Date: Wednesday, October 4th, 2017
2018 Record: 0-0
It has been almost three full days since the Rangers’ 2017 season came to a close, so it’s high time we start the conversation about 2018. There is, of course, the one big question: will the Rangers get Shohei Ohtani? Beyond that, there are the conversations to be had about what went wrong (and right) in 2017, specific aims for improvement in 2018, the return (or lack thereof) of coaches, and the shuffling of finances and the like. It’s not the sort of thing you hope to be reading (or writing) on October 4th, but for Rangers fans (and fans of 21 other MLB teams), this is all the team-centric baseball news you’ll get until Hot Stove season kicks off in about a month.
2017 is over, and this is a look forward, so welcome one and all to the inaugural edition of the offseason version of the Daily: it’s the October 4th Baseball Texas Occasionally!
1. Brad Holman was relieved of his duties as the bullpen coach after the season. Whether the bullpen’s performance was actually Holman’s fault or not is the stuff of front office conversations and comment sections, neither of which will I be participating in, but the truth is that the Rangers bullpen did not live up to expectations in 2017. They were 16th in the league in blown saves, which seems surprising, given the abominable April/May, but there was a long stretch in the second half of the season where the team went nearly two months without blowing a single save.
Fangraphs has an interesting set of bullpen stats: SD and MD. SD (short for shutdown) is defined as a relief role worth more than .6 WPA (Win Probability added). MD (short for meltdown) is a relief role of -.6 WPA or lower.
In SD, the Rangers finished with 105. That’s good for 29th out of 30 teams (unless otherwise noted, it’s safe to assume the Tigers finished last in every category, and that’s true here: they had just 88). The best in baseball in this category: The Milwaukee Brewers, who had 169.
In MD, however, Texas finished surprising tied for 9th-12th (Astros, Diamondbacks, White Sox) with just 73. For perspective, Cleveland led the league in this category with 55, and the Mariners (not the Tigers) were the worst, with 101. Interestingly, Milwaukee finished second-worst in baseball with 97.
Looking at these two stats says more about the Brewers than it does the Rangers (their relievers vacillated between dominant and disastrous), but for Texas, it does tell us something: while there weren’t as many meltdowns as your early-season-influenced memory might try to tell you, there just weren’t a lot of big moments for the bullpen either. By season’s end, fair or not, Brad Holman took the brunt of that outcome, and he has been replaced by Hector Ortiz, who in 2016 served as first base coach and catching instructor.
2. There will be subsequent moves. After his time at the dais had finished, Daniels spent a few more minutes talking to members of the press. He said that there is a possibility of adding an assistant pitching coach, a first-base coach, or both, and that Josh Bonifay’s role (2016: Field Coordinator) was as of yet undefined, and would likely depend on those hires. It sounds like there’s a chance that Bonifay could end up anywhere from first base coach to roving minor league instructor. But beyond that, the rest of the coaching staff will remain in place for 2018, and…
3. Jeff Banister’s option for 2019 was also picked up a year in advance. The exercising of that option was part of what sounded all press conference long like a message of stability. It was implied a few times, and stated explicitly at least once by Daniels: “This is not a rebuild”. That’s an important message to hear, because as we talked to Adrian Beltre in the final weeks of the season, he was honest about his desire to contend for a World Series next year, and if the Rangers are rebuilding, he would ask to be traded. Beltre will turn 39 on April 7th, and knows that the grains of sand in his World Series chase are numbered. With the statement today, Texas seemed to be saying more than just the words at the podium. The undertones were also clear: they’re going to try to get Adrian Beltre a ring in Texas.
But to do that, the team recognizes the shortcomings that must be addressed; primarily…
4. The Rotation. Right now, we really only know that Cole Hamels and Martin Perez will be back in 2018. Tyson Ross was released near the end of a disappointing 2017, Yu Darvish is a Dodger, and will soon be a free agent. Andrew Cashner and Miguel Gonzalez, likewise, will be free agents. Nick Martinez, A.J. Griffin, and Yohander Mendez are possibilities, and Chi Chi Gonzalez is expected to miss most of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July. So it will be an interesting off-season. Here are a couple of possibilities:
- Shohei Ohtani. Daniels and Banister were limited in what they were allowed to say, since Ohtani has not officially been posted yet, but both spoke highly of the young two-way star from Japan. Daniels said that “all 30 teams” will likely be involved in trying to sign Ohtani once he is posted, and Banister spoke glowingly of being a fan of elite athletes, putting Ohtani firmly in that class. The manager also indicated that the team would be open to allowing Ohtani to both hit and pitch, maximizing his value on both sides of the ball.
- Free Agency. Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are the big fish, obviously, and both have ties to the area: Darvish pitched here from 2012 until this season, and Arrieta pitched at TCU. Beyond those two, there are a few interesting names: Cashner and Gonzalez, Michael Pineda, Clay Buchholz, and others. Of course, there’s the fascinating possibility that Masahiro Tanaka opts out of his remaining 3 years and $67 million, and Texas spends a ton of money to have the ビッグスリーOhtani, Darvish, and Tanaka. But today’s statement that the payroll would likely be more in line with 2016’s than 2017’s makes that little more than a pipe dream.
- In-house. There have been discussions with Matt Bush about transitioning to the rotation. Recent memory might make the fanbase gunshy about this move: Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers are but three examples of this move backfiring in a big way. But remember that C.J. Wilson made this transition and was a large part of the World Series rotations in 2010-11. It’s not impossible, and it’s not a certainty. This conversation will likely be tabled until Texas knows how the rest of the offseason will shake out. But it’s something to keep an eye on once pitchers and catchers report in February.
5. Prince Fielder has officially been released. The Rangers didn't give many details on what led to the decision, but Daniels said that it wasn't so much a financial decision as it was the fact that there is no 60-day DL in the offseason, so having Fielder would cost them a roster spot. That was a hassle for the team last offseason as well, when Brady Dragmire was claimed and placed on waivers what seemed like a dozen times, bouncing back and forth between teams all winter long.
If you had asked me a week ago to list my ten favorite Tom Petty songs, “Don’t Do Me Like That” wouldn’t have made the conversation. It might not have made the first 25 songs I thought of. But in the few days since his passing, this is the one that keeps running through my mind. It’s from 1979’s “Damn the Torpedoes”. (Spotify, Apple Music, Website)
During the regular season, these recommendations occasionally come from Rangers players, broadcasters, or other people around the team (here’s a complete list). If there’s a player or person you’d like Levi to ask for a music recommendation, shoot him an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet here.
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