The Texas Rangers’ 2020 season is basically over, with 20 games remaining, during which the team will essentially be taking a look at young players who are vying for job opportunities in 2021.
What would a 2021 lineup made up solely of internal options look like?
Here’s a possibility:
C — Jose Trevino
1B — Ronald Guzman
2B — Nick Solak
SS — Anderson Tejeda
3B — Isiah Kiner-Falefa
LF — Eli White
CF — Leody Taveras
RF — Joey Gallo
DH — Willie Calhoun
This isn’t what the lineup is likely to look like come Opening Day, 2021. You note I’ve omitted Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus from this lineup. My guess is that if those two are here on Opening Day, they’d be in the starting lineup. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Odor is back next year, at no small part due to the fact that all three of the non-1B infielders listed there can play 2B, and thus there are other options available. I do think Elvis returns, and I think he is at shortstop in 2021 — Tejeda realistically probably isn’t ready yet for a regular major league gig — but if you wanted to get crazy with it, you could go this way.
Also not listed here are Scott Heineman, who is still on the 40 man roster and would seem to be a platoon option at first base or an outfield spot, and Danny Santana, who is arbitration-eligible this offseason, though he could also be a non-tender candidate.
There’s also Andy Ibanez, whose name has been brought up as someone who could get a look this season, though he’s something of a poor man’s Nick Solak, lacking a defensive position he’s good at, while not quite having the bat Solak does to make up for it. Sherten Apostel is on the 40 man roster as well, of course, and Sam Huff will be added this offseason, though neither Apostel nor Huff seems likely to be in the mix to start 2021.
There are also guys like Josh Jung, Justin Foscue, Steele Walker and Davis Wendzel who could force themselves into the discussion for next spring, but they aren’t going to be on the 40 man and are probably still a little ways away.
In looking at that group, there are five players who seem to have jobs pretty well nailed down, assuming they are still with the Rangers (and healthy) come Opening Day 2021 — Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun, Jose Trevino, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Nick Solak.
Leody Taveras is clearly ready defensively, and has held his own with the bat in his limited audition this year. I don’t know if he’s truly “ready” to be the team’s center fielder next year, but he’s shown enough that, unless he collapses over the final three weeks, he would seem to have the inside track for the job. And as I noted above, I think its a safe bet that Elvis Andrus is around and starting in the infield next year, though that’s not a given.
Ronald Guzman had a horrible spring training and an awful summer camp, was sent to the Alternate Training Site for a while, and then has hit since coming back up. I have no idea what to think about him. You can say the same thing about him as you can about Kiner-Falefa, Trevino and Leody...his defense is good enough that he doesn’t have to hit a ton, relative to his position, to be a viable starter.
The question is whether you’re willing to give Guzman the chance to show he can hit enough at the major league level. He’s had chances before this season and hasn’t done it. He’s hit well since returning to the lineup this year, but again, its a tiny sample size. What you do with the first base situation probably depends on what your goal is for 2021. Are you in full-fledged rebuild mode? If so, go ahead and run him out there, maybe in a platoon with Scott Heineman, maybe just playing every day, and give him one last shot to sink or swing.
Scott Heineman and Eli White are kind of in the same boat, guys who probably don’t profile as starters, but who could maybe contribute off the bench. White probably has an edge over Heineman because he’s the better defensive outfielder, can also play the infield, and has better speed, though Heineman is probably the better hitter. One or both of them will presumably be around getting at bats next year.
Looking at this, the Rangers have options if they choose to go after a free agent position player this offseason. I’ve mentioned George Springer as an ideal target, as he is a righty impact bat who can play any of the three outfield positions. That presumes the Rangers are willing to spend money and are trying to win in the near future, however, which doesn’t seem as likely right now as it did a month ago.
But the Rangers are in a position where if there is a position player on the market that they like that plays a certain position, there’s not someone currently penciled in that spot that is someone you definitely want in the big leagues who can’t be moved to another spot, except for catcher. And even then, if J.T. Realmuto somehow fell in their laps (unlikely — see the final sentence in the previous paragraph), its not like Trevino couldn’t back him up. Catcher is the one position where they are definitely going to have to get someone — Sam Huff likely isn’t ready, and isn’t going to be on the Opening Day roster as a backup for that matter — but that’s a position where they likely get one of those veterans who floats around from team to team every year on a one year deal to play 50 games.
Looking at the rotation, we have two veteran pitchers we know, barring injury,* will be back next year — Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. Both are under contract, and neither has performed well enough for the Rangers to be in a position to move them for value this offseason. While Lyles could theoretically end up moving to the bullpen in 2021, I would expect him to be in the rotation at this point, so that is two rotation spots set.
