The Texas Rangers were busy this offseason. But busy in the way that rebuilding teams so often are. They spent their winter bringing in some stopgap types in order to supplement their youth movement that the roster is currently undergoing. How many of those additions will remain with the ballclub beyond this year’s deadline, or beyond, remains to be seen, but those additions, along with some of the younger names ready to grace the big league roster, at least leave a little bit of intrigue for Texas.
And as it turns out, “intrigue” will be necessary to keep you from forgetting the Rangers exist in 2021. A postseason appearance isn’t likely to serve as much of a reminder—FanGraphs has the Rangers’ odds at the postseason at a measly 0.8 percent; PECOTA has Texas at a 0.0 percent chance to win the division. Such poor odds tells you everything you need to know about this team, even playing in a division that has gotten marginally worse in the last couple years.
What the Rangers do have going for them are some pretty fun players and situations to examine. So we can start there—with the positives.
The catching situation has some intrigue. Jose Trevino made some nice improvements to rate as one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, specifically in regard to framing. He leapt from 48th in called strikes above average in 2019 to 12th in 2020. Smaller sample, but a significant jump nonetheless. Jonah Heim, who came over in the Elvis Andrus trade, thrives behind the plate. His skill set is though of very highly around the game. It remains to be seen how much either will hit—Heim’s approach and contact rates have shown marked improvement throughout his minor league career—but this is a nice pair if you’re a sucker for quality catcher defense.
Speaking of defense, there’s a lot of that to go around with this Rangers club. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa went from utilityman to Gold Glove third baseman. The Rangers were set to move him to short even before the Andrus trade. Josh Jung could eventually team up for a pretty formidable defensive duo, assuming we see the top prospect in 2021. Joey Gallo has settled into a more permanent role on the outfield corners and has thrived, routinely representing one of the better defensive outfielders in the game by advanced metrics. The combination of Gallo, David Dahl, and potentially Leody Tavares could make for an extremely fun outfield trio.
But while the Rangers might have enough defense to make them appear formidable, what they’ll do at the plate is a different story entirely. You’ve got the light tower power of Joey Gallo and...what else? Dahl and Kiner-Falefa are decent, if unspectacular, in terms of offensive production. Dahl has a career wRC+ of 101, while Kiner-Falefla’s mark of 93 in the shortened 2020 was a career best. After that, it ain’t pretty.
Rougned Odor is trending massively downward. Even with a 30-homer campaign in 2019, his wRC+ was still just 77 and he struck out over 30% of the time (the latter of which he repeated in 2020). Nick Solak might finally take over at second base, but while he brings a decent approach and nice contact rates, it’s ultimately unexciting production. Nate Lowe and Ronald Guzmán were virtually the same player in 2020. And that player is one with a lot of strikeouts, but not much to compensate for it outside of a decent walk rate. At least they added Khris Davis. He’s good for a .247 average and, ideally, the most power of anyone this side of Joey Gallo.
In general, though, any contributions these players make will be through their versatility and not so much what they do at the plate. Same goes for Charlie Culberson, Brock Holt, and Anderson Tejeda, all of whom are hoping to grab a bench job. This group makes it pretty clear that whatever games the Rangers win will have to come via run prevention rather than run production.
Which allows for a seamless transition into discussing the pitching side of things. There are certainly Some Names™. So the Rangers have that going for them at least. Dane Dunning was a nice get in the Lance Lynn trade with the Chicago White Sox. He’s not a dominant arm and is already 26, but should be a nice mid-rotation player to build around. Lone Star Ball profiled him back when the trade occurred in December. Joining him anew in the rotation is Mike Foltynewicz. After breaking out in 2018, Foltynewicz quickly fell out of favor with the Atlanta Braves after a decline in velocity and a massive uptick in hard hit rate against (40.3% in 2019). His velocity was back up a touch during his showcase in the offseason and the Rangers are obviously hoping he can reestablish himself in Texas.
The only other locks for this rotation, as of this writing, are Kyle Gibson, and Kohei Arihara. Gibson enters his second season with Texas having posted his lowest K/9 rate since 2017 (7.75) and highest BB/9 rate of his career (4.01). Nonetheless, he gets a lot of groundball contact and will eat some innings. Arihara joins the Rangers after several years in the Pacific League in Japan. He posted a 2.46 ERA and 161 strikeouts against 40 walks in his last full season with Nippon in 2019.
Gibson and Arihara will join with Foltynewicz to form at least 60 percent of the Texas rotation. Dunning will be in the mix, as will Jordan Lyles and Kyle Cody. Throw Kolby Allard and Taylor Hearn in there as well. The bullpen? More of the same. Again, it’s a lot of names that will log some innings and not necessarily stand out on the stat sheet. Luckily for them, they’ve got a strong defense behind them.
With a rebuild such as this, though, the eyes are going to be on the future. The trade of Elvis Andrus was a pretty clear signal that the Rangers are moving forward. Especially when you consider the fact that they traded him to a division rival. But the likes of Odor could join him on the trade circuit soon, and you wonder how many of these journeymen, both in the field and on the bump, will make it beyond the trade deadline before they’re in a new spot.
That’s largely what the current makeup of the Rangers is meant to do. Get a handful of middling players in order to hold things over until the transition to the younger guys can take place. As such, we’re sure to see Josh Jung at some point. We’ll likely see some more Sherten Apostel after he made his debut in 2020. Leody Taveras could grab the centerfield spot. Maybe a little Sam Huff action behind the plate? At the very least, it would inject some power into this lineup that is otherwise lacking in it, outside of a couple of individuals.
In any case, there are a number of intriguing young bats that could either start with Texas out of the gate, or find some time in the lineup as the season progresses. Less so with the arms, but they’ll be there too. People are likely chomping at the bit to watch Hans Crouse’s domineering presence on the mound.
Ultimately, while there isn’t the hype over the Rangers’ future as some of the upper tier farm systems (the Rangers are middle-of-the-pack by most evaluations), there is enough intrigue to at least keep a weather eye on the Rangers’ roster as the season progresses. Even if it won’t mean a single thing in terms of postseason prospects.
Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.