A look ahead as 2018 comes to a close

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, September 28th, 2018

Jeff+Banister+Seattle+Mariners+vs+Texas+Rangers+TyUARChc-8Jl                                                                                                                                                    BY DIC HUMPHREY
DIC.HUMPHREY@YAHOO.COM

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers’ season will blissfully come
to an end this weekend in Seattle. The team is limping as they go into
the final series having lost eight of their last 10 games, and they
are 11 games under .500 just since the All-Star break.
Many may argue that the season ended perhaps as early as April
15. In any event, 2018 became a season of development instead of a
season contending for an American League playoff berth very soon after
the season began.  Injuries forced call ups of players well before the
Rangers had anticipated, but as the season comes to a close, the team
has a blueprint in place of what can be a good offensive team in the
future.  Putting the rest of it together is another question.
Burning questions that have to be addressed this winter are as follows:
MANAGER
Half of that question got answered last weekend.  It won’t be Jeff
Banister.  The Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant mentioned in an article
on Thursday that he thought the odds were a little better than 50-50
that Banister would not return.  Other beat writers began focusing on
the situation, and General Manager Jon Daniels admitted later that the
speculation led him to announce the decision earlier than he intended.
He realized the speculation would be the focus of the last 10 days of
the season, so he settled the indecision by announcing that Banister
was relieved of his duties and that Bench Coach Don Wakamatsu would be
the interim manager for the final 10 games.
Banister was gracious in his departure.  He released a statement
saying in part,
“I want to thank Rangers ownership and Jon Daniels for giving me
this opportunity.  We had some great times here, but it doesn’t last
forever.”
About Ranger fans, he said,
“I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated your support and
kind words over the last four years.”
He closed with,
“Certainly I am disappointed that I was not able to finish the
job. But this has been the experience of a lifetime.”
Daniels admitted that the blame for the poor 2018 season was more
his than Banister’s. He simply did not provide a roster to his
manager that was capable of contending for a playoff berth. In short,
Banister was not fired because of his record on the field, which
included two American League West championships in four years.  The
bottom line was that the team is in a rebuild mode, and Banister is
not the person Daniels felt was needed to lead a developing team back
into contention.
Daniels has given little insight into the qualities he will be
looking for in a new manager.  There has been a trend in recent years
for teams to hire younger, inexperienced managers.  The Yankees for
example hired Aaron Boone last off season straight out of ESPN’s
Sunday Night Baseball announcer’s booth, and had virtually no coaching
or managerial experience.  The idea is that this new breed of younger
managers is better at communicating with players. Communication
problems were at the heart of the issues with Banister.
Wakamatsu and current first base coach Steve Buechele have
expressed interest in getting the job.  Assistant General Manager
Jayce Tingler moved into the dugout as bench coach when Wakamatsu was
named interim manager.  He is also considered a candidate.  A real
dark horse candidate within the organization is AAA manager Jason
Wood.  Young players such as Joey Gallo have raved about Wood.
In his last two managerial hires, Daniels went outside the
organization.  He for sure will again be interviewing candidates from
outside the organization.  Daniels said he is in no rush to name a
manager, though he’d like to have his man in place by the end of the
World Series.
ADRIAN BELTRE
Will he return?
The Rangers say they want him back.  He has said that if he plays
next year, he wants to return to the Rangers.  He indicated that he
will talk it over with his family after the season and decide.
Players such as Elvis Andrus have stated that they want him back.
Realistically, there is a question as to whether the Rangers really do
(or should) want him back.
He is definitely a fan favorite, and the Rangers desperately need
him for a draw.  He moves up on some all-time hit list (hits, extra
base hits, home runs, RBIs) almost every series.
Moving away from Globe Life Ballpark may be popular with fans in
general, but most season ticket holders are not happy about it.
Season ticket sales were down in 2018 from 2017, and total home
attendance was down more than 450,000 fans, one of the largest
year-to-year drops in Ranger history.  Season ticket sales likely will
be down again for 2019 after this year’s last place finish.  Any kind
of a draw is wanted, and Beltre is a very popular player with the
fans.

