The Case for the Rangers to contend in 2018

Oct 1, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre (29) tips his cap to the crowd as he leaves the game after a single in the fifth inning against the Oakland Athletics. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
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The Rangers had a forgettable 2017 campaign, made even more forgettable by the way their rivals won the World Series over their surrogate Japanese son and missionary to LaLa Land.  He was supposed to go out there and get a ring and come back and teach the kids in Arlington how it’s done. 

Adding the insult of the Astros being led by an exciting young core to the injury of having your worst rival win a championship in what was supposed to be the tail end of the Adrian Beltre/Yu Darvish/Cole Hamels window and it’s easy to get baseball depression.

It’s also easy to look down I-45 and see a formula that worked for the Astros and think that the Rangers should take that approach.  With an aging core and a farm system that’s thin at the top thanks to recent deadline trades, it might be time to store up some draft picks and build from the bottom up again.  Despite what the Houston media and Sports Illustrated’s 2014 prophetic cover want you to think, it’s not a big secret recipe. 

Every team does what they can to draft and develop young players – and the Rangers have actually been pretty good at that in recent years.  The problem is that all those good players they scouted, signed, and developed play for other teams now – traded in the fog of a pennant race.

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So that’s it right?  They should just throw in the towel, trade Beltre, Hamels, Elvis Andrus and anyone else who’s old enough to legally drink and set their sights on 2020.  Tank now and get high draft picks like the Astros and then in a few years it will pay off.  Maybe just try to ring in the new ballpark with a winning season in 2020, right?  Not so fast…

All you have to do is look across the diamond from the World Series champ Astros to see another model for success.  The Dodgers have more than their fair share of aging veterans and bad contracts.  They had an inactive list in the World Series that made more than many full major league rosters this year.  Clayton Kershaw is no spring chicken (it hurts me to write this, we graduated from High School the same year) and costs the Dodgers about as much as a starter home in Highland Park every time he takes the mound. 

The Dodgers’ aging rotation required a temporary fix in the form of Darvish to round out the year and isn’t exactly settled going into the future.  Despite all this the Dodgers have done as much as anyone to develop young talent and make savvy veteran acquisitions (like signing a non-tendered Justin Turner and developing him into an All-Star) and have made themselves into a perennial contender with a future as bright as anyone besides maybe the Astros. 

They have had a window that has been open for several years, and through prudent drafting and development their window doesn’t look to be closing any time soon.  In the World Series you saw their young core on full display and they have a handful of kiddos waiting in the wings.

At the risk of sounding like all the big market teams are the ones to follow, the Red Sox and Yankees have pulled off similar overhauls in recent years which had them turn aging teams around into young competitive teams over a relatively short period of time – and none of these teams truly hit rock bottom like the Astros.

Besides a few assets, the Rangers aren’t really in a position to be true sellers at the big league level anyway, and they aren’t in nearly the same shape financially that the Dodgers are.  How could they be, they don’t have the pocketbook to be nearly that reckless.  Beltre may be the only piece who would really command a pretty penny during a deadline flurry.  Elvis Andrus – while he may be a cornerstone of the franchise in Texas for years to come, has a player option after 2018 and isn’t exactly the typical impact player teams look to add down the stretch. 

Cole Hamels basically rounds out the list of eligible veterans who would potentially make sense to trade in a true fire-sale scenario.  He makes a Lamborghini per start and he only has two years of control left (1.5 if he’s dealt at the deadline) and isn’t the dominant force with multiple years of control left that the Rangers traded for in 2015. 

Count that as another tick in the “don’t tank” column.  The other mystery asset is Jurickson Profar.  He could yield you some nice young pitching as soon as this winter.  Heck, that could be happening right now.

The window for winning now may not be as wide-open as it was a few years ago, but baseball is weird.  The big weakness of this team for the short term future is pitching – but pitchers are weird.  Rich Hill, the Dodgers’ number two starter in the postseason spent time in Independent Ball two short years ago. 

A few hits on free agents and the Rangers roster could suddenly be good again… and a few bad choices and a down year or two and the Astros could be looking at a core of young players who are quick to leave in free agency and a window that is suddenly closing. 

While it can be disheartening to gaze longingly at the boys from Houston smiling and hoisting trophies, just think about how quickly things change, and weigh whether or not a championship ring for your favorite team is worth dealing with that miserable humidity in Houston. 

Besides – did you really think a clubhouse with Adrian Beltre and Jeff Banister in it was going to accept rebuilding anyway?  Good luck convincing them of that.

 

Should the Rangers tank or go for it in 2018? Share your thoughts with Chris on Twitter @RealChrisRoland.