Prepping for the Last Rodeo: Your 2016-2017 Texas Rangers Offseason Preview
Jonathan Lucroy, third from left, and Yu Darvish, right, will likely play their last games with the Rangers in 2017.
Now that the World Series is done, the Texas Rangers can get down to business for 2017. It's the same business that the club's done after each of the club's first 44 seasons: reloading its roster in an attempt to win the club's first ever World Series championship.
The Rangers were 95-game winners in 2016, but they were also extremely lucky. The went an incredible 36-11 in one-run games and outperformed their expected third-order winning percentage — which Baseball Prospectus calculates using a team's underlying statistics adjusted for quality of opponents — by almost 16 wins.
To win even 90 games in 2017, the Rangers likely need to be better than they were last season. With that in mind, let's look at the biggest questions facing the club as they plan for April 3, when they'll open the 2017 season against the defending AL Champion Indians.
1. Who should start at first base? Mitch Moreland, the Rangers' incumbent first baseman, is likely to depart the club in free agency. While he's been a significant part of the best run in franchise history after coming up to replace Justin Smoak when Smoak was traded for Cliff Lee in 2010, Moreland has never been all that good. In over seven seasons with the Rangers, he's had just one in which he's been worth more than one win above replacement, and he's never hit more than 23 home runs while starting at a position that demands power. Some team will give him too much money in free agency. That team is not the Rangers.
The Rangers will likely try to replace Moreland in-house, either by splitting up the first base at bats between Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar and Shin Soo Choo, or finally giving former top prospect Joey Gallo a chance to play every day in the big leagues. Gallo had a disappointing 2016, hitting an abysmal .040 in 17 MLB games and a not great .240 in 102 games at Triple-A Round Rock, but he still has more raw power than anyone in the Rangers organization. There was a reason the Rangers protected Gallo so fiercely during talks at the 2016 trade deadline.
2. What to do with Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy? After the 2017 season, the Rangers' best pitcher, Yu Darvish, and one of their two best position players, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, will be free agents. At this point, it seems unlikely that the team will be able to afford to resign either player, with Darvish expected to command at least $200 million in free agency and Lucroy looking at $80 to $100 million, potentially. Combine that with the fact the third baseman Adrian Beltre, the other guy who's one of the Rangers' two best position players, will turn 38 during the first week of the 2017 season, and this Rangers' window begins to look like it might be closing, quickly.
If the Rangers regress and are out of the playoff race in July, they'll need to trade Darvish, Lucroy and other assets at the deadline to begin the reloading process. If they're in contention, it's imperative that the team not waste the last year this core group has together.
3. Who fills out the rotation? Barring injury, the top three in the Rangers' 2017 rotation appears set. Darvish, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez will start the first three games of the year against the Indians. After Perez, however, things get dicey. Derek Holland, the longtime fixture in Rangers fans' dreams (see Game 4 of the 2011 World Series), has never shown the consistency necessary for sustained big league success; he appears to be on his way out the door. Colby Lewis, from whom the Rangers have wrung so much value over the last half-decade, is 37, not under contract and still an injury risk. Ariel Jurado, the Rangers' best pitching prospect, is still a couple of years off, and the free agent market is bare this year especially when it comes to starting pitchers. It seems like the Rangers' best option may be hanging until the deadline, and then acquiring a middle-of-the-rotation starter via trade.
4. How good can Rougned Odor become? Odor was better than anyone expected in 2016, hitting 33 home runs — 17 more than he'd hit at any level previously — and landing a franchise-best right hook to Jose Bautista's jaw. Odor's success, however, was limited by the fact that he got on base less than 30 percent of the time, despite hitting .271. If Odor can improve his terrible three percent walk rate, he might become an MVP candidate. If he can't, he'll still be a very good player, but there is no Hall of the Very Good.
5. Can Shin Soo Choo play 110 games? Choo, whom the Rangers signed to a $130 million contract before the 2014 season, is still a terrific offensive player and the Rangers' best option at the top of the order. He's a tremendous defensive liability however — he might be best suited to being a designated hitter at this point — and seemingly can't keep himself on the field. If he can at least double the 49 games he played in 2016, he can still provide value to the Rangers. If not, Choo risks becoming a Prince Fielder-like albatross around the team's neck.