Lefty Kyle Bird and righty Nick Gardewine are two others to keep in mind.
As mentioned throughout the above section, the Rangers are a volatile bunch.
Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs each have Texas winning around 70 games. Yet if the pitching staff stays healthy and some of the young hitters mature, it's possible the Rangers could find themselves in the AL's small middle class, competing for a wild-card spot.
Possible doesn't equal likely, however, and that's why the Rangers are pegged to finish near the bottom of the league. Still, it's probably fair to write that no team has a wider range of potential outcomes than the Rangers do.
There's plenty to keep an eye on with this Rangers squad, but one player who we didn't touch on much that could make their season even more interesting is Matt Davidson.
Davidson is a known quantity as a right-handed slugger. The Rangers are permitting him to experiment as a two-way player, thanks in part to his strong showing in mop-up appearances. It's possible -- maybe even likely -- that at some point this season he's going to be on the big-league roster as a hitter and pitcher.
There's no telling how it'll go for Davidson, but that's pretty cool.
We should probably note that the Rangers are being led by a new manager in Chris Woodward.
Woodward is no stranger to longtime fans. He had a 12-year big-league career that saw him spend most of his time in Toronto. More recently, he's served as the Dodgers third-base coach -- a position that exposed him to the latest baseball strategies and evaluative methods.
The Rangers made a number of hires this winter to improve their analytics department, and Woodward seems like a good candidate to make the most of the information coming from the front office.