Playing Pepper 2021: Texas Rangers

Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series!  OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter.  It’s Playing Pepper!  Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season.   I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole.  So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!

Texas Rangers
22-38, fifth in the AL West
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

Globe Life Field is actually going to be the answer to an interesting trivia question.  We know that the Cardinals hosted the World Series their first year in Busch III, the Yankees did the same with both Yankee Stadiums (1923 and 2009), and now the new Texas stadium saw the World Series in its first year.  Unfortunately, the team wasn’t there, having been eliminated long before.  A strange year for Texas fans, so let’s see what they thought of it!

Blogger Site Twitter
Christopher Fittz Lone Star Ball apoplecticfittz
Cameron Canipe Nolan Writin' CameronCanipe72
Brandon Land One Strike Away onestrikeaway

C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?

Christopher: I was personally against trying to cram a baseball season into the tail end of the summer months during a pandemic that was not only impacting every citizen, but the employees of the clubs themselves. It was only made worse when MLB started using the disaster to their benefit by pushing through unfavorable rule changes like ghost runners to artificially end games and agendas like their culling of Minor League Baseball and the MLB Draft. The battle between the league and the players association only exacerbated the notion that the overall health of the game is questionable at best and served as a depressing parallel to the world as a whole in 2020.

However, since I still do love the sport, it was a nice reprieve to see the game each day even if it was briefly. I feel, as a fan of the Texas Rangers – a team that finished with the worst record in the American League – my impression of the necessity of the season is skewed as the team didn’t provide much reason to follow even if it was good to have baseball on the television once again.

Cameron: Last year was definitely a unique season, and one I hope as a baseball fan we never see the likes of again. It was a lot of fun having such a short season, making it a sprint instead of a marathon. That being said, the lack of fans in the stands definitely made it feel like something was missing when you watched a game on TV. I’m actually a big fan of the universal DH rule, so it was pretty cool to see that implemented last year. The introduction of things like taxi squads and alternate training sites, however, is something I can’t wait to do without. I much more prefer the traditional MiLB set up, and I’m happy we’re getting back to that this year.

Brandon: I was a huge fan of the universal DH. Not so much the extra-innings rules. Unfortunately, MLB wanted to tack on additional measures to the universal DH going forward (despite both sides appearing to want exactly that), and as a result, we’ll go back to seeing pitchers bunt in NL ball. More than that, players like Shin-Soo Choo who otherwise would have a spot on an MLB roster have been relegated to either being inactive, or in the case of Choo, going to Korea to play.

C70: It wasn’t exactly the inaugural season everyone had planned for Globe Life Field, but at least it got to play host to the World Series. From what you saw of the park, what did you like and were there things you’d change?

Christopher: To be honest, there’s not a ton that I like about the new stadium. A younger me would have been ultra defensive about other teams and their fans making fun of anything about the Rangers but I was often having a nice chuckle as team social media accounts were comparing Globe Life Field to grills or home improvement stores. I’ve taken to calling the new place ‘The Shed’ because that’s the impression I get when I see it outside and when I watch a game being played there on television. Obviously, the benefit of the stadium even existing is to go to a game in Arlington where it is not surface-of-the-sun levels of heat, but that’s not possible right now so we’re only left with aesthetic opinions and, frankly, the new place is severely lacking in the charm or identifying features that the previous park was loaded with. 

Cameron: I’m a huge fan of Globe Life Park (or The Ballpark in Arlington, as it will forever be known as for me) so the new place certainly has some big shoes to fill. Without seeing it in person other than a stadium tour, it’s hard to make a complete judgement at this point. It definitely seems to have its quirks, like the netting along the walls down the baselines that doesn’t allow for much of a bounce off the fence. I do like how the outfield dimensions are a nod to Texas Rangers history, though it seems to make the outfield play pretty big. The thing I’m most interested in though is how the new park will play when the roof is open as opposed to it being closed. We got to see some of that last year, and the ball definitely seems to carry more with the open roof. We’ll see how many early season games have the roof open before the weather gets too hot.

Brandon: I only got to see the inside of it during a Christmas exhibition they had at Globe Life Field in December, but I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised at how nice everything looks. As far as the field itself, I’ll be interested to see how the outfield fences play over the long haul. The organization perhaps tried to get a little too cute with the dimensions in an effort to pay homage to past players/managers.

C70: The Rangers brought in David Dahl after he was let go from the Rockies. What do you think Texas will get out of the outfielder?

