The Texas Rangers have been an unwatchable disaster since 2017. They posted losing records for the last six years. They have not sniffed the playoffs since 2016; a year best forgotten as they were swept by the Blue Jays in the first round. Every year since then the team has not only been horrific, but has opened the season dead on arrival. This year is going to be different. The Rangers added pitching and are legitimately trying to be competitive.
Pitching in baseball is everything. You cannot win without pitching. The Rangers have needed pitching since they moved to Texas in 1972. They have never won a World Series. The two things are heavily correlated. For years the Rangers missed out on the top end pitching free agents. They were relegated to overpaying for the likes of Chan Ho Park and Kevin Millwood. This was partially due to their old ballpark, where the small dimensions and scorching heat was hard on pitchers. But the new Rangers stadium is more pitcher friendly; the walls are further back and most games are played in air conditioning.
Jon Daniels was the Rangers GM from 2005 until the middle of last year. He was a stooge. He traded away the heart of the pennant winning teams, Ian Kinsler, for a jokish caricature named Prince Fielder. He thoughtlessly meandered his way through the last 6 years of his tenure with all the intensity of Michael Scott after handing in his two weeks notice. One of the worst trades he ever made was trading away tall righty Chris Young. Part of why the Rangers always needed pitching was not only could they not sign the big free agents, they GAVE AWAY young pitchers for nothing as well. Chris Young ended up becoming a big part of the Rangers front office a couple years ago, eventually succeeding the incompetent Jon Daniels as General Manager last year.
Chris Young’s first season as General Manager was one of the most exciting and aggressive in Rangers history. He attacked free agency with the ferocity and bravado of Phil Anselmo leading Pantera in 1991. Young targeted the BEST pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom, as the piece he wanted to build a pitching staff around. For once the Rangers landed THE premiere free agent pitcher, adding the deGrominator to the staff until 2027. deGrom is simply brilliant. He has the 3rd lowest ERA since the expansion era (1961) behind Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw. He won rookie of the year in 2014. He won back to back Cy Youngs in 2018 and 2019. He is a playoff proven warrior, outdueling Clayton Kershaw and Prime Zack Greinke in the 2015 NLDS. deGrom was not only the best pitcher on the market, but the best pitcher in all of baseball. The slender righty features 3 excellent pitches: a 100+ MPH heater that he has great control of, a hellacious 92 MPH slider with extreme run and dive, and an absurd 88 MPH changeup that looks like a fastball until it is upon the hitter. This is a legitimate, HARD CARRY ACE the Rangers have. This is the sort of guy you go out of your way to plan visits to the ballpark around. This is the sort of guy that you go out of your way to watch on TV when he starts for another team! The Rangers have him locked up for years. deGrom’s only weakness is that he is injury prone. The Rangers will go out of their way to baby his arm, allowing him extra days off in between starts and pulling him earlier than many aces. If deGrom can stay healthy he will be dominant in his time in Texas.
Behind the best pitcher in baseball stands the Red Sox former ace Nathan Eovaldi. The Sox righty was the ace of the staff when Chris Sale was hurt, which is pretty much always for the last four years. Eovaldi throws very hard, often flirting with 100 MPH and has a nasty slider to boot. He is best remembered for his 2018 World Series appearance where he came out of the bullpen in a wild extra inning game. He pitched six BRILLIANT innings, all in extras, to keep the Sox in the game during that classic. Eovaldi was banged up last year but looked incredible in Spring Training, touching 99 MPH and looking like his prime self. The Rangers have the Red Sox old ace and the Mets old ace to anchor the staff this season. Health is the crux of the issue with both of these guys. When healthy they are both top ten pitchers in MLB.
GM Chris Young and the Rangers also added a lefty that is great at striking people out. Former Dodger Andrew Heaney struck out batters at an insane 13.9 per 9 innings clip last season. He is a sharp lefty with a devastating slider. Heaney is exceptional when he is healthy. He has pitched over 130 innings once in his career. 200 is the gold standard for a starter. If Heaney can make most of his starts he will be a huge asset. His nasty stuff will rack up the strikeouts.
Jon Gray pitched for the Rangers last season. He spent a quarter of the year in a knee brace and another half year too hurt to pitch. His performances during the remaining quarter of the season made heads spin. He was simply electric. Gray has a stellar heater he pounds the zone relentlessly with. When healthy he is a high quality #2 starter. Health is key for Gray, just like the aforementioned arms in the starting rotation.
