Being that it’s the middle of January, we’re at a point in the baseball calendar in which baseball news is virtually non-existent. Other than the terrible news of Yordano Ventura’s unfortunate passing over the weekend, Fan Fest is quite literally the only piece of Rangers relevance out there.
Winter meetings are over, and we’re still weeks away from the beginning of Spring Training. With that comes the annual round of second-guessing. The yearly cries of, “Well, why didn’t the Rangers sign (insert player name here)? Does Jon Daniels just not care? Is ownership cheap?”
For starters, I’m not among those that can so easily tell billionaires how they should spend their money. For me, I understand that baseball is a business, and I’m able to separate that from my fan instincts. Some people can’t, or don’t want to. That’s your right to do so. However, from my perspective, having the 6th-highest payroll in MLB in 2016 is good enough for me.
It’s the season of reactions and overreactions, some more exaggerated than others. So, for an organization that just led the American League in wins, it seems a bit premature to declare the offseason a failure simply because there were no big splashes. And yet, the Rangers find themselves at an organizational crossroads between contending and rebuilding, and the line is finer than you might think.
The first two months or so of the 2017 season will play a part in determining just which direction the organization is headed, but make no mistake that this juncture is only a thing because of a fantastic stretch of winning going back eight full seasons.
Since the beginning of the 2009 season, the Rangers have tallied 707 regular season wins, the 4th-highest total in baseball. That’s including an injury-ravaged roster in 2014 that set records for time on the disabled list and lost 95 games. If we look at all the other seasons compared to the MLB -- an exercise in cherry-picked samples, to be sure -- suddenly the Rangers are 2nd in baseball during that time, only six wins behind the New York Yankees.
No, none of this has resulted in a World Series title coming to Texas, but neither has it for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team with 712 wins over this stretch. Winning in the playoffs is hard, and many times requires both talent as well as good fortune. Even the best team in baseball each season figures to lose at least a third of their games. The worst will win a third of theirs. And somewhere in the middle is that final third that determines the difference between the contenders and the also-rans. It’s a game of streaks, and a good or bad streak determines playoff success. It’s not hard to see that baseball wasn’t built for a playoff system.
That the Rangers have managed to be on the positive side of the win totals more often than not in recent years is not only a testament to the talent on the field, but to the front office for putting the organization in a position to succeed. And the reason the Texas Rangers face perhaps their toughest challenge of the Jon Daniels era -- deciding to go for it or to go through a slight rebuild -- is because of that success.
As a reminder, here are the important trade acquisitions dating back to the 2009 season:
- 2010 - Texas trades Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Leuke, and Matthew Lawson to Seattle for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe.
- 2011 - Texas trades Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to Baltimore for Koji Uehara.
- 2011 - Texas trades Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to San Diego for Mike Adams.
- 2012 - Texas trades Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks to Chicago Cubs for Ryan Dempster.
- 2013 - Texas trades Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, C.J. Edwards, and Neil Ramirez to Chicago Cubs for Matt Garza.
- 2013 - Texas trades Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder.
- 2015 - Texas trades Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Matt Harrison, Alec Asher, and Jerad Eickhoff to Philadelphia for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman.
- 2016 - Texas trades Dillon tate, Erik Swanson, and Nick Green to New York Yankees for Carlos Beltran.
- 2016 - Texas trades Travis Demeritte to Atlanta for Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez.
- 2016 - Texas trades Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, Ryan Cordell to Milwaukee for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress.
As you can see, that’s a heavy list of outgoing players in exchange for pieces that, at the time of the transaction, was intended to make the Rangers immediately a better ball club. Perhaps the only exception would be the Prince Fielder trade, but that was perhaps the most long-term trade the organization made during that span. For every other deal, there was at least some heavy motivation to “go for it now”, and it very nearly worked all the way until the end in 2010 and 2011. We can argue about any of the other deals until we’re blue in the face, but that’s not the point. The point is that the front office hasn’t been shy about attempting to make trades, all the while bolstering things with free agent acquisitions like Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo, and Yu Darvish.
Contending in MLB is incredibly hard, and it’s taxing both from a financial standpoint and a talent-pool standpoint. The more competitive you are, the more moves you make, and the higher you bump up the payroll, the more you need your internal talent to manifest at some point.
For now, the Rangers are in a spot where they’ve traded a significant chunk of the farm in recent years to try to “win now”. Until the talent pool is refilled at the lower levels, Texas needs it’s current cop of young players to pan out. That means Nomar Mazara improving upon his rookie campaign. Rougned Odor continuing to improve. And maybe, somewhere along the line, a homegrown starting pitcher taking the bull by the horns and forcing his way into the rotation, not due to injuries, but due to his performance. If you can manage a Joey Gallo finally breaking through, even better.
What you can’t count on, however, is a team being able to just force blockbuster trades every season moving forward. Or spending all available funds on this year’s biggest free agent name. At a certain point, the talent already within needs to manifest. And that’s where the 2017 Texas Rangers will live or die. If the current roster produces at or near the high end of its talent, this is a competitive ball club. If not? Then you might be looking at a time to re-tool around the trade deadline. And that line, for the Texas Rangers, is perhaps thinner than it has ever been.