Christopher: I thought the signing of David Dahl was inspired. For a player with his pedigree, who made an All-Star team as recently as 2019, is still pretty young, and has had extended success in the league, it’s rare that such an opportunity arises, especially for a team that isn’t going to contend in the upcoming season. Obviously, there’s a reason that the Rockies gave up on Dahl, and it’s mostly that he has had an extensive history of injuries, but that is a risk that the Rangers can take and if Dahl can stay healthy in Texas, the Rangers have a player that they can bookend in the outfield with Joey Gallo with several more years of control via arbitration. At one-year, $2.7 million, the signing of Dahl feels like all upside with no real downside.

Cameron: It wasn’t to long ago that David Dahl was an All Star, and its hard not to be excited about the potential he brings with him to Texas. But that being said, you also have to look at why he was non-tendered by the Rockies in the first place. With his injury history, you just hope he can stay healthy. With the potential outfield of Dahl, Leody Taveras, and Joey Gallo, the Rangers will be set up pretty well defensively. If he can provide a little bit of offensive fire power and return to his All Star form of 2019, then that’s even better. At the end of the day, its a low risk high reward signing for Texas. He’s on a one year deal so if it doesn’t work out then you move on pretty easily. But if it does, and I really hope it does…then maybe you ended up getting a steal and a player who can be here and productive for years to come. 

Brandon: The problem Dahl is going to run into is that the Rangers have too many outfielders and basically only one position many of them can play. Joey Gallo is going to be the right fielder, barring injury. In center, I think the organization wants to see Leodys Taveras hold down that position. That leaves left field, and while Willie Calhoun is likely your DH on most days, if another player needs a day off of their legs for DH duty, he’s likely going to be playing left field. It’s hard to envision Dahl getting much regular usage, but I said the same thing about Hunter Pence two years ago and ended up wrong.

C70: Just recently, Elvis Andrus was traded from the only team he’s ever known. Will it be hard to see him in another uniform?

Christopher: The day that it came out that Elvis Andrus had been traded, the Oakland Athletics wasted no time before posting a photoshopped image of Andrus in an A’s uniform and it was as weird and upsetting as I was expecting. It seemed as cursed as seeing Hakeem Olajuwon in a Toronto Raptors’ uniform or Emmitt Smith wearing an Arizona Cardinals’ helmet. I tweeted this out the day of the trade, but Andrus has played in 1 in 5 (21.4%) Rangers games in franchise history. He was as constant as they come for one franchise. However, considering where the franchise is right now, and where Elvis is in his career, it was time to shed the last vestiges of an era gone by, even though it still hurts to say goodbye.

Cameron: Oh man, it’s definitely going to be tough to see Elvis in another uniform. Especially one of a division rival who will probably be sitting at the top of the standings most of the year. I’m happy for him though. He’ll get to go play every day for a contender at the end of his career and get another shot at winning a championship, something he wasn’t going to get to do here. Its going to be weird not seeing #1 trot out to shortstop every day with a smile on his face, but I know a lot of Rangers fans will be following him this season and hope he does well. Just hopefully not so much against the Rangers. 

Brandon: It’s a little different to see that dark green uniform on Elvis. He was the last remaining member from the 2010-2011 World Series teams, and over the past two years — whether due to injury, age, or a bit of both — he just hasn’t been very productive. It was time to hit the reset button (in fact the time for that probably should have been five years ago), but it’s a bit bittersweet to see him go.

C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?

Christopher: I don’t have any expectation for the Rangers to win in 2021. At best, what I hope to see is young players like Willie Calhoun, Nate Lowe, Nick Solak, etc. take steps forward and become players that can be a part of the next team that contends for Texas. I’d love to see a year of Jose Trevino behind the plate with a young pitching staff and see how they grow together. I’m interested to see how 2020 Gold Glove 3B Isiah Kiner-Falefa handles the move to shortstop and if he can lock that position down for the future. I am, of course, excited to see Joey Gallo hit dingers again. Hopefully, that will be the Rangers. Otherwise, I’m perhaps most looking forward to seeing the next wave like Leodys Taveras, Dane Dunning, Sam Huff, and Josh Jung and I’m especially interested in seeing if the farm system can have that breakout season that was promised before COVID shut things down in 2020.

Cameron: Quite frankly I expect the Rangers to be pretty bad this year. The roster is full of players who have some high upside but also come with a ton of question marks. Can David Dahl stay healthy? Can Joey Gallo figure it out at the plate to go along with his Gold Glove defense? What exactly is Dane Dunning going to provide for you on the mound? And then there’s Rougned Odor. I also fully expect the Rangers to be sellers at the deadline this summer, so any veteran talent that’s doing well should be moved to another team. So I could very easily see the Rangers in the cellar again with another top 5 draft pick in ’22. 

