Texas Rangers are Making a List and Checking It Twice

Will Santa be good to Jon Daniels (L) and Jeff Banister (R) this month?
Will Santa be good to Jon Daniels (L) and Jeff Banister (R) this month?

By Patrick R. Malone

JUST AS SOON AS IT HAPPENED, IT WAS ALL OVER. It was the bat-flip heard ‘round the world; a pinnacle, heart-wrenching moment, in what was an otherwise phenomenal season for the Texas Rangers.

Although frowned upon and mostly scoffed at amongst peers within Major League Baseball, Jose Bautista’s shenanigans at home plate were all the Blue Jays needed to seal the deal, eventually sending Toronto to the American League Championship Series and the Rangers back to Arlington.

Now the baseball season is over, the Kansas City Royals are World Series champs and the offseason has officially begun. For the Rangers, now isn’t the time for reflection or shoulda, coulda, wouldas. They aren’t sending out invites to their pity party, nor are they pointing fingers or placing blame for imploding the way they did to end their season.

Nope, it’s business as usual at Globe Life Park for Jon Daniels and Company.

“We’re just starting our meetings,” Daniels said, via Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram. “Obviously, we have meetings and are constantly analyzing where we’re at.”

Step 1: Shoring Up the Coaching Staff
The first order of business was the coaching staff. This is American League Manager of the Year Jeff Banister’s first full offseason leading the Rangers and he and Daniels started things off quickly by changing up parts of their on-field leadership team.

Dave Magadan, Andy Hawkins and Mike Maddux are out; Doug Brocail, Brad Holman, Anthony Iapoce and Justin Mashore are in, giving Banister a bigger coaching staff than he could have requested.

“They all have specific skill sets and areas of expertise,” Banister told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. “But they are also well-versed in the game of baseball. I want more than just specific expertise; I want guys who have the ability to reach across and help other staffers or other players out. We have a group now I feel that can reach anybody on the team.”

Brocail will serve as the Rangers pitching coach following five years with the Houston Astros. He was pitching coach from 2011-2013, a special assistant and pitching advisor in 2014, and pitching coach for Double-A Corpus Christi this past season.

Holman, Triple-A Round Rock’s pitching coach for the last three seasons, was promoted to bullpen coach. This is his first time on a major league staff after earning the 2013 Bobby Jones Player Development Man of the Year Award from the Rangers.

Iapoce will serve as hitting coach, a hiring that surprised many, but looks like a home run. He spent the last three seasons in the Chicago Cubs’ organization as Special Assistant to the General Manager and Player Development. He oversaw the Cubs’ minor league hitting program, which included players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, all now contributing at the big league level.

Mashore also was promoted from Triple-A Round Rock, where he served as the hitting instructor, and will assist Iapoce. Mashore was a strong candidate to replace Magadan and viewed by many as the coach who “fixed” Rougned Odor when he was sent down to Triple-A halfway through the season.

Step 2: Qualifying Offers
The Rangers had to make a tough decision concerning pitcher Yovani Gallardo to qualify him or not? That was certainly the big question moving forward, but the Rangers did the right thing and extended Gallardo that offer.

The qualifying offer was $15.8 million, a number based on the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball. Gallardo declined the offer making him a free agent and the Rangers will receive a draft pick from the team that signs him.

This is the game the Rangers play. They acquire and develop draft picks, turn their farm system into one of the best in the leagues, and use it to acquire players like Gallardo and Cole Hamels. Rinse and repeat.

Step 3: The Hot Stove
The 2015 Rangers had one glaring problem – they were so left-handed heavy, it showed in the first half of the season when teams would send their southpaws to the mound and dominate their bats. According to baseball-reference.com, left-handers hit .239/.304/.385 against left-handed pitchers, a slash line that left little to be desired.

“…Just in general we’re very left-handed,” Daniels said on KRLD FM 105.3 The Fan. “If we can balance that, whether it’s a complementary player that fits the roster really well or if it’s a bigger acquisition, a bigger player, maybe swap out left for right, that’s a consideration as well.”

So a right-handed bat surely is on the Rangers’ to-do-list. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some key positions that the Rangers could be looking to upgrade.

One is at catcher. Last season, the catching position was one of the worst at hitting, going .225/.307/.403 for the year. Injuries also plagued the position for much of the season. Robinson Chirinos (.232/.325/.438) did most of the catching, appearing in 74 games. When sidelined with injuries to start the last half of the season, he gave way to Chris Gimenez (.255/.330/.490).

Rick Weiner, featured columnist for Bleacher Report believes that even though Chirinos is a “horrific pitch-framer,” he knows the pitching staff and offers average offensive production. He says that keeping the 31-year-old around on a one-year, $1.25 million deal make sense.

Trading also could be an avenue to upgrade the catching position. One catcher the Rangers had been linked to in the past was right-handed batter Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers. Lucroy, another player battling injuries last season, had a big season in 2014 in which he hit .301/.373/.465. Lucroy also has hit .307 for his career vs. LHP.

The Rangers have a deep farm system. Even after selling away top prospects for Hamels at the 2015 trade deadline, Texas still boasts the No. 9 best minor league system according to Jim Callis of MLB.com. So Texas can go out and get a player they need if they want, including Lucroy.

Denton’s Austin Jackson (.273/.333/.399) is a right-handed free agent and could offer a boost to the 2016 lineup. The Rangers already have a starting center fielder in Delino DeShields, a tremendous surprise as a rookie. He stole 25 bases and hit .261 on the season after converting from second base.

While DeShields has the speed to cover center field, his defensive play towards the end of the season indicated he’s still got a ways to go. In fact, fangraphs.com shows that his ultimate zone rating (UZR), a statistic that attempts to quantify how many runs a player saves or gives up through their fielding ability or lack thereof, is below average at -5.7.

Jackson is a superb center fielder, posting an 11.8 UZR over his five-year career, according to fangraphs.com. Jackson has played for three teams in three years, causing his production to dip. However, this could be a good bargain for the Rangers on a one- or two-year deal since they have Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson waiting in the minors.

It’s also possible the Rangers could surprise everyone and do nothing during the offseason and go into spring training with the same group that ended 2015.

“Probably not going to see us engaged in the top-end of free agency,” Daniels said on The Fan. “The reality is we’ve made some big investments and they’re part of the core of this team along with the young guys that are coming up around them. Our payroll can be give or take where it was this year. Relatively flat, but that’s plenty of room for us to operate in.”

This could just be a smoke screen from Daniels. The Rangers have the prospects and personnel within the organization to make an impact. They also have Yu Darvish coming back from Tommy John surgery, which gives the team options to round out their pitching staff.

Step 4: Sit Back, Relax and Let the Games Begin
The Rangers have a short list of to-dos this offseason and a good understanding of what they want to accomplish. They’ve completed two steps already, which means that the fun part of the offseason is finally upon us.

Now it’s just a waiting game till mid-February when pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Let’s hope they’ve solved a few of the left-handed problems by then.