Playing Pepper 2018: Texas Rangers

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Texas Rangers
78-84, third in AL West
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

It was a bit of a down year for Texas last year.  Not only did they finish under .500 for only the second time since 2008, they had to watch as their in-state rivals won 100 games, the division, and their first World Series.  That’s a gut punch that we as Cardinal fans are all too familiar with.  So what’s next for the Rangers?  How do they absorb that blow and come back from it?  You know you are in for a treat when an accountant by day, writer by night (or whenever he can) brings you the info.  Let’s get to it!

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Brandon Land One Strike Away onestrikeaway

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Brandon: This offseason was a bit different compared to what Rangers fans have become accustomed to. Not only did the franchise ship away Yu Darvish at the trade deadline last season, but there was never any real push by the club to sign Darvish as a free agent. Not for lack of appreciating his talents, mind you, but more an issue of money.

Now, many fans are quick to assume that this means the Rangers are cash-strapped. I don’t believe that to necessarily be the case. More likely, in my mind, is an admission that this club, without very significant improvements from key players already on the roster — Mazara, Odor, etc. — isn’t one starting pitcher away from dethroning the Astros in the AL West. Their strategy was to go out and sign a number of low-risk propositions, throw them against the wall, and see if anything sticks. They’re not exactly saying that 2018 is a season to retool, but the moves — and lack of high-impact moves — would seem to indicate that.

C70: It feels like we’ve been talking about Jurickson Profar forever but he’s only 24. Will he ever approach the levels folks expected of him a few years ago?

Brandon: Profar is an interesting case. He only turned 25 in February. He came up and spent some time in a utility role in 2013, then Ian Kinsler was traded away for Prince Fielder. Many people forget that the entire purpose of that trade was to open a position for Profar while also improving in another area (adding some pop at first base). Obviously, a shoulder injury robbed Profar of two seasons, Fielder ended up with a career-ending neck injury, and Rougned Odor stepped into the fold.

Odor obviously has the long ball, and fans tend to fall in love with it, but the dirty little secret is that Profar might actually still be the better player. He’s better defensively than Odor, and the last time he got consistent playing time in 2016 with 306 plate appearances, he was a better hitter (78 wRC+) than Odor was in 2017 when, in 651 plate appearances, he the worst everyday hitter in baseball (61 wRC+).

Odor has the contract he signed before the 2017 season, but Profar is out of minor league options. He’s going to be on the big club, and at least to start the season, he’ll be in a super-utility role. That’s not his preference, but it’s what he’s got, and the hope is that he’s worked on his athleticism a bit this offseason to be a better all-around player for the Rangers. If Odor continues to struggle with pitch recognition, you could see a bit more of Profar than people might expect. That might not be such a bad thing. He may never come close to the ceiling some scouts had him pegged for, but I think he can still have a solid Major League career.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Brandon: This one’s a bit more difficult to pin just because of the situation the Rangers find themselves in. Other than a 2014 season in which injuries washed away any hope, the Texas Rangers have been competitive in their division since 2009. When you’re trading away prospects each year to fill holes for a playoff push, the bill eventually comes due. That appears to be the case now. However, all the reports tell me that Willie Calhoun — received in exchange for Yu Darvish from the Dodgers — is a Major League ready hitter. He might not have a definitive position just yet, but he appears ready to be a contributor on offense.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Rangers to do well?

Brandon: In my mind, this player is Nomar Mazara. Mazara has a beautiful swing, and while he’s slow as molasses in the outfield, if he can get the ball in the air a bit more this season rather than on the ground, I think we’re going to look back and realize he’s had a pretty good season. That isn’t to say that if he has a good season, the Rangers will too. However, if he doesn’t improve, I don’t think we’ll be talking about the Rangers even as wild card contenders by mid-August.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Brandon: I’ll go with 80-82. Right now, I don’t think the pitching staff is good enough to keep enough games close. The offense should be above-average, but Cole Hamels isn’t a strikeout pitcher the way he once was. Unless he and another starter can be studs in the starting rotation, I don’t feel it’s realistic to project the 2018 Rangers anywhere above .500.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Brandon: A question I think we’ll see floated around a bit is whether or not Adrian Beltre will be traded this season. Beltre will be 39 in April, and while he’s still been good — and is still a fan favorite — if the Rangers aren’t in the mix near the trade deadline, they should probably look into dealing him. Will they? That remains to be seen. He puts fans in seats, and that might be the ultimate goal for the team in 2018. However, if we’re being realistic and things go as I expect they will, it might be reasonable to consider offers in July.

It’s important to keep in mind that Joey Gallo, while slated to be the regular first baseman for 2018, is actually a third baseman with a lot of athleticism. His physical tools are probably better suited there. Combine that with the fact that Ronald Guzman is waiting to play first base at Triple-A, and if the Rangers can get a nice return for Beltre, they might be better for it post-2018.

From one accountant to another, I extend my appreciation to Brandon for giving us a glimpse at what the Rangers fandom is thinking.  Even if it is an off year, there still should be some exciting stuff to watch there in Texas!

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