The Texas Rangers have now clinched home field advantage in the playoffs, and will play the winner of the Wild Card Game in the American League Division Series that will be kicking off next week. After playing the last month with an expanded roster that currently sports 37 active players, the coaching staff and front office will have to pick 25 players to be on the ALDS roster.
And while, the last time I talked about this, I accepted it as a given that Jurickson Profar and Nomar Mazara would be on the playoff roster, at this point, I’m not so sure. In fact, were I to guess, I’d say its more likely than not that each player is off the roster, due to roster construction issues.
Let’s start with the pitching staff. The rotation is going to be Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis and Martin Perez. In the bullpen, we know that Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Matt Bush, and Tony Barnette will make the roster. Along with those four, Keone Kela and Alex Claudio seem like near locks to be in the pen.
That leaves either one or two spots for Tanner Scheppers, Jeremy Jeffress, and Derek Holland to fight over. Normally you would say that you would go with a seven man bullpen in a playoff series, given that you have off days and your best starters going, and the extra bench piece would seem to provide you more value than an extra reliever.
However...you have to think that there is concern about how well Martin Perez and Colby Lewis will perform. Lewis is coming off an injury that sidelined him for a couple of months, Perez has been up-and-down all year, and both have been prone to blowups. It leads me to think that the Rangers may opt to take both Scheppers and Jeffress as part of an eight man pen, giving Jeff Banister the freedom and flexibility to use an early hook for Lewis or Perez if they are struggling. Barnette, Claudio and Bush can all go multiple innings, and the added pen depth would allow Banister to, say, go with Barnette in relief of Perez in the third inning if Perez is struggling with his command, use him for a couple of innings, and ultimately use five or six relievers without blowing out the pen for the next game.
So the decision on the bullpen is going to dictate whether you have four or five bench spots.
One of those bench spots goes to Robinson Chirinos, because you need a backup catcher.
One of those bench spots goes to a utility infielder, and previously, I treated it as a given that Jurickson Profar would get that roster spot, because he’s Jurickson Profar and is thought to be better than Hanser Alberto.
However...in a five game series, the utility infielder isn’t going to start a game, unless there’s an injury. Instead, the UIF is most likely to be used to pinch run, or to play third base in place of Adrian Beltre if Beltre gets lifted for a pinch runner. Alberto is a better pinch running option than Profar, and is a better defender, particularly at third base. And while Profar was initially seen as someone the team needed to carve out playing time for because he’s so productive and dynamic, he ultimately ended up having a less than impressive season, putting up a .244/.323/.346 slash line. After a hot start, where he put up a 1010 OPS in his first fourteen games, Profar has slashed a motley .202/.303/.274 line over his final 74 games, spanning 240 plate appearances.
So the bat doesn’t have much value right now, and even if it did, there’s no one in this lineup Profar would pinch hit for, meaning that your UIF should probably be the guy who gives you the best defense and baserunning off the bench. And that would be Hanser Alberto.
For similar reasons, Nomar Mazara could be on the outside looking in for the ALDS. I’ve assumed that, once Shin-Soo Choo returned, Mazara and Carlos Gomez would platoon in left field, but instead, it appears that Gomez will be playing left field against both righties and lefties.
That means for Mazara to be on the roster, he has to provide value off the bench. Mazara’s value off the bench would be as a lefthanded pinch hitter. But as I mentioned above, there’s no one, as the lineup is currently constructed, you’d have Mazara pinch hit for.
The Rangers appear likely to fill their final two or three bench spots with some combination of Ryan Rua, Jared Hoying, Delino DeShields, and Mazara. Rua gives you a platoon partner for Mitch Moreland at first base...Rua has tailed off in the second half, but Moreland has struggled as well (he has a .235/.301/.425 slash line for the season), and has just a .175/.224/.225 slash line for September. Moreland has hit lefties better than righties this season, but that’s contrary to his historical splits.
So there’s a pretty decent possibility that Rua makes the roster as a platoon partner for Moreland, or as a pinch hitter for him against a late-inning lefty. The Rangers have also stressed the importance of versatility for the playoff roster, and Rua has experience at all four corners, as well as second base. If it comes down to Rua versus Mazara, Rua would seem to have the edge.
Of course, Rua and Mazara could both be on the outside looking in if Texas decides Moreland is going to get all the playing time at first base in the ALDS. From a late inning tactical standpoint, DeShields and Hoying are both quality pinch running options, and Hoying would seem to be a prime candidate to replace Choo in right field in the late innings for defensive purposes. The Rangers could opt to keep both DeShields and Hoying on the bench, especially since DeShields is a poor defender who doesn’t provide value as a late inning defensive replacement, but is a superior baserunner to Hoying.
So...were I to guess right now, I’d say that the Rangers will go with a four man bench, consisting of Chirinos, Alberto, Rua and Hoying. That means DeShields, Mazara and Profar would be off the roster. If Rua isn’t going to platoon with Moreland, I tend to think DeShields takes his place, and if the Rangers go with a five man bench, and a seven man bullpen, my gut feeling is that DeShields, Hoying and Rua all make it.