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AL West 2020 preview: Texas Rangers lurk on fringes of contention

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Offseason moves, 60-man player pool, and season outlook

Texas Rangers v Milwaukee Brewers
It would only take a Minor miracle for Texas to be in the wild card race
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season is just two weeks away from finally starting, coronavirus pandemic willing. The offseason feels like it was years ago, so let’s remind ourselves of what the competition looks like.

The Oakland A’s will only face nine different teams in their abbreviated schedule, with two-thirds of their games coming against their four AL West rivals. We’ve already covered the Mariners and the Angels, and next up are the Rangers.

Texas Rangers

2019 record: 78-84 (finished 3rd in AL West)

Quick season review: They didn’t make the playoffs, but they weren’t terrible. Toward the end of June they were 10 games over .500, but then they fell apart in July and went 30-42 in the second half to drop out of the fringes of the wild card race.

Part of the downturn had to do with Joey Gallo and Hunter Pence, who hit their way into All-Star berths early on but then later missed big chunks of time to injuries. There were a few other good hitters, but not in the infield, which was a black hole all the way around the horn.

In the rotation, Mike Minor was an All-Star and Lance Lynn didn’t miss by much, and both earned Cy Young votes with 200+ inning, 200+ strikeout masterpieces. But the cupboard was bare after that, with nobody else stepping up and bloated ERAs from all candidates. The bullpen was mediocre and limited the blown saves, but two of their best relievers are gone — Chris Martin in a midseason trade, and Emmanuel Clase in an offseason deal.

The Rangers weren’t really supposed to contend in 2019, but they stayed relevant for half the year and finished in the vicinity of the .500 mark. They also identified a few potential keepers among their supporting cast, while watching two veteran pitchers pump their value sky-high. It could have gone even better, like a surprise postseason berth, but overall it wasn’t an awful summer.

Here’s a quick look at their offseason moves from last winter.

Hello Goodbye
Free Agency
RHP Kyle Gibson (3/$28m)
RHP Jordan Lyles (2/$16m)
LHP Joely Rodriguez (2/$6m)
C Robinson Chirinos (1/$7m)
3B Todd Frazier (1/$5m)
RHP Nick Goody (waivers)
RHP Cody Allen (minors)
RHP Luis Garcia (minors)
RHP Derek Law (minors)
RHP Juan Nicasio (minors)
C Blake Swihart (minors)
1B Greg Bird (minors)
UT Rob Refsnyder (minors)


Trades
RHP Corey Kluber (from CLE)
Free Agency
RHP Shawn Kelley (retired?)
RHP Adrian Sampson
2B Logan Forsythe (to PHI)
DH Huner Pence (to SFG)

Trades
RHP Emmanuel Clase (to CLE)
RHP Jeffrey Springs (to BOS)
OF Delino DeShields (to CLE)
OF Nomar Mazara (to CHW)

The thing they needed most was starting pitching, and they got it done. They bought low on Kluber, adding a star pedigree to the mix, and went relatively under the radar for Gibson and Lyles. After seeing them strike gold with veteran gambles on Minor and Lynn, it’s fair enough to see them try to repeat the process, and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt on the arms they picked. They also grabbed a handful of castoff relievers to audition.

They’re still locked into their expensive middle infield for a couple more years, but they made an upgrade on a corner with Frazier, and also behind the plate with Chirinos. In the outfield, Mazara wasn’t developing past mediocre and was starting to get pricey in arbitration, so they’ll move on to a new plan. Clase and DeShields were both productive names lost in the Kluber swap, but if all goes well then Texas could end up with the best player in the deal — and Clase was subsequently suspended for PEDs in May.

The Rangers didn’t land any big, splashy names this winter, but they had a quietly shrewd offseason. They addressed their major needs by making some intriguing value plays that could prove to be bargains. Oh, and one more major change: They’re moving into a new stadium this season, called Globe Life Field, a half-mile away from their former home of Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Here’s the player pool, which stands at 58 players out of the 60 maximum. Players with asterisks** are the favorites to make the Opening Day 30-man roster, in the opinion of Lone Star Ball. Players in --italics are not on the 40-man roster.

Texas Rangers 60-man pool
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Lance Lynn (R)**
Mike Minor (L)**
Corey Kluber (R)**
Kyle Gibson (R)**
Jordan Lyles (R)**
Kolby Allard (L)
Joe Palumbo (L)
Tyler Phillips (R)
--Yohander Mendez (L)


Relievers

Jose Leclerc (R)**
Jesse Chavez (R)**
Luke Farrell (R)**
Nick Goody (R)**
Taylor Hearn (L)**
Jonathan Hernandez (R)**
Ariel Jurado (R)**
Brett Martin (L)**
Rafael Montero (R)**
Edinson Volquez (R)**
Joely Rodriguez (L) (IL)
--Cody Allen (R)
--Wes Benjamin (R)
--Demarcus Evans (R)
--Luis Garcia (R)
--Ian Gibaut (R)
--Jimmy Herget (R)
--Wei-Chieh Huang (R)
--Derek Law (R)
--Juan Nicasio (R)
--Alex Speas (R)
Catchers

Robinson Chirinos (R)**
Jeff Mathis (R)**
Jose Trevino (R)**
--Nick Ciuffo (L)
--Tim Federowicz (R)
--Sam Huff (R)
--Blake Swihart (S)


Infielders

Elvis Andrus (R)**
Todd Frazier (R)**
Ronald Guzman (L)**
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (R)**
Rougned Odor (L)**
Danny Santana (S)**
Sherten Apostel (R)
Anderson Tejeda (S)
--Greg Bird (L)
--Andy Ibanez (R)
--Josh Jung (R)
--Yadiel Rivera (R)


Outfielders

Willie Calhoun (L)**
Shin-Soo Choo (L)**
Joey Gallo (L)**
Scott Heineman (R)**
Nick Solak (R)**
--Eli White (R)**
Adolis Garcia (R)
Leody Taveras (S)
--Rob Refsnyder (R)

The rotation has five established veterans, three of whom could be potential aces. That’s easily the strength of the team, which helps because the bullpen doesn’t jump off the page.

The position player contingent is loaded with familiar names, but there’s little margin for error. There’s not much in the way of youngsters who are hoping to break out (maybe Calhoun or Solak?), nor major stars to carry the load (except maybe Gallo), so all the veterans are going to have to stay strong, including a few that are into their mid/late-30s — and it would help if Andrus and Odor could get their bats back up to league-average.

Making things even tougher is that slugger Gallo and reliever Martin tested positive for coronavirus, meaning they’re away from the team indefinitely. That doesn’t yet preclude them from making it back for Opening Day, but it’s an obstacle for now.

The Rangers aren’t exactly contenders, but they’re not bottom-feeders either even though they’re basically rebuilding. If their rotation holds up then they should be at least decent, and if the rotation fully clicks and a couple hitters get hot then they’re in the class of middle-of-the-pack teams that could make surprise runs in a small-sample 60-game season. In a normal year they’d likely be fighting the Angels for third place, but they’re not pushovers and should be taken seriously.

The A’s will face the Rangers for the first time from Aug. 4-6, at home in the Coliseum. That’s Game Nos. 11-13 of the season.