- The Rangers dealt away veterans at the 2017 trade deadline, but still don’t appear interested in a full-blown sell-off. Most notably, the team held veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre, who is entering the final season of his contract. GM Jon Daniels says that the club “will be designed with Adrian as our third baseman,” as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News was among those to tweet. The Rangers’ head baseball decisionmaker suggested that Beltre and the organization have come to an understanding about the immediate direction, though he also noted that it’s at least theoretically possible the path could change. Beltre again battled through health problems to post an outstanding .312/.383/.532 slash. While he’s owed a hefty $18MM, the contract would still hold quite a lot of appeal to other organizations given Beltre’s sustained excellence. Still, it seems the Rangers will be looking to build around him rather than making a deal, though it remains unclear what kind of capacity the team has for veteran acquisitions.
- Dodgers righty Yu Darvish reached out to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News with an unprompted message to praise Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail and recently fired bullpen coach Brad Holman. As Grant notes, Darvish’s recent improvements and changed mechanics have led to criticism for his coaches with the Rangers. “…There should be no criticism of Doug Brocail or Brad Holman,” said Darvish. “They are both very good coaches without a doubt. They are also great people. I’m not the kind of person who lies, so please trust me when I say this.” Darvish goes on to explain some of the alterations that he’s made since changing teams and eventually comes back to the point that there’s “no major difference in coaching or philosophy” that has led to his rebound following his trade to Los Angeles.
The Rangers have informed first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli that his $11MM club option for the 2018 season will not be exercised, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweets. He’ll instead take home a $2.5MM buyout, bringing his total earnings in his third stint with the Rangers to $8.5MM. Napoli will be a free agent once the option is formally declined.
Napoli, 36 on Halloween, swatted 29 homers in his return to Arlington this season but saw his batting average check in south of the Mendoza Line and his OBP land in the upper .200s. Overall, the benefit of his considerable power (.235 ISO) was counteracted by a .193/.285/.428 batting line and below-average baserunning. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference pegged him slightly worse than replacement level. Napoli struck out at a career-worst 33.6 percent clip and also popped up at a career-high 15.6 percent pace. A troublesome 38.1 percent of his trips to the plate resulted in a punchout or an infield fly.
Of course, Napoli is just a season removed from a very solid .239/.335/.465 batting line and 34 homers for the American League champion Indians. Both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating felt that he was about a run above average in nearly 800 innings at first base — the fourth time in the past five seasons that he’s ranked above average by both measures. While it’s difficult to envision Napoli securing another job as a team’s primary first baseman in free agency this offseason, his generally excellent clubhouse reputation, well-above average power and track record of mashing left-handed pitching should result in plenty of interest among contending clubs looking to utilize him in a more limited capacity.
As for the Rangers, they’ll have the option of using Joey Gallo at first base in 2018 or pursuing one of the many free-agent sluggers at first base. Eric Hosmer, Logan Morrison, Carlos Santana, Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso and old friend Mitch Moreland are among those joining Napoli on the open market this winter. Should the Rangers bring in one of those options, Gallo could return to the corner outfield, see some time at DH and occasionally spell future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre at third base.
Alternatively, the Rangers have one of the game’s top-regarded first base prospects, Ronald Guzman, on the precipice of MLB readiness. The 22-year-old Guzman spent the 2017 season with Triple-A Round Rock, where he batted .298/.372/.434 with a dozen homers, 22 doubles and an 85-to-47 K/BB ratio in 527 plate appearances. Texas could opt to merely pursue a stopgap option to split the first base/corner outfield workload with Gallo until Guzman forces his way onto the big league roster.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Rangers could have interest in right-hander Miles Mikolas as he eyes a return to the Majors after a strong three-year run in Japan, writes T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. (We noted at MLBTR last week that Mikolas was aiming for an MLB comeback.) Limiting walks is high on the Rangers’ wishlist in terms of offseason pitching targets, and Mikolas excelled in that area over his three-year career with the Yomiuri Giants, Sullivan points out. He also notes that the Rangers have had success on the Japanese market in the past under GM Jon Daniels, getting value out of signings such as Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish and Tony Barnette. Obviously, a pursuit of Mikolas would more closely resemble the modest contracts given to Lewis and Barnette than the massive financial commitment that the Rangers spent to acquire Darvish, but Sullivan notes that Texas is likely to explore as many avenues to rotation upgrades as possible this winter. Mikolas’ most recent stint in the Majors came with the Rangers back in 2014.
