Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training in Surprise, Arizona, on February 14, 2018 — just 13 days away. Weird as it seems, we are less than two weeks away from camp, and it still feels like the offseason hasn’t really started yet.
It isn’t as if the Rangers haven’t made any moves at all — really, they’ve been one of the more active teams this offseason, overall. Its just that all of the Rangers’ significant moves this offseason occurred in a span of about two-and-a-half weeks, and none of those significant moves seem, well, THAT significant.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Rangers have added 7 players to the 40 man roster via free agency or trades this offseason. Two of those were minor moves around Thanksgiving — acquiring Ronald Herrera in a trade from the Yankees and claiming Juan Centeno on waivers from the Astros.
The remaining five moves are the “big” moves of the offseason for the team so far -- signing Doug Fister on November 28, re-signing Tony Barnette (who had become a free agent when his option was declined by the team) on December 4, signing Mike Minor on December 6, and then signing Chris Martin and trading for Matt Moore on December 15. That’s likely 60% of the Opening Day rotation and 25% of the Opening Day bullpen that was acquired in that brief span.
But those moves seemed designed to set the stage for something bigger, more significant. They filled the team’s needs in the rotation and the bullpen, but did so while using a fraction of the money the team was expected to have available to spend this offseason, leading us to believe that more was coming.
And so far...nothing. Nothing on the major league level, anyway. No trades, no major league free agents, not even any roster-churning waiver claims like we normally see from the Rangers every offseason. Just a dozen or so guys signed to minor league deals.
Of course, it isn’t just the Rangers who are having a quiet offseason...the majority of the top free agents are still unsigned. The top four pitchers in the free agent market -- Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn -- remain unsigned. J.D. Martinez is unsigned. Eric Hosmer is unsigned. Mike Moustakas is unsigned. Lorenzo Cain went off the board a few days ago, and it was thought that might trigger some movement, but...nope, not yet.
And with the big names still out there, its slowed down movement with the second- and third-tier free agents — the Jaime Garcias, the Carlos Gomezes, the Jarrod Dysons, the Jason Vargases. The market for relief pitchers has been brisk, but for everyone else, nothing has been happening.
Texas’s payroll obligations for 2018 are currently around $130 million, which means that it is around $35 million less than the 2017 Opening Day payroll, and $28 million less than 2016. Jon Daniels has said payroll was expected to go down to be closer to the 2016 level for the 2018 season, but this is dramatically lower than either year. And while the Rangers are understandably reluctant to commit long-term to players on free agent deals, given that they are trying to keep themselves in a posture where they can make moves a few years down the line, it still seems like there would be, or should be, additional moves that could be made at some point.
But then you could say that about just about every team in MLB right now, and other than the Milwaukee Brewers, no one is being particularly aggressive. Maybe it is collusion, maybe it is the idea of splashing into the 2019 free agent class, or maybe it i a by-product of all these young, stat-friendly g.m.s embracing what we have been saying for a long time -- that expensive, long-term free agent deals rarely work out — and acting accordingly.
Whatever the reason, it is February, most of the really good free agents are still free agents, and it feels like spring training is coming up on us without us having had a real offseason the past few months. And while I’m ready for there to be some baseball again, it feels like there’s something of a malaise hanging over things right now, a result of the least-fun MLB offseason in memory.