As always, numbers below are based on Steamer projections and MLB.com’s depth chart.
Catcher - Jonathan Lucroy
2016 numbers: .292/.355/.500 (123 wRC+), 4.5 fWAR
2017 projections: .280/.349/.444 (109 wRC+), 3.5 fWAR
The last thing the Rangers needed was a quality catcher who can hit...so, naturally, the universe worked in their favor at the trading deadline a year ago. After the Brewers and Indians agreed on a deal to send Lucroy to Cleveland, the 30-year-old scuttled the deal by exercising his no-trade clause and was instead dealt to Texas soon after.
If you want to be optimistic, M’s fans, cling to the hope that Lucroy’s mediocre 2015 season provided, when he posted a 94 wRC+ and was worth just 1.1 fWAR. Perhaps now that he’s on the wrong side of 30, his decline will accelerate and the Rangers will, once again, have a catcher-sized hole in their infield. Then again, seems like everything has gone right for Texas lately, so why not keep that going?
1B - Ryan Rua
2016 numbers: .258/.331/.400 (93 wRC+), 0.5 fWAR
2017 projections: .248/.311/.413 (89 wRC+), 0.0 fWAR
Ryan Rua is effectively a TBA, a place-holder, until the Rangers figure out their plans. Is a 95-win team from a year ago that’s gone all-out at the trading deadline in each of the past two seasons really going to trust first base to a replacement-level player about to play his age-27 season? Instead, it seems much more likely that the Rangers would sign Mike Napoli to a one-year deal or simply move Joey Gallo to first. They could also put one-time wunderkind prospect Jurickson Profar - who is still only 23 years old - in the lineup.
But for now, it’s Rua, who struggled last year and is projected to struggle again. The clearest path for the M’s to take the division starts with Rua remaining at first for the Rangers in 2017.
2B - Rougned Odor
2016 numbers: .271/.296/.502 (106 wRC+), 2.0 fWAR
2017 projections: .275/.314/.486 (108 wRC+), 2.5 fWAR
Make sure not to confuse Rougned Odor with his brother, Rougned Odor, or his uncle, Rouglas Odor, or his other two cousins named Rouglas Odor. The best way to tell them apart? Only one of them ever punched Jose Bautista.
Odor, who turns 23 next month, has already been a solid lineup contributor for two-plus years now, and there’s certainly the chance that he finally breaks out this season. Before he does that, however, he’ll have to improve on his paltry 3.0% walk rate - though I imagine the Rangers would gladly take his 33 homers again.
SS - Elvis Andrus
2016 numbers: .302/.362/.439 (112 wRC+), 2.1 fWAR
2017 projections: .277/.338/.383 (92 wRC+), 1.9 fWAR
Shocking statistic of the day: Elvis Andrus is 28 years old. This will be his NINTH full season in the major leagues. And until the 2016 campaign, he had never been a league-average hitter. The projections are bearish on his offense, however, attributing his success to an inflated .333 BABIP; yet the overall estimate is roughly the same thanks to what looks like a one-year blip in his defensive matrics last season.
3B - Adrian Beltre
2016 numbers: .300/.358/.521 (130 wRC+), 6.1 fWAR
2017 projections: .294/.350/.475 (116 wRC+), 4.0 fWAR
I have to be honest, friends. Adrian Beltre might be my favorite third baseman in the league.
I know, I know, I love Kyle Seager too. And “Hot Corner” is an incredible video. But there’s just something about this...
...that so thoroughly endears Beltre to me. And what he’s been able to do in the bigs is nothing short of remarkable. Beltre never made an All-Star team before 2010, his age-31 season. He’s played for four different teams across three divisions and two leagues.
Yet here he is, putting up 6.1 WAR in his age-37 season, winning his fifth Gold Glove to go along with 32 dingers. He’ll record his 3,000th hit at some point this year, barring major injury (he’s just 58 hits away right now), and it’s possible he could get to 500 home runs by the end of next season. Simply put, we’re watching greatness, and greatness has a weird thing about people touching his head. What’s not to love?
Utility - Jurickson Profar
2016 numbers: .239/.321/.338 (78 wRC+), 0.4 fWAR
2017 projections: .260/.329/.393 (92 wRC+), 0.3 fWAR
Profar, Andrus, and Odor are all the same person to me. All three were highly touted middle infield prospects for the Rangers, and none of them have quite lived up to expectations (though the expectations were, and still are, sky-high). Profar’s failure, however, has been directly attributable to injuries. After playing in 85 games during his age-20 season in 2013, he missed all of the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to shoulder issues.
And now, unless Profar shifts over to first base, there’s no room in the infield for the one-time #1 prospect in MLB. But here he stands, incredibly valuable insurance for a team that simply doesn’t need it. Thanks, Baseball Gods. Nice one.
CF - Carlos Gomez
2016 numbers*: .231/.298/.384 (83 wRC+), 0.9 fWAR
2017 projections: .253/.318/.414 (92 wRC+), 2.2 fWAR
*Total numbers, not separating out when he was an abomination for the Astros and on a 6 WAR pace with the Rangers.
Let’s be clear here. I still mostly stand by what I wrote last season, wherein I argued that the Mariners would be best served to not pick up Gomez after the Astros released him. He was unbelievably atrocious during his tenure with Houston, and his surge of excellence in the final month and a half can uncharitably be categorized as just another element of the 2016 Rangers Crazy Luck Machine (fine, fine. In all fairness the coaching staff down in Texas deserves all sorts of credit for quieting Gomez’s swing). The Rangers signed Gomez to a one-year deal, crossing their fingers that his initial time in Arlington wasn’t a fluke, and it’s a move that makes a lot of sense, particularly since they lost Ian Desmond to the...Rockies? Really? I guess that’s right...has this offseason felt interminably long to anyone else? Anyway, the Rangers needed a center fielder and lo, there was a guy who was once a decent center fielder with all elements of recency bias in his favor. In my mind a decent chunk of the Rangers’ success hinges on Gomez’s season; if he picks up where he left off in 2016 the Rangers could be a potent threat yet again, but if he reverts back to his Houston self Texas won’t be nearly the powerhouse we fear.
Non-CF OF - Nomar Mazara/Shin-soo Choo/Jurickson Profar/Ryan Rua/Big Bird with a Giant Net
We know generally for certain that Mazara will be frolicking in the Globe Life Park grass during the 2017 season. Fangraphs predicts that he’ll get 560 PAs in LF, with 1.7 fWAR and a .272/.332/.437 line. Meanwhile, they project Shin-Soo Choo to also have 560 PAs while playing in the outfield this season, albeit in right, with .260/.362/.424 and 1.3 fWAR. This is all fine and good and should have been simple to write, but Choo is decidedly not a defensive asset, and recently said he’d be willing to spend more time at DH. While it’s ostensibly good news it also creates some confusion in the Rangers’ outfield. Mazara is far stronger in right, but moving him creates a hole in left to be filled by either the defensively inept Ryan Rua, or the offensively inept Delino DeShields. Or hey, also there’s Jurickson Profar. Pick your poison, Texas, it’s all the same to me.
One last idle question to you, dear readers and newly-informed Texas Rangers fans: do the Rangers actually have a mascot? Preliminary googling shows a frightening palomino horse, but I never recall seeing that thing and am now vaguely concerned about said mascots wellbeing. Any further information is appreciated.