The reality though is that Father Time is catching up with him.
Injuries are more frequent.  Late this season after he suffered
another leg injury and narrowly escaped a trip to the disabled list,
he was mostly a designated hitter seeing little action at third base.
Beltre at DH pushed Shin-Soo Choo into the outfield, and Choo is a
poor defender.
With Beltre out and DHing toward the end of the season, Jurickson
Profar essentially claimed the starting third base job.  Profar’s
defense and offense improved with the playing time.  He’ll finish the
season with some chance of being the team’s MVP this season.  If
Beltre returns, Profar loses some at bats, or gets shifted to another
position when Beltre is on the field.
The bottom line though is that Beltre has deteriorated both
offensively and defensively.
ELVIS ANDRUS
Will he return?
Andrus has the right to opt out of his contract and become a
free agent. If he doesn’t opt out this year, he has the right to do so
again next year.  Essentially his decision is to opt out now in hopes
of getting a better contract than the remaining years on his current
contract or opt in for next year at $15 million.
The consensus is that he will stay.  Andrus had some fun in
Anaheim on September 10.
“Of course I’m coming back.  I can’t miss hanging out with you.
Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News beat writer) is the reason I’m coming
back.”
If it was said in jest or maybe to be sarcastic, he probably
returns.  There are a lot of good shortstops in the game, so there are
not many teams looking for a shortstop.  Andrus spent more than two
months on the disabled list and was slow rounding into offensive form
when he returned.  That adds up to a less than expected offensive
performance.  His 2018 statistics won’t warrant a contract superior to
what he’s got.
If he does opt out, Profar is the heir apparent for the Rangers’
shortstop job.  In the end then, the Rangers do need at least one of
Beltre and Andrus to return, but just one.
LEFT-HANDEDNESS
This offense is too left-handed. Joey Gallo, Ronald Guzman,
Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Willie Calhoun all hit
left-handed.  That’s six players for four positions – both corner
outfield spots, first base and DH.  Drew Robinson and Scott Heineman
are also left-handed hitting outfielders at AAA knocking on the Major
League door.
And as noted above, if Beltre returns, he’ll end up with a lot of
DH time.  It’s a crowded picture, though the team has been looking at
Gallo in center field late this season.  The move would ease the log
jam slightly if Gallo becomes the regular center fielder.
This team cries out for an impactful trade to clear the logjam of
left-handed hitting outfielders, first basemen and DH’s.  Ideally,
Choo is the one the team would like to move.  He’s been a key
offensive player this season, making the All-Star team for the first
time, but he’s owed more than $40 million over the final two seasons
of the contract he signed after the 2013 season.  He’s also an
inferior defensive player.  That basically limits Choo’s appeal to
American League teams looking for a full time designated hitter.
There aren’t many.  Teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox have better
DH’s already.  A lot of teams prefer not to have a full time DH, and
use the spot to rotate position players through it.  Plus Choo’s
salary is a hindrance.  It’s likely that even if the Rangers pick up a
bunch of his remaining salary, Choo won’t bring much return in a
trade.
Moving Odor doesn’t do anything to ease the logjam, as he is a
second baseman, not an outfielder/DH.  Calhoun and Guzman probably
won’t bring much in return.  The Rangers would be selling low to move
either.  That leaves Gallo and Mazara as the trade chips that would
bring something worthwhile.  It would be a shame to lose either.  They
have been good the last two seasons, and appear to have more
improvement ahead.  The guess is that if it comes down to trading one
of these two players, it will be Mazara that goes and Gallo that
stays.  But it’s just a guess.
PITCHING
This is the biggest question.  Daniels over the years has been
able to tack together a good bullpen.  He blends journeymen veterans
with hard throwing youngsters, and ultimately it works.  This year
alone, he had four relief pitchers that were good enough to interest
other teams around the trade deadline – Jesse Chavez, Keone Kela, Jake
Diekman and Cory Gearin.  He’s got the remarkable Jose Leclerc to be
the closer.  He can likely build around Leclerc and come up with at
least a decent bullpen next season.
The question then is the starting rotation.  Mike Minor was shut
down this week with a 12-8 record and 4.18 ERA.  He’s the only pitcher
assured of a place in next year’s rotation.  The Rangers do have a lot
of salary money coming off the books.  Mike Moore made $9,000,000 this
year, and the Rangers won’t be picking up his 2019 option.  Beltre
made $18 million, so that’s gone if Beltre retires.  This year’s
payroll was significantly less than last year’s, so there should be
the financial muscle to reel in a quality free agent starting pitcher.
Assuming the Rangers can either, through trade or free agency,
obtain two starting pitchers better than Minor, this team could be
competitive next season.  It’s questionable as to whether ownership
will step up to the plate to land such players.
NOTABLE
– Joey Gallo poled his 40th home run this week in Anaheim to
reach 40 for the second consecutive year.  Gallo is only the fourth
Ranger to put back-to-back 40 home run seasons together.  Juan
Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez are the other three.
Oakland’s Khris Davis (46) and Boston’s J. D, Martinez (41) are the
only two American League hitters with more.  Gallo is the ninth player
all time to hit 40 home runs in two seasons before his age 25 playing
year.  Gallo has also struck out 200 times to re-set the Ranger team
record.
– Jurickson Profar hit his 20th home run this week, becoming the
first Ranger switch hitter since Milton Bradley in 2008 to blast 20
bombs.  He has six home runs this month, the most in any month of his
career.  Profar has reached career highs in home runs, RBIs, doubles
and walks.
– The Rangers’ AAA minor league affiliate will be in Nashville
for the next four seasons.  Their agreement with Round Rock expired
after this season, and Nolan Ryan heads up Round Rock’s ownership.
With Ryan as a consultant and his son Reid as President of the Houston
Astros, they naturally shifted the affiliation to Houston.  There
were three AAA affiliates available – San Antonio and Fresno,
California in addition to Nashville.  The Rangers’ best choice was
Nashville.  San Antonio has closer proximity, a definite plus, but
their facilities are sub-par, and the city showed no inclination to
improve them.  Fresno is viewed as purgatory for a number of reasons.
That left Nashville with superior facilities and reasonable access.
Nashville chose the Rangers over the Washington Nationals for their
Major League affiliation.

Tags

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>