The Texas Rangers will move into brand new Globe Life Field for the 2020 season and are hoping to once again become a factor in the AL West. That may be a tall order for a team that has won 78, 67 and 78 games over the last three seasons, but nonetheless riveted through June in 2019 before collapsing after the All-Star Break. Still, the 2020 Rangers have the makings of being an intriguing team. Whether intrigue is good enough to get them back into the postseason for the first time since 2016 or not remains to be seen. Still, this group should give fans a reason to pack the new ballpark.
The Rangers were one of the more aggressive teams through the early part of the offseason. Texas locked down starters Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles early and then traded for former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber in hopes solidifying an already-decent rotation. The Rangers were rumored to be among the few teams with a real chance to sign Anthony Rendon. When Rendon eventually landed with the Angels, Texas checked in on Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant but found the asking price to be too high. They eventually settled on veteran Todd Frazier in hopes that he could somehow plug the Adrian Beltre-sized hole at third base and also brought back Robinson Chirinos in hopes that he could give them a boost behind the plate.
While the Rangers gambled and lost on the likes of Drew Smyly, Shelby Miller and Edinson Volquez in 2019, they hit it big with Lance Lynn and Mike Minor. Per FanGraphs, Texas starters produced 14.2 fWAR in 2019 with Lynn and Minor responsible for 10.9 by themselves. While they both may be hard pressed to duplicate their excellent 2019 season, there is little reason to expect them to fall off the cliff either.
Kluber suffered through an injury-plagued 2019 that saw him make just seven starts while logging 35 2/3 innings. He wasn’t exactly effective in those seven starts, posting a 5.80 ERA albeit with a 4.06 FIP. Kluber will turn 34 in April but put up a five-win season in 2018 and the Rangers are betting there is still something left in the tank. If there is, they will have gotten a steal, as they gave up just an (interesting) reliever and a fourth outfielder for Kluber’s services over the next two seasons.
Lyles struggled early on last season in Pittsburgh but was dealt to Milwaukee at the trade deadline and was solid down the stretch. If the Rangers can pull off with Lyles what they did with Lynn and Minor in 2019, the signing will look strong. Gibson tossed 160 innings and had a respectable 4.26 FIP with the Twins. Gibson has spent his career underperforming his peripherals but did so to an extreme extent in 2019; if his run prevention normalizes, his three-year, $28-million deal could be a steal. Texas also has Kolby Allard, Ariel Jurado, Taylor Hearn (who combined for 28 starts in 2019) and Joe Palumbo to provide depth. There is a scenario where this entire group takes a step back but if Kluber bounces back and Lynn and Minor come anywhere close to last season’s success, there is reason to believe that this could be a very good starting rotation.
Jose Leclerc will anchor a bullpen that struggled as a group in 2019 but has plenty of depth. The team signed right-hander Joely Rodriguez who put together a pair of dominant seasons in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons. Rafael Montero and Brett Martin had interesting and effective relief seasons in 2019 and are unheralded names that could nonetheless be effective in the late innings. 36-year-old swingman Jesse Chavez is a more familiar name that could be decent in relief.
Getting the pitching out of the waybrings us to the biggest question mark of them all in a team that seems to be full of questions. For the Rangers to contend or even reach the .500 mark, they are going to need better production on the offensive side. As a team, Texas produced an 88 wRC+ which was tied for 22nd in the league. When you adjust for the fact that some of those teams had pitchers batting, the offense dropped to a tie for fifth-worst. Position players produced 9.4 fWAR which placed them 27th in baseball. The Rangers only had one position player record more than 1.9 fWAR in 2019. In other words, there are a lot of holes that need to be plugged, and plugged well.
A good place to start would be a healthy season for Joey Gallo who was putting together a career-best season before a right wrist injury ended his season on July 23. Gallo appeared in just 70 games but slugged 22 home runs and produced a career-high 144 wRC+ and 3.3 fWAR in just 297 plate appearances. He still struck out over 38 percent of the time but saw his on base percentage climb to .389 thanks to a 17.5 percent walk rate. A full season at anything close to that rate would be superstar numbers and the Rangers would gladly take that.
Even if he can’t replicate last year’s good start, Gallo should be expected to provide better than league average offense. Just getting to league average would result in significant improvement for Rougned Odor and a host of other Rangers. Odor again supplied plenty of power, finishing with 30 home runs but hit just .205/.283/.439 with a 77 wRC+ while piling up 178 strikeouts. It was Odor’s second career season in which he hit 30 homers but managed a paltry WAR total (0.3 in 2019). Odor posted a ridiculous 30-homer season with a 56 wRC+ and -1.4 fWAR in 2017, and after a diminished-power bounceback to league-average production in 2018, went back to providing homers and nothing else.
Elvis Andrus was relatively healthy in 2019 but hit just as poorly as he did in 2018 after back-to-back seasons of decent offense in 2016 and 2017. Ronald Guzman is expected to get the opportunity to see the bulk of the playing time at first base but his 2019 results were not inspiring, as he struggles to do anything at all against lefties but doesn’t hit righties well enough to make up for it
Danny Santana broke out with 28 home runs last season and a 111 wRC+. It looks like he will be penciled in for center field but Chris Woodward has shown the desire to use him as more of a super utility player which brings us to Nick Solak. There aren’t a lot of questions in regards to Solak’s bat, which the Rangers could really benefit by having in their lineup. However, there is not a clear cut fit for him defensively. Solak could see some time at second base if Odor struggles again. He could also get some time at third with Todd Frazier shifting to first in place of Guzman. While defense certainly is not his calling card, the plan is for Solak to see some time in center field this spring, which would free Santana for a utility role. It might be a big if, but if Solak can be anywhere close to league average defensively, then the Rangers would benefit greatly by just having his bat in the lineup. Even if Solak can only manage a league-average batting line, that would still be an improvement somewhere in the batting order.
The Rangers also have Willie Calhoun and 36-year-old Shin-Soo Choo, who combined for 45 homers and both posted above-average batting lines in 2019. The problem here is that neither offers much defensively. As a result, the roster is challenged due to a bevy of one-dimensional players. 36-year-old Jeff Mathis, a defense-only catcher generally praised and valued for everything but the bat, collapsed both offensively and defensively in 2019 and was one of the worst players in the majors; Chirinos getting the bulk of the time behind the plate should only help in this regard. The Rangers have brought in the usual assortment of cast-offs to fight for playing time and bench spots, including Greg Bird, Matt Duffy, Sam Travis, and Blake Swihart. In some ways, the Rangers don’t have much to lose by seeing what they can get from them and similar players, as there isn’t much blocking them.
FanGraphs projects the Rangers for 79 wins, while PECOTA has them at 73 which equates to a fourth place finish in the division. The optimistic scenario would seem to be them finishing third but it may be quite a stretch to see them in contention for a playoff spot. Still this can be an interesting team simply because of their rotation and Gallo. There are definite holes to be filled, and the lack of big bats beyond Gallo and quality position players as a whole really sticks out.