Brandon: It’s not going to be a pretty season in Arlington. As I mentioned above, the Rangers probably needed to hit that reset button years ago. Problem is, the 2015-2016 seasons saw them have one of the luckiest stretches in baseball history. Both seasons saw the team put up an almost-zero run differential, yet they won the AL West. It’s awfully difficult to justify hitting reset when the standings say you shouldn’t. As a result, that two-year stretch saw the Rangers as active buyers at both trade deadlines, which depleted some significant assets, including selling low on former 2015 4th overall pick Dillon Tate, whom they whiffed on when they could have selected any number of other players, not the least of which was Walker Buehler (in fairness, he didn’t go until pick 24 anyway).

This all led to the organization attempting to recapture that magic for several more seasons before realizing that the talent level just isn’t quite there. Rougned Odor has been a disaster, and the organization hasn’t helped matters by continuing to play him every day despite him being arguably the worst player in baseball for four years running. They’ve failed to draft and develop both hitting and pitching, and in fact, a de-load program the organization attempted on young pitchers looks to have directly resulted in a significant wave of elbow injuries at the lower levels, which has stunted any growth in that area as well (linked here).

The last two years have seen two bad teams hold onto tradable assets for too long. In 2019, it was Mike Minor. The Rangers didn’t like the offers they were receiving, and as a result, just a year later, they ended up sending a now-struggling Minor to Oakland for two players to be named later. Then this offseason, it was Lance Lynn, who possibly could have netted more in a deadline deal each of the last two seasons, but remains to be seen how the prospects the Rangers received in return will fare in the future.

I say all this to mention that the organization hasn’t appeared to have any real direction in years. They’ve been stuck in that purgatory between trying to compete versus trying to rebuild, and have failed to truly commit to a plan. Even after the 2019 season, they seemed to be more interested in the appearance of being active on the free agent market than actually being active when they made an offer to Anthony Rendon that they knew he would turn down so they could say, “See? We tried.” Combined with a massive round of layoffs with office staff during a pandemic, there aren’t too many great reasons to feel good about the Texas Rangers in 2021. It’s all about hoping there’s a future 3-5 years from now where they can be competitive again.

C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?

Christopher: I don’t think you can get to the point of having the second worst record in baseball and receive a passing grade. I’d say the team is currently sporting a D. It’s not lower at this moment only because I give points to the organization for finally coming to terms with where they are and the need to fully commit to a rebuild. We saw that with the Lance Lynn trade and moving on from Andrus. Jon Daniels, despite his detractors, remains a plus for this organization, and the restructuring of the front office by bringing in a bright general manager prospect like Chris Young is a positive.

The problem is, there is a dearth of talent throughout the organization and it will take the recent changes to player development and a better process when it comes to drafting – extremely important with the No. 2 overall selection this summer – for that to improve. And, of course, when the time comes, it will take the commitment from ownership to spend in free agency again. Right now, those aspects are very much in doubt and it hangs over the franchise like a dark cloud. Rangers fans should have a much better understanding of when they will see the team play in October again one year from this moment than they do today.

Cameron: I’d love to be an optimistic homer here and give them a B, but I don’t quite think they’re there yet. I’d give them a C+ for right now. They’re on their way up and I think in a year or two they could be at a B or a B+. Bringing in Chris Young for the front office was a huge addition for the franchise. The moves they have made this off season have been kind of fun in the sense that they’re bringing in young talent with the hope that they’re able to put it all together. Some will, some won’t. It does give fans a reason to be hopeful though. Their minor league system is currently in the bottom third of the league, but there are a ton of folks who believe they can be fast risers in the rankings in a few years. Most of their big talent is at the lower level. I think it took to long for them to embrace the rebuild, so that’s why they’re a C+ for me right now, but all the factors I mentioned could have them rising up in a couple of years. 

Brandon: Given everything I mentioned above, I can’t give the current state of the organization anything better than a D, and that’s being generous. The only saving grace is that Jon Daniels finally stepped back a bit with the hiring of Chris Young to take over the GM duties. We’ll see how that pans out, and the move gives me at least a little bit of goodwill, but it hasn’t been confidence-inspiring that the Rangers have adopted the Dallas-area theme of sports teams trying to recapture old magic without making the changes their sport has made to define success during that time period.

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