Projecting the Offseason

Whether we like it or not, the 2016 is over for the Texas Rangers. And as such, rather than wait around on the rest of the postseason to play out, it seemed to be a good time to take a look at the projected payroll situation heading into the winter.

In 2016, the Rangers opened with a payroll of $158 million, and with service-time adjustments as well as in-season trades, the actual payroll ended up being somewhere in the neighborhood of $169 million. Not quite, Yankees-Sox-Dodgers money, but still within top-tier of spenders in Major League Baseball.

Moving forward into 2017, there's been no indication of any sort of willingness to spend more or even stay around that $169 million. In fact, rumblings that Ray Davis would actually like to slice payroll by anywhere from 10-15 percent have perpetuated for the better part of a year. So, more likely than not, you're looking at a soft payroll cap of something closer to $160 million than $170 million.

As far as contractual commitments go, the Rangers have the following in 2017:

Note: I've gone ahead and assumed that Texas will exercise the buyout on Derek Holland's option. Performance combined with health concerns lead me to believe that it's more likely that Texas uses the buyout and attempts to re-negotiate, but more on that later.

That puts Texas at about $112 million, and then you have arbitration salaries. Texas will have the following players arbitration-eligible, followed by their projected earnings according to MLB Trade Rumors:

Chirinos, Scheppers, Griffin, Profar, Jeffress, and Dyson all seem to be locks. That puts us right around $125 million. Then you have the young guys that are making league minimum, which has been $507,500 over the past two seasons. I would expect that to increase a little for 2017, but for the purposes of this exercise, we'll assume it's the same.

Some of these players will end up remaining on the 40-man roster rather than the 25-man, but it puts us at $130.5 million. So now, we're looking at, most likely, $25-30 million in free cash for Texas to play with for the 2017 season.

The first thought that comes to mind is, boy, I don't see any way that Texas manages to re-sign Yu Darvish after the 2017 season. If Darvish pitches anything close to his capability, he's probably going to get paid like many of the upper-tier pitchers have in recent years, which would put him around $25-30 million annually. Maybe more in a year, when the market will be a year removed from one of the weaker classes of free agent pitching in which teams figure to throw money at pitchers that might not otherwise earn that kind of money.

Secondly, with so little available cash to spend, there's not much room to go make a splash. As I've already mentioned, the pitching market this offseason is a bit thin as is, so that's likely a non-issue. However, Texas have several members of their 2016 team hitting free agency in Colby Lewis, Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond, and Carlos Gomez.

I'd imagine the Rangers would like Colby Lewis back somewhere close to his 2016 salary of $6 million. Before hitting the disabled list, he was the team's most consistent pitcher, and he's a guy that the Rangers enjoy having around. If you had asked me in July if Ian Desmond would be back, I'd have told you that the Rangers would make a serious push, but I'm not so sure that ship hasn't sailed after he posted a wRC+ of 55 from July 22 to the end of the season. More likely, they'll try to get Carlos Gomez back at somewhere around $10 million for the 2017 season.

That puts Texas at about $146.5 million. Carlos Beltran suddenly becomes a luxury that I'm not sure Texas will be willing to spend for. He made $15 million in 2016, and I'd be surprised if he would take a pay cut to remain in Texas. More likely, someone will offer him about that much on a one-year deal.

I've seen and heard talk about Edwin Encarnacion's impending free agency. I don't see it. He made $10 million in 2016, and with five straight seasons around 4 fWAR, the 33-year old slugger can -- and should -- command more than that on the free agent market. Again, it's more likely that Texas rolls with an internal option at first base and designated hitter. Joey Gallo and Shin-Soo Choo would seem to be perfect candidates. Of course, much of that hinges on Gallo adjusting his approach significantly. It also assumes that some other team forks over too much money for Mitch Moreland rather than the Rangers.

It's also important to remember that Texas has made a concerted effort to sign Rougned Odor to an extension, with his agent reportedly turning down a 6-year, $35 million deal back in July. So Texas clearly wants to get something done on that front as well.

The underlying point I'm making is that rather than being big spenders, it's more likely that Texas will try to plug small holes and give it another run in 2017, the final year of the Yu Darvish window. They may elect to bring Jake Diekman back. Shawn Tolleson? Not out of the realm of possibilities. The bullpen will be an area of significant turnover, and one that cash not already spoken for above will likely go toward. If Texas does manage to land another starting pitcher, it's likely via trade, and it's probably not a big name like those we saw thrown around at this season's trade deadline.

We've heard before that Texas wouldn't be spending, only for them to go out and sign Shin-Soo Choo to a 7-year, $130 million deal. So, yes, it's theoretically possible. Just not probable. And really, I'm fine with that. 2017's Opening Day roster figures to be more talented than the 2016 version, and sometimes, that's all you can realistically ask for.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Coming into this series, I said Toronto was probably the better team. I thought their rotation, overall, was better. Their hitters were patient, but hit the ball hard. The Rangers issued the 2nd-most walks in the American League, and Toronto was a team that forced pitchers to come into the zone.