Martin Perez will fill out the rotation. He was the top prospect in baseball in 2011. He never lived up to his potential until last season. He was great last season, earning an All Star nod and pounding the corners of the zone with his cutter and changeup. Perez eats innings and will probably not be as good as he was last year. Control is everything for this lefty.
Former Twins ace Jake Odorizzi was also signed this offseason. He is a righty with a nice slider. He will start the season on the IL and has been merely average in the last few years. Do not expect much from him. He has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness recently. He was good in the past and has the ability to turn in a comeback season like Vinnie Chase of Entourage.
Dane Dunning is the 6th starter of the rotation. He will fill in for Odorizzi or any other injured starting pitcher. He is a bespectacled sinker baller that is average. The Rangers traded Lance Lynn for him a few years ago. He desperately needs an out pitch to become successful.
The last couple starters on the rotation are pitching prospects who need to develop quickly but were ineffective last season when given the chance. Cole Ragans and Glenn Otto will be the men ready to fill in if the fragile rotation gets banged up. They will come out of the pen until this happens. Hopefully it never does, because if either of these two cats has to make more than 15 starts the Rangers are in trouble.
The Rangers went from an awful rotation to a great one this offseason, thanks to GM Chris Young. The crux of the issue is health. If the starters can stay healthy the Rangers are looking at a winning record. If the top end starters go down with severe injuries early, the Rangers will not make the playoffs. The Rangers loaded up on proven, high strikeout arms this offseason. Even if they get banged up and it does not work, the Rangers moved in the right direction and tried to fix the pitching.
The Rangers bullpen is pretty solid. It is led by flamethrower Jose Leclerc. Leclerc is the presumed closer. He also throws a nasty changeup called the “slambio.” Leclerc has been a Ranger for years and is a top end bullpen arm when he can manage his control issues.
Jonathan Hernandez is stylistically similar to Leclerc. He is a Latin righty that has a vicious heater.
The best lefty out of the pen is a lanky guy with a nasty slider. His name is Brock Burke and he posted a 200 ERA+ last season. ERA+ is a stat like OPS+ where 100 is always average and higher is always better. Burke’s 200 ERA+ last season meant he was twice as good as the average reliever last season. He is razor sharp out of the pen and will be asked to a lot as Matt Moore is gone. Moore was great out of the pen for the Rangers last season and was outperformed only by Burke. Moore signed with the rival Angels this offseason and is due for a big setback year. Burke will be a HUGE part of the Rangers pen, as the other main lefty, Brett Martin is severely injured going into this season.
Will Smith and Josh Sborz round out the bottom half of the pen. They are merely average.
The Rangers boast a potent lineup. They rely on their middle infield to get the job done. Corey Seager is the shortstop. He plays sloppy defense but is a very powerful pull hitter. He lead the league in hits stolen by the shift last season. Seager is attached at the hip by Marcus Semien. Semien plays second and is talented. The Rangers will need big production out of these two. They will both hit top two in the lineup and are the main carries of the Rangers offense. Nate Lowe is the first baseman. He hits the ball to all fields. Great offensively, decent on defense. Top tier hitting prospect Josh Jung will round out the infield. He was drafted 10th overall a few years ago and will be asked to slug for the Rangers. Jonah Heim will round out the infield for the Rangers. He is great defensively. Mitch Garver is the backup catcher with pop. He will bat DH most days.
The real weakness of the Rangers is their outfield. They have Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia who is a very solid outfielder. He will man right field. Center field will usually be manned by Leody Taveres. He cannot hit and is hurt. Josh Smith will replace him. He also cannot hit. Robbie Grossman will be the left fielder. He is merely a replacement level outfielder. The Rangers outfield is very weak and lacks a star player.
Three AL teams make the playoffs. The Rangers will finish second in the AL West to the Astros. The Mariners will have a winning record. The Angels lack pitching. The A’s are a joke.
MLB implemented a few rule changes this offseason. See below.
Pitchers have to throw the ball within 15 seconds. MLB will try to pretend this cuts down on game time. The real reason games are too long is ad spam. This will make the game slightly more enjoyable.
Two infielders have to be on each side of second base. This will help cut down on corny shifts. The shift got out of hand and owned players like Corey Seager. Seager should benefit from the gimmick defense being limited. No one lost more hits to the shift than Seager last year.
In the past, baseball teams were expected to play their division rivals constantly. This season that is not the case. They will play a wider variety of opponents. This benefits the Rangers because they will play the Astros and Mariners less.
The Rangers will make the final AL Wildcard spot, winning 87 games.