A new stadium, new ace, and new hopes. There’s fresh air surrounding the previously stale Texas Rangers club for the first time in years.
However, for what? They do have some solid things going for them, but as it stands right now, I do not see this team as a true contender at this point.
Joey Gallo is, quite honestly, one of my favorite players in baseball. He was, prior to his injury, on his way to an MVP-level campaign in 2019, with an OPS of .986 in a little under half a season. On pace for a 7.6 fWAR season over a full 162 last year, Gallo is the main cog in a Rangers lineup relatively devoid of sidekicks.
Nick Solak, acquired for Peter Fairbanks last season, is one of baseball’s most exciting prospects. The likely everyday center fielder for the Rangers, Solak is graded at a 50 future value by Fangraphs, with at least a 50 grade in each of the five tools. He’s raked at pretty much every spot in the minor leagues, so it’s fair to assume he is going to be a very good player for Texas this season.
Shin-Soo Choo has been a steady force on top of the Rangers lineup, albeit unspectacular. Entering the final year of his unspectacular contract, Choo has been above 100 wRC+ every year since 2007. Choo OPSed .826 last year, his age 36 season. It’s tough to predict the production of a 37 year-old, but it’s fair to assume he won’t completely fall off a cliff.
Danny Santana, Texas’s resident Swiss army knife, broke out last year. He’s incredibly valuable, but for a team with a potentially better version of Santana in Nick Solak, his talents are somewhat wasted. Elvis Andrus has been good for a long time, but his bat has really started to fall off a cliff the past couple years. He still has a pretty good love, but he’s now a bottom of the order guy. Rougned Odor is much like Andrus, in which he doesn’t have a bat but still has a decent glove. He should be batting towards the bottom of the order.
Todd Frazier makes his way to Arlington after a two year stint with the Mets. He’s another guy that, although unspectacular, definitely isn’t going to lose you games at the hot corner. There were reports he could move to first base, but until they can replace him at third base, that isn’t going to happen.
Robinson Chirinos returns as catcher after his one year hiatus in Houston, one in which he came close to replicating his spectacular 2017 campaign. Much like a lot of this Texas roster, and the rosters of a lot of the middling teams in this league, he’s solid but unspectacular behind the plate. Jeff Mathis, perhaps the worst hitter in the history of the sport, backs him up. Mathis works very well with pitchers, but he wasn’t even good defensively last year, so anything above a replacement level should be considered an absolutely massive win for the Rangers.
Ronald Guzman is the weakest player in the starting nine for the Rangers, having not hit at all in last year, his rookie campaign. That being said, look for an improvement from a once relatively touted prospect whose hit tools are better than his production thus far in his short career.
None of their depth really leaps off the page. Greg Bird and Blake Swihart are the two notable NRIs in camp with Texas, but the chances of them taking roster spots from either Isaiah Kiner-Falefa or Scott Heineman are rather unlikely. Those two are likely fighting for the third final bench spot along with Matt Duffy.
If this were last year, I would have laughed in the face of what I would have considered to be a farce of a “major league” rotation. Needless to say, Lance Lynn and Mike Minor very much proved me wrong.
Minor was legitimately a Cy Young candidate last season, one which saw him pitch to a 6.4 RA9-WAR and a 3.59 ERA. It’s impossible that he does this again next year, as his xFIP- was an even 100 in 2019, but he is a very solid top-of-the-rotation starter for a team not quite in playoff contention.
Lance Lynn was just as good, but at a much more sustainable clip. He pitched to a 6.1 RA9-WAR and 3.67 ERA, but at an 84 xFIP-, which is 16% above average, and 73 ERA-, which is 27% above average. Lynn should be the Rangers’ opening day starter, but he will more than likely not be. Why?
Because of Corey Kluber. The former Indians Ace and 2x Cy Young award winner was traded to Arlington this offseason for a package consisting of Delino Deshields, Jr. and Emmanuel Clase. Kluber had a ton of trouble staying healthy last season, only pitching in seven games. He wasn’t good in those seven starts, but there’s nothing to suggest that’s anything close to indicative of his future successes. If he’s healthy this year, he’s going to be an elite-level pitcher again in 2020.
Kyle Gibson, who signed a multi-year pact after a couple of solid seasons in Minnesota, holds down the fort as Texas’s four starter, with Jordan Lyles as the five. While it’s an understatement to say that I’m not the biggest fan of Jordan Lyles, you can absolutely do worse. This rotation is undoubtedly the best part of this roster and should lead them to a lot of their victories this year.
Their bullpen is verrrrrry unspectacular. Emmanuel Clase would be their best arm here, but he is now in Cleveland. Jose Leclerc still has nasty stuff, and if he learns to harness it, which he hasn’t done so far in their career, he is going to be a good back end guy. Outside of him though, they are relying on a lot of mediocirty in the form of Jesse Chavez, Rafael Montero, Luke Farrell, and Cody Allen to get them through games. That’s an area of major concern.
I like this rotation a lot. The rest of their roster? Not so much. This is an unspectacular lineup with one star player and an unspectacular bullpen with one potential good reliever. That’s a recipe for mediocrity, which is exactly what the Rangers will be.
Projected Divisional Finish (AL West):
Projected Opening Day Lineup and Rotation (Fangraphs 2020 fWAR Projections for each player in parentheses):
Shin-Soo Choo, DH (1.2)
Nick Solak, CF (1.8)
Joey Gallo, RF (2.4)
Todd Frazier, 3B (1.3)
Danny Santana, LF (1.4)
Elvis Andrus, SS (1.2)
Rougned Odor, 2B (1.0)
Robinson Chirinos, C (1.5)
Ronald Guzman, 1B (0.2)
Corey Kluber (3.1)
Lance Lynn (3.6)
Mike Minor (3.0)
Kyle Gibson (1.5)
Jordan Lyles (1.1)