by Dan M | Posted on Friday, November 25th, 2016


BY:  Dic Humphrey

The off season is almost a month old and Thanksgiving is in the rear view mirror.  MLB’s Winter Meetings are about two weeks away.  It’s been a slow moving trade and free agent market so far, but the time has come for the off season re-making of rosters to get serious.

The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the players and owners expires at the end of November.  It has been assumed that a new agreement would be in place easily before it expired.  However last week, the specter of discord bubbled to the surface.  The negotiations have been on the whole very private, but it is generally believed that the sticking point is the owners’ insistence for a draft of international players. 

There are a couple of dynamics at work here.  Former Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Michael Weiner died since the last agreement.  He was credited for bringing sanity and cooperation to the process.  There have been no work stoppages since the strike in August of 1994 that spilled over into the 1995 season.  Former player Tony Clark was his top assistant and took over as director, such that this is Clark’s first negotiation as the head man.  Perhaps the owners are putting his feet to the fire.  Perhaps Clark feels the need to assert himself in his new position.  The bottom line is that there was some “saber rattling” last week.

Late in the week, the word surfaced that the sides had a path to reach an agreement.  Even before this news, there was little chance that a serious work stoppage would occur.  First and foremost, the industry is economically healthy.  Owners are making money.  Players are getting paid well.  Surely both sides have enough sense not to kill the golden goose by putting a black eye on the industry with a work stoppage.

Meanwhile in Arlington, the Rangers made their first free agent signing – Andrew Cashner.  Cashner is a right handed pitcher that played at TCU.  He was once a highly regarded pitching prospect with a great arm, but his career has been sidetracked with injuries.  The Rangers signed him to a one year deal at $10 million.

Cashner projects at this point to be the fourth or fifth starter in the rotation.  He was 5-11 with a 5.25 ERA last season pitching for San Diego and Miami.  He essentially replaces Derek Holland.  The team turned down a one year option at $9.5 million ($11 million salary with a $1.5 million buyout if not exercised for a net of $9.5 million) on Holland for 2017.  Holland was 7-9, 4.95 last year.   

Cashner is clearly a project and a gamble.  He may not even make the rotation and be a bust, but he is perceived to have tremendous upside if he turns things around from his surgery. 

Holland certainly has never reached the heights of being the elite starting pitcher the Rangers thought when he rose through their minor league system.  He has pitched great games, such as game four of the 2011 World Series, which is generally considered to be the best pitched game in Ranger post season history. 

Those good games tantalized fans as to what could be with Holland, but he’s never achieved the consistency to be great.  He’s been slowed by injuries over the past three seasons.  His velocity was down early this year, but improved as the season progressed.  He’ll certainly get signed somewhere and could do extremely well.  At this point though, he’s not on Jeff Banister’s good side and needs a change of scenery.

There are some that believe the Rangers will be one of the busiest teams this off season despite the slow start.  On one hand they almost have to be.  With Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, and Mitch Moreland, the numbers one, two, three and six hitters in the batting order, potentially all gone in free agency; there is considerable need for offensive rebuilding.

Center field is the primary position the Rangers need to fill.  Desmond is an enigma.  He was sub-par overall defensively in center and is better suited to play a corner outfield position.  On the other hand, he has the speed and physical talent to be a good center fielder and last year was his first to play outfield.  It’s not unreasonable to expect material improvement.

Of more concern though is his offense.  He was clearly the Rangers’ MVP of the first half of the season and richly deserving of making the All-Star team.  However, the offense fell off considerably in the second half, most notably in the area of his power. 

There’s a fear that the first half was an aberration; that he simply isn’t that good.  However, he’s likely to be able to cash in his overall season (.285, 22 home runs, 86 RBIs and 21 stolen bases) for a handsome contract.  He’s been speculated to be in the four years, $60 million range.  The Rangers may or may not be players in that neighborhood, but they are almost certainly not players if the bidding goes to five or more years.

Gomez was originally thought to be a more likely center field option.  He’s a tremendous athlete with more center field experience than Desmond, and it was thought he would be less expensive.  However, his agent is Scott Boras and they have made it known that they are looking for a five year deal.

It’s entirely possible that the Rangers re-sign neither Desmond nor Gomez and look elsewhere for a center fielder.  Delino DeShields, Jr. is also still in the system and a possibility, though he regressed in 2016.

There is tremendous interest in Beltran.  He turns 40 shortly after next season begins so is probably looking at a one or two year deal.  He hit .295 with 29 home runs last season and is still mobile enough to play the outfield.  He is not just a DH.  The Yankees, Red Sox and Astros are thought to be the hottest pursuers, with Texas still a possibility.  The probability is that Beltran signs elsewhere.

All is quiet on the Western front in regards to Mitch Moreland.  No rumors on teams that might be interested.  He’s likely gone too, unless there proves to be no market for Moreland and the Rangers can sign him cheap.   

One of the most aggressive teams so far this off season is the division rival Houston Astros.  Houston was the popular pick to win the division last year with an outstanding young player nucleus.  They fizzled in 2016, but are taking steps to assure that it doesn’t happen again.  So far, they have traded for catcher Russell Martin, a clear upgrade.  They have also signed Josh Reddick to a four year $52 million contract.  Houston GM Jeff Luhnow is pleased to add both to the batting order but has indicated that he is still looking for another bat.

The Astros are solid with starters Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner, and Lance McCullers.  They can fill out their rotation with Collin McHugh, Mike Fiers, and the very promising Joe Musgrove.  They have also added veteran starter Charlie Morton for depth. 

One thing the team was missing last year was veteran leadership.  These position player additions will help in that area as well as to their firepower.  The Astros will likely be the favorite to win the division this season. 

The bottom line is that with Thanksgiving out of the way and the winter meetings on the horizon, the free agent and trade markets are about to get very busy, and the Texas Rangers have a lot to do.     

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  1. Karl Koenig says:

    Dic, I loved this early summary. Wouldn’t disagree with a bit; only hope a couple of those players you feel won’t return, WILL, as I think they are important, team-minded guys. (e.g. Moreland) Thanks for the outlook….Karl

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