The Rangers announced on Tuesday that infielders Phil Gosselin and Will Middlebrooks, right-hander Paolo Espino and outfielder Jared Hoying have cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Round Rock. Both Gosselin and Middlebrooks have rejected the assignment in favor of free agency, per the team. The Rangers’ 40-man roster is now at 36 players, though two of those vacancies are presumably ticketed for right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez and infielder Hanser Alberto, each of whom is on the 60-day disabled list.
Texas claimed Gosselin, 29, off waivers from the Pirates back in August, though he only appeared in 12 games and logged eight plate appearances. Gosselin struggled between both organizations this season, but he did hit .288/.340/.411 in 358 plate appearances at the MLB level from 2015-16.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, took 39 plate appearances over the course of 22 games and hit just .211/.321/.368. He did post a .258/.327/.529 batting line and club 23 homers over the life of 342 PAs with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate. It’s been quite some time since the now-29-year-old Middlebrooks looked like a possible rising star, but he’s displayed quality power numbers in the minors in each of the past two seasons and should land another minors pact this winter.
The 30-year-old Espino made his MLB debut this season with the Brewers but logged a 6.00 ERA and a 20-to-10 K/BB ratio in 24 innings. A veteran of 11 minor league seasons, Espino has a 3.76 ERA with 8.0 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9 across 505 1/3 career innings in Triple-A.
As for Hoying, the 28-year-old has been up and down with Texas over the past two years, hitting a combined .220/.262/.288 in 126 plate appearances. He’s a career .254/.308/.465 hitter in parts of five Triple-A seasons.
- Another organization that figures to focus on pitching this winter, the Rangers, need to add volume to fill out their rotation, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reasons. The club likely won’t have the cash needed to add impact arms and needs to account for many spots on its rotation depth chart, beyond the five pitchers that’ll start the year in the rotation. Grant’s discussion drives home the challenge facing the Texas front office and the many moving parts involved.
- Meanwhile, the Rangers have authorized southpaw Alex Claudio to play in the Puerto Rican winter league despite his heavy usage this year, as Gerry Fraley of the Morning News writes. Claudio has now established himself as a quality late-inning piece after turning in 82 2/3 frames of 2.50 ERA ball, with just 6.1 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9 but a dominating 66.7% groundball rate on the year. While GM Jon Daniels says the club was inclined initially to protect Claudio, he notes that the reliever has succeeded based upon a routine that has long included winter ball stints. This year, moreover, the devastation of Hurricane Maria has pushed back and shortened the schedule.
- The Rangers are considering issuing a qualifying offer to Andrew Cashner. This would ensure that Texas received some draft pick compensation if Cashner rejected the QO, though given the Rangers’ need for pitching, they could welcome the chance to bring back Cashner on a one-year deal. Still, since the QO carries a hefty cost of $18.1MM, it is still a little surprising that Texas is considering issuing one to Cashner, who is a decent candidate to accept. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently covered Cashner’s interesting offseason case in a Free Agent Stock Watch piece, outlining the many pros and cons suitors face in weighing a Cashner this winter.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels didn’t mince words in telling reporters that he has no plans to embark on a rebuild, as T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com and Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram write. “This is not a rebuild,” Daniels told reporters. “We expect to win. We are always going to have that mindset.” Texas will face an uphill challenge in filling out a rotation that, at present, has only Cole Hamels and Martin Perez locked into spots. Daniels acknowledged that the Rangers “are going to have to remake half the staff,” and as Sullivan notes, that applies to the bullpen as well, where Keone Kela, Matt Bush, Alex Claudio and Jake Diekman look like the only set-in-stone options. Per Wilson, Daniels suggested that team payroll will be more in the $155MM range at which it sat in 2016 than this past season’s $165MM territory. While the Rangers may not pursue a closer, they’ll look to bring in at least one veteran bullpen arm.
