Rangers finishing up first full week

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Chris+Woodward+Spring+Training+021319

BY DIC HUMPHREY
DHUMPHREY24@GMAIL.COM
Member United States Basketball Writers Association

The free agent log jam may have finally cleared up this week as
Manny Machado agreed to a 10 year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres. He has the right to opt out of the contract after five years, and none of the money is deferred.  It is the largest free agent contract in baseball history, a feat that is expected to last for just a few days. Bryce Harper has jockeyed contract offers delaying until Machado signed, so that he could have the honor of receiving the largest free agent contract.  He is rumored to be close to signing now that the mark of $300 million has been set.
It’s been a slow moving market this off season for free agents.

The market usually goes top down. Once the top players sign, the market is set for lesser players. Top starting pitchers in this market signed early starting with Patrick Corbin going to the Nationals. Once he signed, others fell in place. The only notable starting pitcher remaining is Dallas Keuchel, formerly of the Houston Astros. He won the Cy Young Award in 2015, but hasn’t been the same since and did not receive a good reception for his desire of a nine digit contract.

There were a notable number of free agent relievers, and the smart ones got serious quickly once solid offers got made.  The only big name reliever remaining on the market is closer Craig Kimbrel. He, like Keuchel, has priced himself out of reach. He’s said to have been looking for the first $100 million contract given to a reliever. It’s obvious that it won’t happen, such that Kimbrel is now deciding whether to accept a long term contract for a lesser amount or take a one year deal and try the free agent market again next off season.

The slow moving market has caused dismay among players.  Words like “collusion” are thrown around to account for so many unsigned free agents even as spring training camps have opened. Justin Verlander claims the system is broken.  However, the players should look no farther than themselves and their agents for assessing blame. A number of players were delusional about their value. Most of the top free agents still unsigned are Scott Boras’s clients. His norm is to drag the negotiations out to try to maximize the money.  Harper was offered a 10-year, $300 million contract from the Nationals as the 2018 season drew to a close.  Around Christmas, the Nationals and the Harper camp had more lengthy discussions in which the Nats supposedly increased the offer substantially.  There is no evidence that Harper ever even made a serious counter to these offers, and thus he was unsigned when training camps opened.

The bottom line is that the analytics that have made arbitration so lucrative for players are now providing the evidence to teams that long term contracts to players in their 30’s are not good deals. The Texas Rangers haven’t been players at the top end of the free agent market this off season.  They are looking for a return to contending for the playoffs by 2021 (or maybe later) and aren’t ready to get tied down to a big dollar contract until (supposedly) they are closer to having a contending team.

On the field, the Rangers are finishing their first week of full team workouts and will begin playing games this weekend.  Last Monday, new manager Chris Woodward addressed the team at the first full squad workout.  The tone was low-key; unlike the hard-nosed grind it out message of his predecessor Jeff Banister.  Woodward’s remarks lasted 15-20 minutes.  Since accepting the job, Woodward has conducted numerous get togethers with players in small groups and individually, so there were no surprises in last Monday’s talk.

The starting rotation is essentially set to start the season. Mike Minor, the only starter in the projected rotation that pitched for Texas last season, has been unofficially tabbed as the opening day starter.  Lance Lynn, who made 31 appearances last season for Minnesota and New York, is penciled in for game two.  The Rangers
however plan to go slow in working the three pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery – Shelby Miller, Edinson Volquez and Drew Smyly. None of these three are scheduled to pitch in exhibition games yet.
‘We need to take care of these arms,” Woodward told MLB.com’s T. R.
Sullivan.  “There is no need to rush into this.”

That will provide the opportunity for younger pitchers to make an impression.  Ariel Jurado and Yohander Mendez, who combined for 20 appearances (13 of which were starts) for the Rangers last year, are two in particular that will get an early opportunity.  Jurado is the starter this Saturday in the Rangers’ opening spring game against Kansas City, and Mendez is scheduled to start this Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The bullpen has Jose Leclerc as the closer and four veterans. That leaves a host of young arms for two or possibly three spots in the pen, depending on whether the Rangers go with 12 or 13 pitchers to start the season.  Texas has three off days in the first two weeks, so may start with just 12 pitchers.

Asdrubal Cabrera is slated to be the third baseman at this point. He has mainly played second base and shortstop in his 12 year career. Consequently, he will be held out of the early spring games to work with infield coach Tony Beasley at third base. As for the rest of the infield, the biggest competition is between Patrick Wisdom and Matt Davidson for the back-up corner infielder. Both can play first and third base, though Wisdom is primarily a third baseman, while Davidson is primarily a first baseman. Both are right-handed hitters, but Davidson has the edge in Major League experience. He hit 46 home runs over the past two seasons.  Davidson
is also seriously working to add “relief pitcher” to his capabilities. It’s possible that both make the team.

There’s plenty of competition for outfield jobs.  It’s assumed that Joey Gallo, Delino DeShields and Nomar Mazara will be the starters from left around to right field.  However, Willie Calhoun is given a good chance to make the team.  He’s the top prospect the Rangers received from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish 2017 trade.  He is perceived as a top hitting prospect with defensive liabilities. However, moving Gallo to center field would open left field for Calhoun.  The Rangers are apparently open to Gallo being the center fielder.  He’s a good enough athlete to handle it, and he has a better arm than DeShields. The super speedy DeShields is facing more competition than just Gallo in center.  Last week, the Rangers signed journeyman outfielder Ben Revere, who has primarily been a center fielder in his eight year career.  Revere was signed to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training with the big club.  He is highly regarded defensively.  Also veteran Hunter Pence is in camp.  He’s slowed at this point by a shoulder injury, but he can figure in the Rangers’ outfield picture too.  He has a good chance to make the team.  His veteran presence could be valuable to the Rangers, and he’s a right-handed batter in a lineup with too many left-handed hitters. Shin-Soo Choo is also an outfield option.  He is primarily the Rangers’ designated hitter, but he will see some action in the field. (He played 59 games in the outfield last year.) Carlos Tocci is also in camp. He was on last year’s roster as a Rule 5 draft selection, but is expected to start the season in AAA.  He is a definite center field candidate in the Rangers’ future.

At this point, the Rangers look prepared to open the season with Jeff Mathis and Isiah Kiner-Felafa at catcher.  Realistically, it’s difficult to imagine that the team will get more than 130 starts from this pair, so the Rangers will need depth at the position later in the season. However, no matter how set the roster may look in most areas, there are almost always surprises that make the opening day roster. Injuries and young players making a positive showing in spring training can change the outlook.  Expect a surprise or two for the March 28 season opening game.
NOTABLE:
• The Rangers have shown interest in signing Joey Gallo and Nomar
Mazara to long term contracts.  Jose Leclerc is also a candidate for a
contract extension.  The Rangers generally have wanted to sign young
core players to contracts that cover the arbitration eligible years,
and one or two free agent years thereafter.  Players in this situation
are offered the opportunity to nail down financial security for the
rest of their lives in return for possibly giving up greater earnings
through free agency.  Rougned Odor is a prime example.  He signed a
six year, $49.5 million contract that runs through the 2024 season.
He may feel underpaid late in the contract, but $50 million is a lot
of security.

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