For the second year in a row, the Texas Rangers found themselves winning the American League West while drastically outperforming the public’s expectations for the team. After being decimated by injuries in 2015, the team limited its offseason acquisitions to Ian Desmond, instead opting to hope for rebounds from injured players like Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder and the successful promotions of prospects like Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara. That strategy worked out brilliantly for GM Jon Daniels’ team, and they were able to plug most of their holes at the trade deadline. Even with so much talent being inserted into the Rangers roster between the 2015 and 2016 playoffs, though, the team was once again eliminated by their now-rival Toronto Blue Jays. Right now the only team that looks primed to challenge the Rangers for the division is the Houston Astros (though the Seattle Mariners could sneak in as well), but the team will need to make some adjustments if they hope to get deep into the playoffs in 2017.
1. Improve the Starting Rotation
The Rangers have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Cole Hamels, but the rest of the starting rotation has been a big problem for the team over the last couple years. Yu Darvish returned in 2016 and pitched well, but he was hampered by injuries, even after a full recovery from Tommy John surgery. Having Hamels and Darvish as a one-two punch at the front of the rotation can compete with just about any team in baseball, but if Darvish can’t stay healthy all of the talent in the world hardly matters. And behind that pair, the team is in dire need of help. Martin Perez is set to return, and he was fine as a league-average starter, but the team doesn’t have any other options under contract, given that the team plans on declining their option on the enigmatic Derek Holland. In 2016, the Rangers received multiple starts from pitchers such as A.J. Griffin, Cesar Ramos, Nick Martinez, Lucas Harrell, and Kyle Lohse, so the team desperately needs to build up some depth to avoid returning to filler arms like these. A top of the rotation of Hamels-Darvish-Perez isn’t bad, but injuries to starting pitchers are inevitable, and the team needs to build a lot of depth very quickly. Unfortunately for the Rangers, that’s going to mean they’ll need to line up a trade because the free agent market does not present any appealing opportunities for a team that needs so much talent. Luckily, the Rangers have a deep enough farm system to go out and acquire the type of arms they need.
2. Resign at Least One of Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez
While the Rangers infield has been a noted source of all-around strength of the team for the last several years, the outfield has been a significantly different story. The team has seen the likes of Josh Hamilton, Delino DeShields Jr., Leonys Martin, and Ryan Rua roam the grass on a semi-regular basis, and none of them have posted the kind of production that a playoff-contending team needs. This year the team brought in each of Desmond and Gomez in separate deals, and the team needs to bring back at least one of them. Desmond started the year as the team’s starting left fielder before shifting to center, learning to play the outfield for the first time, and while both the start and end of his season was fairly abysmal, in between he was one of the better players in baseball.
Gomez’s story isn’t terribly dissimilar, except that he was absolutely horrific only during the start of his season when he was with the Astros, but shined in his brief time with the Rangers to close out the year. Each of them can capably play each of center and left field and has the possibility to bring a premium speed-power combination to the lineup, so the Rangers need to carefully examine each player and decide which one has a better chance of maintaining their success from this year going forward. The team needs to find stability in the outfield, and bringing back either of these guys to roam center or left can provide the type of player this roster needs to throw out a consistent lineup every day.
3. Find a Legitimate First Baseman
The Rangers have been trotting out Mitch Moreland to first base for the last couple of years, and he rewarded the team with a below-average offensive line in three of the past four seasons. That is simply unacceptable for a first baseman, and why the Rangers lived with that level of production for so long is a bit of a head scratcher. This offseason will present the team with an opportunity to drastically upgrade at the position, and a player like Edwin Encarnacion is a seemingly perfect fit for the Rangers. Outside of Encarnacion, free agency presents options like Brandon Moss and Mike Napoli, who are decent options as well, but increasing the level of offensive output that the team gets from the most offensive-minded position in the game could be a game-changer for a team that’s known for its slugging lineup.
4. Figure Out What to Do with Joey Gallo
Gallo has been among the team’s top prospects ever since they drafted him. Scouts have been drooling over the kid’s power for years, and when Gallo got to show off his power to fans during the Futures Game a couple of years ago, it got them scrambling to see Gallo in the big leagues, too. Gallo has now made it to the big leagues in each of the past two seasons, but his results haven’t been very enticing, and the big-league club passed over him multiple times in 2016 when they had an opportunity to find him regular playing time in the majors.
Now Daniels has said that the team wants Gallo to start 2017 in the minors, so even after debuting him two years ago in 2015, the Rangers still appear to believe that Gallo isn’t prepared for the big leagues. If the team is still so concerned about Gallo’s swing and miss problems, now seems like the ideal time to trade him. If Gallo gets to the majors again and flops, his prospect status is going to crater, and if the Rangers aren’t ready to use him in the majors, they’re not going to be getting any productivity out of him anyways. Moving him now allows the team to capitalize on a highly valuable asset while being able to pick up a piece that could help push the team to the next level, something the Rangers don’t appear to believe Gallo can help them do.
5. Convince the People of Arlington to Fund their New Stadium
Now this one isn’t necessarily on the wish list of the fans, but if you’re the people running the Rangers, you most assuredly want to convince the people of Arlington to pony up for a new stadium. We found out in May that the team planned on getting a new ballpark, and since then there’s been quite a bit of discussion about the merits of whether the team should be getting a new publicly funded home. If the Rangers’ plan succeeds, the team would get a new billion-dollar stadium, of which the people of Arlington would pay for half via a half-cent sales tax. The Rangers say they need a new stadium so that they can add on a retractable roof and provide air conditioning for their thousands of fans in attendance and for the players on the field. Arlington is known for hitting temperatures as high as 110-degrees, and there’s no doubt that anyone in the stadium would appreciate a little cool air, but should the people really have to pay for the Rangers to build a new stadium just so that they can add air conditioning? The Rangers will hope that the people of Arlington are on their side when the decision goes to a vote in the near future.