So if you had told me that in Game 3, the Rangers would have 6 runs and Matt Bush on the mound to preserve a tie, I'd have taken it.

And if you had told me that he wouldn't get strike calls, I'd have believed you, but been disappointed.

Of playoff teams, the Rangers pitching staff had strikes looking above average (SLAA) of -10.29. Easily the worst of all playoff teams, and one of only three teams in the negative -- the other two being the Mets and Orioles, which should surprise no one who actually watched those games.

Meanwhile, the Toronto offense had an SLAA of -12.48, easily the best mark of all playoff teams, and the only team on the "negative" side. If you're following along, -10.29 of that came in three games against Texas.

All the while, the Texas offense had 3.30 SLAA in the series. All told, that's a 15.78 strike advantage for the Blue Jays in a series they needed no help in. 

So no, it wasn't a fairly called series. And really, for a Texas pitching staff that amassed a -108.41 SLAA on the season, I shouldn't have been surprised.

But I'm still dumbfounded. Watching Russel Martin recover from what should have been strike 5, only to ground into a potential double play that ended up getting botched by Rougned Odor... there are no words. Maybe the Germans have one.

I just know these Toronto Blue Jays didn't need help, but they got it every step along the way. It's a damn shame.

Jeff Banister Juggles Lineup for Game 2

With Game 2 looming, Jeff Banister has made some changes to his lineup.

  • Shin-Soo Choo will be on the bench today against the left-handed J.A. Happ, with Nomar Mazara getting the start in right field. Additionally, Mitch Moreland sits in favor of Ryan Rua.
  • The Moreland-Rua switch, on the surface, seems to make the most sense, until you realize that Mitch Moreland actually have reverse splits in 2016. He put up a 110 wRC+ against lefties and a 81 wRC+ against righties. Of course, that was in significantly fewer plate appearances -- 100 against 403 -- so it's probably not the type of trend you'd expect to become the norm given Mitch's career trend. Being the playoffs, you roll with a platoon advantage anywhere you think you might have it. As it stands, he put up a wRC+ of 53 over the final two months of the season with an OPS of .589.
  • That Mazara is getting the start against the left-hander would seem, to me, to indicate that perhaps Shin-Soo Choo isn't completely ready for face lefties himself, as Mazara's splits on the season leave something to be desired in these situations. His wRC+ is 44 against lefties versus 107 against righties, and only one of his 20 home runs came against a left-handed pitcher.
  • Of course, with Yu Darvish going, the hope would be that Texas doesn't need more than a few runs from the offense. To have success against this Toronto lineup, Darvish will need to be able to get ahead with his fastball, thereby allowing him to rely on his entire repertoire to put hitters away. It's mostly fruitless to look at how he has fared against Toronto, as he hasn't faced them since 2014. He's typically pitched well against them in his career, but this is a significantly different lineup than those he's previously faced.
  • Other than that, it's mostly the same as yesterday. Just go out and be the better team for today. Simple as that.

The Rangers Trail 1-0

Well, that was less than ideal. Some thoughts:

