Over at Fangraphs, Eric Longenhagen has a write-up on the Texas Rangers’ signing of pitcher Kohei Arihara, the 28 year old righthanded pitcher who is coming to the United States from the Nippon Ham Fighters of the NPB this year on a 2 year deal that will cost the Rangers (including the posting fee) around $7 million.
Longenhagen’s take on Arihara is about what you would expect under the circumstances — inexpensive second division back-end starter without a real good fastball but whose large number of pitches and ability to command them allows him to have success. There’s not much in the way of upside — he might be a 2-3 win guy if everything goes right rather than a 1-2 win guy — but the financial commitment is small and he fills a role.
Separate from Arihara, something that jumped out at me was this comment from Longenhagen:
The move continued an active Texas offseason and streak of curious, perhaps antithetical acquisitions made by a Rangers club that seems to have one foot in rebuilding and and the other in competing
To me, the Rangers’ moves this offseason have all been consistent with, and in line with, rebuilding. The disconnect seems to be that sometimes conflate rebuilding with tanking, or have the mindset that you aren’t really rebuilding if you aren’t actively tanking.
The Rangers aren’t tanking — that much is clear. They aren’t stripping it down and trying to lose as many games as possible in 2021 in an effort to get a high draft pick.
What the Rangers are doing, however, is prioritizing moves that focus on the medium- and long-term, rather than winning in 2021. Nate Lowe and Dane Dunning are guys who have been in the major leagues, and will most likely start 2021 in the majors, but they also have a full six years of team control remaining, and are guys acquired more for the future than for 2021. David Dahl was signed as a free agent, and he has a lot of major league time, but he also has three years of team control remaining.
Those are not “win now” moves. Now, they are moves that suggest that this is not a five year rebuild — we generally think of teams as focusing on either a one year, three year or five year time horizon, and the Rangers appear to be gearing towards that three year time frame right now. But I don’t agree that it is inconsistent with, or contrary to, a rebuilding plan.
The same is true with signing Arihara. Rebuilding or not, the Rangers need pitchers who can give them innings in 2021 — the rotation as it stands now is Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles, Kohei Arihara, Dane Dunning, and someone else to be determined. Dunning isn’t exactly a proven commodity, Lyles was terrible last year and has a shaky track record, and while the Rangers have a bevy of interesting arms in the upper minors, they are generally guys who aren’t ready to handle a 180 inning workload even if they do show themselves ready to be in the major leagues (which is an open question).
Chris Woodward talked recently about being creative and looking at possibilities like having a “starter” who may go through the lineup just once or maybe twice, or pairing pitchers in multi-inning outings the way Kyle Cody and John King were used down the stretch in 2020. I expect to see the Rangers utilize those sorts of variations in 2021, given the options the Rangers have available.
But even doing that, the Rangers still needed someone for the starting rotation. Realistically, they probably would be best served finding someone else along with Arihara who can be in the major league rotation, given the state of the roster. We know all too well how quickly a rotation can fall apart, and how pitchers can end up being thrown in the deep end by necessity before they are ready. Putting guys in place so that’s not necessary is a good thing.