* For all the pitchers, just assume every reference implicitly includes “barring injury”.
Lance Lynn is still a Ranger. You might have heard about that. I’m not sure. The fact he wasn’t dealt at the trade deadline has kind of slid under the radar.* He could be dealt this offseason. It wouldn’t be surprised if he was. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t. Jon Daniels has mentioned exploring a contract extension with him. Jon Daniels has mentioned exploring the trade market for him this offseason. So he could be here or could not be here in the rotation in 2021.
* This is a joke.
There is also Corey Kluber. The Rangers hold an $18 million team option on Kluber for 2021. The consensus from the beat guys is that the team is not likely to exercise that, particularly given the current belt-tightening that is going on with payroll that has been previously mentioned. If it is not exercised, Kluber becomes a free agent.
That being said...there are other factors at play here. The Rangers reportedly really liked what they saw from Kluber this spring and in summer camp. They traded assets to get him, and while the return for Cleveland has not been great so far (Delino DeShields has slashed .271/.338/.288 in 20 games, and is a non-tender candidate this offseason, while Emmanuel Clase will not pitch this year due to a PED suspension), there’s going to be a desire to have something to show for the trade other than one inning of work. The beats have suggested that the team will talk to Kluber about a one year deal with incentives in lieu of exercising the option.
So Texas will have anywhere from one (if they bring back Kluber and Lynn) to three (if they bring back neither of them) rotation spots to fill internally. Kolby Allard and Kyle Cody are currently in the rotation, though neither seems like an ideal choice to simply hand a rotation spot to for 2021. Allard has had issues with the consistency of his command, and with his stuff, he needs solid command in order to have success as a starter. Cody, meanwhile, missed virtually all of 2018 and 2019, and is likely to be limited in his innings in 2021.
The Rangers also have Joe Palumbo, who has the stuff to be a quality starting pitcher, but who has not been able to stay on the mound or harness his command (the latter likely being impacted by the former). He’s not expected to pitch again this year, so after throwing just 13.2 IP in 2017, 45.1 IP in 2018, and 80.2 IP in 2019, he has just 2.1 IP in 2020. I expect he will get a look as a starter again next spring, but its looking more likely he will end up in the bullpen.
Other options currently on the 40 man roster are John King, Tyler Phillips, Brock Burke, and maybe Wes Benjamin. Burke’s future is in question due to shoulder surgery that has cost him all of 2020, and as a result isn’t someone you are expecting to contribute in 2021. Benjamin seems more like a relief arm or swingman, but he could surprise. Phillips has been working at the Alternate Training Site but hasn’t been mentioned as a potential call-up this year and likely needs another season in the minors under his belt. King has been called up and just made his major league debut, but he also is likely going to be subject to innings limitations in 2021, and probably needs more time.
Among guys who are Rule 5 eligible this offseason but haven’t been added, Yerry Rodriguez seems likely to be added to the 40 man roster, but is not someone you would expect to see in the majors in the first half of 2021. Jake Latz, recently added to the Alternate Training Site, is also a potential addition to the 40 man, but like King, he has innings limits he’s likely facing, and is also most likely simply not ready. Jason Bahr is also likely to be added, and could sneak into the mix, though again, he’s not someone you’d expect to be a candidate for the Opening Day roster.
One other potential internal rotation option to keep in mind is Jerad Eickhoff. The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal, and he was on their taxi squad for the recent road trip. The 30 year old righthander has not been added to the 40 man roster as of yet, but could be added later this year to get him on the active roster, or during the five day window before minor leaguers become free agents. Because Eickhoff has 4+ years of service time, he’s still under team control and arbitration-eligible. Eickhoff had a solid run for the Philadelphia Phillies for a time before injuries slowed him. The Rangers could opt to purchase his contract and keep him on the 40 man roster through November to see how things shake out with Lynn and Kluber, knowing that they can non-tender him in early December if they decide he’s not needed, or keep him for what would likely be a relatively inexpensive salary in arbitration (my WAG is $1.5-2 million) as cheap rotation depth.
Moving on to the bullpen, that is one area where the Rangers have a lot of guys they can choose from. An 8 man 2021 bullpen just from internal options would look something like this:
The Rangers also have guys on the 40 man bubble who would be candidates if they survive the offseason 40 man purge in Luke Farrell, Nick Goody, Jimmy Herget, and Ian Gibaut. Wes Benjamin would be a potential multi-inning or long man candidate out of the pen. Alex Speas will be added to the 40 man roster and will be a candidate, and guys like Joe Barlow, Cole Uvila, and A.J. Alexy are hanging around. Texas has a lot of guys who throw hard and could possibly contribute in the bullpen in the system.