A bit more on the Rangers…
- Daniels was also candid about the fact that his team will be firmly in the mix for Japanese star Shohei Otani if he is posted for MLB clubs to bid on this winter. “We are not hiding anything,” the GM said. “If the Fighters ultimately post Ohtani, you are going to have 30 interested clubs, of which we’ll be right there with them.” Of course, as Daniels points out, competition for Otani would be immense. International spending restrictions would largely level the playing field to acquire his services, making it difficult to predict any type of favorite for the young ace/slugger.
- Sullivan also writes that the Rangers are once again internally mulling the possibility of moving right-hander Matt Bush into the rotation. Texas discussed the move last offseason as well but ultimately elected to leave Bush in a role with which he was familiar. Daniels tells reporters that Bush has expressed interest to the team in working out of the rotation, which bodes well for the potential transition. “If it’s the player who initiated and wants to put the work in, I think you’ve seen success,” Daniels explains (possibly in a nod to C.J. Wilson). “When it’s players who are in between, probably best to leave him in the role he is in.” Sullivan runs down six prior cases of the Rangers moving a reliever to the rotation, including Wilson, and examines their success rates.
9:00pm: Texas has indeed negotiated a deal with the insurance company, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Per Grant, the agreement is believed to defer the payment of policy benefits but otherwise leave them intact.
12:12pm: The Rangers announced that they have released first baseman Prince Fielder. With the move, the club will be able to utilize a 40-man roster spot that had previously been tied up owing to financial considerations.
Fielder had previously announced that he would no longer play after undergoing neck fusion surgery late in the 2016 season. But the veteran slugger did not formally retire at that time, as he is still entitled to earn $24MM per season through 2020 under the massive free-agent deal he signed back in 2012 with the Tigers.
Of course, a big chunk of that salary was being paid by the Tigers and, since the surgery, an insurer. Cutting Fielder loose would have opened a roster spot, but also would have meant sacrificing the right to collect an estimated $9MM annually.
Details on the move aren’t yet clear, but it’s hard to imagine the Rangers have simply decided not to worry about the $27MM they could still collect in insurance proceeds. It seems more reasonable to expect that the move was made after some sort of settlement was reached — though that’s still speculative at this point.
The Rangers announced that they have exercised their club option over manager Jeff Banister for the 2019 season. He was already under contract for next season.
Banister originally signed in advance of the 2015 season. He had agreed to a deal last winter in which the club picked up an original 2018 option and added a new option for the following season. This time around, it seems, no new option year was tacked on at the end. Nonetheless, he’ll head into the 2018 campaign with more job security as he looks to get the Rangers back to the postseason after coming up short in a 78-84 season in 2017 — the first losing season in his three-year tenure in Arlington.
Overall, Banister’s Rangers have performed well since he took the helm three years ago. The 53-year-old Banister helped Texas to an 88-74 record in his first season as a Major League manager, winning 2015 American League Manager of the Year honors in the process. The 2016 Rangers took another step forward with a 95-67 mark, capturing their second AL West crown in as many years under Banister. All told, Texas is 261-225 under his watch.
While the majority of Banister’s coaching staff will remain intact, the Rangers did shuffle up the staff a bit; bullpen coach Brad Holman will not have his 2018 club option exercised and won’t return to the organization next season. He’ll be replaced by Rangers first base coach Hector Ortiz, who will serve as both bullpen coach and catching instructor next season. Texas, it seems, will be on the lookout for a new first base coach to join Banister’s staff in the coming weeks, as no replacement for Ortiz was announced. The Rangers did announce that pitching coach Doug Brocail, third base coach Tony Beasley, bench coach Steve Buechele, hitting coach Anthony Iapoce and assistant hitting coach Justin Mashore will all return to the team in 2018.