Texas Rangers season preview: Closer to worst than they are to first

On Oct. 4, 2005, the Rangers named Jon Daniels general manager. At age 28, he was the youngest GM in baseball history. He also also tasked with building a consistent winner in with a franchise that had never before won a playoff series (they were also just 1-9 in playoff games during just three trips to the postseason). 

Fast-forward and we can see the body of work from Daniels. The Rangers made the playoffs five times in seven years from 2010-16, winning two AL pennants and coming painfully close to winning the World Series. 

Last year, the Rangers went 78-84, trading away some big-name veterans in the process. In looking ahead to this season and the makeup of the franchise, it seems like the window of contention with the 2015-16 nucleus is closing. 

Do they need a quick reboot? Let's take a look. 

Probable lineup

  1. Delino DeShields, Jr., CF
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, DH
  3. Nomar Mazara, RF
  4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  5. Joey Gallo, 1B
  6. Elvis Andrus, SS
  7. Rougned Odor, 2B
  8. Robinson Chirinos, C
  9. Willie Calhoun, LF

Bench: Juan Centeno, C; Jurickson Profar, IF/OF; Carlos Tocci, OF

Calhoun will start the season in Triple-A, but I expect his stint to be a short one there. 

Probable rotation

  1. Cole Hamels, LHP
  2. Mike Minor, LHP
  3. Matt Moore, LHP
  4. Doug Fister, RHP
  5. Martin Perez, LHP

Bartolo Colon looms as well. 

Probable bullpen

Closer: Alex Claudio, RHP
Setup: Matt Bush, RHP; Jake Diekman, LHP
Middle: Keone Kela, RHP; Tim Lincecum, RHP; Chris Martin, RHP; Tony Barnette, RHP
Long: Jesse Chavez, RHP

Rotation deep but limited

On top of the six rotation hopefuls listed above, the Rangers also have Jon Niese and Edinson Volquez in camp. Clayton Blackburn and Austin Bibens-Dirkx could also see some starts. That's depth and depth is very good. 

Of course, there isn't really anything here to be overly excited about. 

Hamels was great in 2016, but last year he had a 4.20 ERA (112 ERA+) with 2.9 WAR. The peripherals don't look good, either -- such as the worst FIP and strikeout rates of his career -- and his velocity was a few miles per hour down. He's now 34 years old with 2,362 1/3 regular season innings on that arm, not to mention nearly 100 postseason innings. 

Decline-phase Hamels isn't an ace anymore. He's more a mid-rotation or even back-end rotation in a good staff type. Yet he sits at the top here. 

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers
Hamels appears to be hitting his decline phase. USATSI

After shoulder surgery caused Minor to miss two whole seasons, he was excellent out of the Royals' bullpen last season. Will he be able to stick in the rotation, stay healthy and effective? In his career as a starter, Minor has a 4.10 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. I'm not confident in him looking like a No. 2 starter all season. 

Moore was arguably the worst starter in the majors last season, going 6-15 with a 5.52 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. He was pitching in the NL in a pitcher-friendly park, too. 

Fister used to be very good, but he has a 4.58 ERA (89 ERA+) in the last three seasons combined. 

You get the point. The Rangers were 17th in rotation ERA last season and there is a decent chance of them being worse this time around.

Exciting, young outfield

OK, Rangers fans probably aren't too excited right now, so let's perk things up a bit. 

Nomar Mazara has two nearly-full major-league seasons under his belt and has put together some very good stretches of production. He's also still not yet turned 23 years old. There's room for growth and the third season in the bigs at age 23 (his birthday is April 26) is the time to do breakout. 

DeShields mans center and is coming off a 29-steal season. He's only 25 years old and posted a .347 OBP last year. He can be a quality leadoff man. 

And then we have Willie Calhoun. He came over last season in the Yu Darvish trade. The top-50 prospect in Triple-A last season hit .300/.355/.572 with 27 doubles, six triples and 31 homers. He only struck out 61 times in 534 plate appearances, too. As noted, Calhoun will start the season in Triple-A, but he doesn't really have much more to prove there. Unless he gets off to a terrible start, expect him to join the big-league club sooner rather than later. 

We'll get a good look at Calhoun this season and he's a decent prediction for AL Rookie of the Year. 

One last great season from Beltre? 

Last week, I wrote about how we should enjoy the incomparable Beltre while we still can. I don't think he's going to retire after this season, but his contract is up, free agency has become a bloodbath and he's going to turn 40 in April of 2019. He doesn't have much time left. 

I think Beltre again is going to put together a great season, but it very well could be his last one. To reiterate, let's remember to enjoy it. 

Can Odor bounce back?

Second baseman Rougned Odor hit 30 homers last season, but it was one of the worst 30-homer seasons of all-time. He hit .204/.252/.397 (he didn't even slug .400 with 30 homers!). He had a 65 OPS+, meaning in terms of getting on base and hitting for power, he was a whopping 35 percent below league average. His WAR? Negative 0.2. He struck out 162 times against only 32 walks. 

Now, Odor was only 23 years old. In the previous two seasons, he hit .267/.305/.487 (106 OPS+). He was worth 2.4 WAR in 2016. His profile (low walk rate without a high average and high strikeout rate) suggest someone who will never be a great player, but posting a WAR above 2.0 on a regular basis from second base provides value to the club. What he did last year does not. 

Heading into 2018, Odor needs to show that he's more the player we saw in 2016 than 2017. 

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners
The Rangers could use a better version of Rougned Odor in 2018. USATSI


We haven't seen Tim Lincecum in the majors since Aug. 5, 2016. The four-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion and two-time Cy Young winner is making a comeback this season and many (including myself) are very excited to see him pitch again. He'll turn 34 this season and will attempt to make a late-career run as a reliever. It could end up being a failed attempt, but could also develop into a really fun story -- and Lincecum has long provided fun stories. Here's hoping this is another one. 

Sell off? 

If the Rangers are out of contention in July -- and I'll submit that scenario is pretty realistic -- it might be time to offload veterans in favor of younger talent. Choo is signed through 2020 with over $60 million left, so he's probably not tradeable. 

Hamels? It's still possible he puts together a big first half. He's also only signed through this season with a club option for 2019. He has a limited no-trade clause, but a deal is possible here. 

I already mentioned Beltre's contract status, but I have a hunch they wouldn't deal him. He has a no-trade clause, too. 

Moore, Martin Perez and Chirinos only have club options after this season, so either would make sense if there's value coming back. 

Reliever Jake Diekman's set for free agency after 2018, so he could go, too. 

I'm not suggesting a full firesale, but starting to build with younger talent around the likes of Mazara, Calhoun, Odor (if he bounces back), DeShields, Gallo et al with veteran holdovers like Andrus would the play. 

SportsLine has the Rangers winning 79 games with a 15.1 percent chance to make the postseason. 

Keep in mind this doesn't include possibly trading players off the big-league roster. I'd peg the Rangers more in the mid-70s range and I think last place is a lot more possible than a postseason run. If Daniels' history is any indication, though, it won't be long before the Rangers return to contention. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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