Major League Baseball intends to kick off its regular season on July 23. The season will be an abbreviated one, lasting just 60 games and featuring a slew of modifications, including a universal DH and altered extra-inning rules. Even the rosters will be different, with teams carrying 30 players to begin the year before gradually getting down to 26.
Because you can't have a baseball season without team previews, we'll be touching on every team between now and Opening Day.
Today, that means highlighting the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are set to open up a new ballpark, albeit under suboptimal conditions. They'll be hoping to make their first postseason appearance since 2016, which doubled as their most recent winning season.
Can the Rangers change either of those facts in 2020? Let's find out.
Win total projection, odds
2020 Sportsline projection: 30-30
World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 66/1
2019 record: 78-84
- DH Shin-Soo Choo
- SS Elvis Andrus
- LF Willie Calhoun
- RF Joey Gallo
- 3B Todd Frazier
- CF Danny Santana
- 2B Rougned Odor
- 1B Ronald Guzman
- C Robinson Chirinos
Bench: C Jeff Mathis, INF Isiah Kiner-Falefa, INF Nick Solak, OF Scott Heineman
The Rangers made two additions to their lineup this winter, in Frazier and Chirinos. Texas had some luck with non-roster veterans last season, and might try the same trick this year with some combination of Blake Swihart and Greg Bird, two former well-regarded AL East prospects who haven't established themselves at the big-league level. Some youngsters worth keeping on the radar include Sam Huff, Sherten Apostel, and Eli White, who might be the likeliest of the three to see big-league action this year.
- RHP Lance Lynn
- LHP Mike Minor
- RHP Corey Kluber
- RHP Kyle Gibson
- RHP Jordan Lyles
The Rangers overhauled their rotation, signing Gibson and Lyles and acquiring Kluber through trade. Texas has a number of young starters who might get burn as well: Kolby Allard, Joe Palumbo, Tyler Phillips, and Ariel Jurado.
- Closer: RHP Jose Leclerc
- Setup: RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Cody Allen
- Middle: LHP Brett Martin, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Jonathan Hernandez
- Long: RHP Luke Farrell
The Rangers have some familiar veteran faces in camp, in the form of Allen and Goody. In addition, keep an eye on Taylor Hearn, Jimmy Herget, and Ian Gibaut getting their chances to impress.
A remade rotation
As noted above, the Rangers altered 60 percent of their rotation, keeping the good pieces (Lynn, Minor) and subbing out the rest with Kluber, Gibson, and Lyles. With the caveat that the three additions have to stay healthy and produce, this group has the chance to be one of the better starting fives in the AL.
Kluber had his streak of three consecutive top-three finishes in Cy Young Award balloting snapped last season. He started just seven times before taking a ball off his elbow that ended his year. The concerning thing, for the Rangers anyway, is that he didn't perform like his normal self in those seven outings. Rather, he appeared more hittable and prone to walks. If Kluber can get back to his old former, or anywhere near it, the deal that landed him in Texas for this and potentially next season could look like a masterstroke. As it is, it looks like a worthy gamble.
Speaking of gambles, the Rangers are betting on both Gibson and Lyles. Texas guaranteed the pair more than $40 million with the belief they can tap into their upside.
Gibson found a way to throw 160 innings and post a 95 ERA+ last season despite battling illness and losing weight as a result. For reference, both marks would've been the third-best among the Rangers' starters. There's always been reason to think Gibson has a little more left in the tank, and that remains true thanks to his lethal slider and improved velocity.
Lyles had an uneven year, as he was too prone to home runs and hits during his stint with the Pirates, but turned the ship around with the Brewers. He used his changeup nearly once every four pitches in September, and that's a development worth watching this season.
As an added, and perhaps overlooked bonus, the Rangers' acquisitions bolstered their depth. Kolby Allard, who had a 109 ERA+ in nine starts with Texas, will not begin the season in the rotation barring injury. Allard probably isn't as good as his cameo indicated, but having him in reserve is a luxury that last year's Rangers lacked. Remember: Texas gave a total of 68 starts to eight pitchers who last season finished with a cumulative ERA of 6.70.
The Rangers' rotation this year should have a much higher ceiling, and a much higher floor.
Enough offense? Enough options?
It's a little hard to believe, given the franchise's identity has historically favored the offensive side of things, but the bigger concern with this year's Rangers will be their lineup.
According to FanGraphs' projections, Texas is slated to have just three hitters who will be league-average or better at the plate: Gallo, Calhoun, and Choo. A few others, like Solak come close to breaking even, but it's a concerning proposition for a bunch that does not feature standout defenders all over the place. (Indeed, the Rangers finished with the third-worst defensive efficiency, a rank that cannot be blamed entirely on their pitching staff.)
The Rangers will have some options if they have an injury or underperformance or two. For example, Solak could replace Odor at second base, or Calhoun in left field; Gallo could slide over if Santana fails to recapture last year's magic; Kiner-Falefa could be phased in across the infield if his (now distant) hot spring proves to be more than a fluke; and a healthy Bird could be swapped in for a struggling Guzman. But is that enough?
It wouldn't seem like it, right? Not if the Rangers are serious about holding par with the Astros, Athletics, and Angels.
It's hard to know how close Texas will be to a playoff spot by the time the Aug. 31 deadline rolls around. If the Rangers far enough away to justify selling, they could have a busy trade season. They have about two handfuls of players who are eligible for free agency either this winter or next, including Choo, Kluber, Lynn, and Minor.
Of course, their offseason suggests -- to some extent -- they want to win games now. As such, the inverse of the preceding paragraph might be true as well: if they're close enough to justify buying, they could have a busy trade season.