  • Cole Hamels just wasn't very good today. His final line of 7 runs (6 earned) on 6 hits and 3 walks doesn't quite do it justice. He didn't appear to be comfortable on the mound, and there were moments that I noticed he was taking additional time between pitches to try to gather something inside himself.
  • Walks aside, Cole's biggest problem was an inability to put hitters away. He lacked any sort of strikeout pitch, with a high likelihood that it was related to his poor fastball command. There wasn't a sense that Cole had a feel for placing the ball where he wanted it, and the end result was often that he'd get two strike on hitters, only for them to be able to sit on a pitch over the heart of the zone.
  • The offense and defense didn't do much to help today, either. Ian Desmond, in particular, had what was a back-breaking play that he should have made in center field on what was ruled a bases-clearing triple by Troy Tulowitzki. The ball was hit deep, but not so deep that the wall should have come into play. Desmond simply... lost it somehow. And instead of being down 2-0 with the inning over and the Rangers still within striking distance, it was 5-0, and the life just left the entire ballpark.
  • And really, I have to imagine that the early deficit had an effect on the offensive approach. For his part, prior to having a cushioned lead, Marco Estrada was already having success in throwing first pitch strikes and inducing swings on his changeup. Being down certainly didn't aid Texas in attempting to adjust, and other than two Elvis Andrus hits and an Adrian Beltre infield single -- one in which Estrada himself should have been covering first for the out -- the offense didn't really get much going.
  • Jumping back to Cole Hamels for a moment: He didn't seem to be following through on his delivery today -- whether that's because he just wasn't or couldn't remains to be seen -- which had me thinking aloud that he might be hurt. Of course, we're not going to hear much about it now, but recent trends would seem to back that up. Momentum -- or lack thereof -- don't generally have much to do with postseason success or failure. In Hamels's case, I almost wonder if the writing hasn't been on the wall. As you may remember, Colby Lewis required knee surgery after the 2015 season. It wouldn't surprise me too much to find out something similar about Cole Hamels, and it would go a long way toward explaining his erratic and often downward-trending starts as of late. From August 30 to the end of the season, he put up an ERA of 6.75, so today's start wasn't exactly an outlier when looking at recent trends.
  • The assumption had long been that starting Cole in Game 1 would allow Texas to use him again on short rest in Game 4 if necessary. Of course, we know now that for Texas to win this series, Game 4 will be necessary. The idea had been that you'd want to avoid pushing Darvish to start on short rest in Game 4, but with a travel day, Darvish could still go on regular rest for Game 5. I'm not so sure at this point that you don't go ahead and pitch Martin Perez and take what you get. Something just isn't right with Cole Hamels. Perhaps it's an issue that comes and goes, but today it came.
  • All told, today's events were what worried me heading into this series, and why I was surprised the Rangers didn't end up electing to use the 8-man bullpen. With starts from Colby Lewis, Martin Perez, and after what we saw from Hamels today, it would seem beneficial to have as many arms available as possible. It's too late now, but it was a thought I had when rosters were announced this morning, and it's one that's probably going to bother me to the end of this thing.
  • About Ian Desmond. He has to make that catch in center field. Barring that, I'm just not sure he merits a starting spot in a playoff series. He hit one ball somewhat hard today, but since July 22, hasn't hit much more than a pinata. It wouldn't be a popular move, but I still wonder if having Mazara in LF, Gomez in CF, and Choo/Beltran in RF isn't the best combination. Sure, you lose some speed on the bases and a little bit of range on the left side of the outfield, but even as poorly as Nomar Mazara has hit, his bat has been leaps and bounds better than Desmond's over recent stretches. It won't happen, but it's something that should at least be considered.
  • All told, the Rangers need Yu Darvish to go out tomorrow and light it up. And for the bats to, hopefully, show better plate discipline, and therefore results. Should Texas lose Game 2, that's an awfully tough hill to climb, and one I'd rather not have to face.

Rangers-Jays: The Rematch

Back on May 15, after Rougned Odor's right hook staggered Jose Bautista and ignited a benches-clearing brawl in Arlington, there was no reason to believe that we'd be here today.

Yes, I think many of us were hoping -- maybe even expecting -- the Rangers to contend for another AL West title. And perhaps Toronto making the postseason could have been expected as well. And yet, to actually predict that -- after all that's happened over the past year to create bad blood between the teams -- the two clubs would actually face one another in a playoff series, at least to me, would have been an exercise in pure guessing.

Nearly five full months later, here we are. Toronto, the team that survived the toughest division in baseball and a win-or-go-home Wild Card game. Texas, the team that defied all expectations en route to winning the AL West going away and, in the process, setting a record for winning percentage in one-run games (.766).

The numbers would say that Texas should be a .500 ball club. That record in one-run games was the difference. Is it sustainable? Probably not. But that's a problem for next year. It has nothing to do with the playoffs.

Let me say that again: Run differential has no bearing on this playoff series, or any series that might come after.

So while, on paper, Toronto may actually be the better team in everything but winning percentage, there's a very real chance that the Rangers could tap into something special and go on a run. They did it in 2010. And again in 2011.

If you asked me to pick a catalyst with which to pin the forthcoming success or failure on, I'd tell you it's Cole Hamels.

Hamels saw his walk rate reach a career high in 2016, and his home run rate was up from 2015. His groundball rate was up, finding him relying more often on his defense to make plays. As anyone who has watched Martin Perez pitch knows, sometimes that's not a repeatable skill, at least from a pitcher's perspective.

He's still managed nine games in 2016 in which he amassed a pitcher game score of 70 or higher. Cole Hamels is at his best, as are most pitchers, when he's striking hitters out and not walking them.

The Blue Jays like to swing the bat. The way Cole Hamels pitches -- especially considering he has the opportunity to pitch twice in the series -- may very well determine who moves on to the ALCS.

Before everything gets started, it's important to remember that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination. No matter how things end, it's been a fun, frustrating, entertaining, energetic season. And that counts for something, even if -- unlike prior to 1969 -- they don't give out American League Championship rings to the team with the best record.

Your Texas Rangers defied all projections and forecasting systems to get here. And there's no reason to believe they can't continue to surprise us all. Go Rangers!