Barring a particularly late-night party by the baseball gods, the Mariners won’t be competitive in 2019, and neither will the Rangers, unless the competition is among the respective marketing departments tasked with getting people into the ballpark. The Mariners have set their sights on 2021 for the team to challenge their AL West rivals, including the juggernaut Astros and the potentially Trout-free Angels (move over, cellar door, there’s a new most beautiful phrase). Let’s gaze into our crystal balls to see what the Rangers teams of the future might look like during that window.
Players listed in italics are prospects who are already in the Rangers system and on developmental track to be (theoretically) ready for 2021. Players with no contract information but whose names aren’t in italics have made brief appearances with the big-league club.
2021 Texas Rangers Projected Roster
|1B||Ronald Guzmán||26||Arbitration Year 1|
|RF||Nomar Mazara||26||Arbitration Year 3|
|LF||Joey Gallo||27||Arbitration Year 2|
|DH||Willie Calhoun||26||Arbitration Year 1|
|SP||Yohander Méndez||26||Arbitration Year 1|
|RP||Jose Leclerc||27||Arbitration Year 2|
By 2021, a large chunk of the Rangers payroll will be off their books, namely Shin-Soo Choo. His massive contract expires after the 2020 season and that will free up more than $20 million in payroll. Texas has just three current players under contract in 2021: Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Lance Lynn. Andrus has another opt-out clause after the 2019 season, but it’s likely he’ll just take the guaranteed money like he did this offseason rather than test the free agent market as a 31-year-old. Odor is under contract until 2022, with an additional club option for 2023, and Lynn will be in the last year of the contract he signed this offseason.
An additional 11 players on their 40-man roster will be in the midst of salary arbitration by then. The biggest decision the Rangers will face with this group of players will likely be whether or not they want to extend Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo. Mazara has never really lived up to his potential ceiling he had as a prospect but he’ll be just 26 in 2021 and could take big steps forward in the interim. The decision surrounding Gallo’s place on the roster is likely connected to whether or not he’s able to make any strides forward in his ability to make more consistent contact. The power and patience are undeniable, but we’re not sure the Rangers are willing to deal with strikeout rates over 30% forever. There’s also the fact that the Rangers’ top three prospects per Baseball America are all outfielders with stairstep ETAs, leading to a potential logjam.
There are some definite holes in their projected lineup, however. With Adrián Beltré retired, the Rangers signed Asdrubal Cabrera as a stopgap, but there’s no real third baseman in their system who could step into the role by 2021. Patrick Wisdom, acquired from the Cardinals, is another temporary solution, but he’ll be pushing 30 by the ideal window of contention. Eli White, acquired in the Jurickson Profar trade, could possibly slip over to the hot corner, but he’s spent more time as a middle infielder during his career. Anderson Tejeda is another middle infielder who hasn’t had the offensive profile for a corner spot until last season, when he walloped 19 home runs at A+-Hickory.
The biggest gap in the organization is behind the plate. Jeff Mathis is signed through 2020 but there are simply no catching prospects on the horizon to take over after he leaves. Jose Trevino is already 26 and hasn’t proven he can hit at the high minors, let alone MLB. The Rangers will almost certainly be active at the trade deadline and can pursue catchers in trades now that they’ve loaded up on arms. Jose LeClerc is a good bet to get dealt to a contender, as bullpen help is always popular at that time of year.
It’s also likely that the Rangers will want to upgrade at first base as Ronald Guzmán doesn’t exactly have much to build on after his debut in 2018. With both Leody Taveras and Julio Pablo Martinez pushing for playing time in the outfield in a few years, Joey Gallo could potentially take over for Guzmán at first, a position he hopefully hates less than third base.
Of the Rangers’ Top 30 on MLB Pipeline, almost ⅔ of the prospects are pitchers, many of them imports. The Rangers have loaded up on MLB-adjacent arms in recent trades and gone pitching-heavy to try to build a pitching core timed to debut around the same window as the Mariners. They acquired three arms from prospect-laden Tampa Bay in the Jurickson Profar trade (sent to Oakland in a three-team trade). The best of them is LHP Brock Burke, who profiles as a back-end starter per FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen but is coming off a breakout year in which he posted an FIP of just 2.19 at Double-A Montgomery (go Biscuits!) with a K/9 of 11.55. Taylor Hearn is another lefty acquired in trade (Keone Kela) who is also a big-time strikeout artist, but with worse command than Burke. The Rangers’ home-grown starting pitching prospects who fit the window are a little less impressive, although 2013 prep draftee Joe Palumbo has taken an big step forward and will be one to watch in Double-A this year.
Credit the Rangers, known in previous years for being overly fond of high-risk high-reward prospects with more raw athleticism than polish, with realizing that while ceilings are great, floors keep your feet from getting all cut up. The Rangers have emphasized depth on their farm rather than breadth, which is why Keith Law ranks their system ahead of the Mariners despite the Rangers having fewer top-100 prospects. And it’s true: of those four lefty starting pitchers and sixty-four outfielders, some of them will probably develop into MLB regulars, and they can trade the spares to fill in holes. But looking at this roster...there are some significant holes. The Rangers are always active in the international market and are projected to be so again this year, adding to a stockpile of talent in the lower levels of the organization. But unless the Rangers decide to part with Gallo or Mazara and receive some MLB-adjacent impact talent back, it’s looking like they might lag behind the Mariners’ window.