Rangers offseason preview: Darvish’s return can only help
(We will preview one team’s offseason each day leading up to the start of free agency. Now up: the Texas Rangers.)
The 2015 Texas Rangers were not picked by many to contend for a postseason spot, let alone wrest the American League West title from preseason favorites like the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.
And yet, first-year manager Jeff Banister led the surprising Rangers to that title, even without ace Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery) at all and without lefty Derek Holland (shoulder) for much of the season.
Somehow it all worked – Yovani Gallardo was serviceable, and midseason acquisition Cole Hamels was the rock the club sought as it barreled toward locking up the division crown on the season’s final weekend. Though they came up agonizingly short in Game 5 of the ALDS against Toronto, squandering a 2-0 series lead in the process, there’s little reason to believe the Rangers can’t get back to this level in 2016.
Three things the Rangers must address this offseason:
1. Craft a solid starting staff. Elbow surgery robbed Darvish of his 2015 season and led many to assume this would be another disappointing year in Arlington. It wasn’t, thanks to contributions from Colby Lewis and youngsters Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez (though they had ups and downs themselves). Lewis and Gallardo will be free agents this offseason and might not return, but the club will have Holland and Hamels back. If Darvish is able to return to form after rejoining the staff at some point in the first half of the year, Texas could put together a pretty formidable rotation. The Rangers could also look to the free-agent market for a solid middle-of-the-rotation type to offset the potential departure of Gallardo.
2. Upgrade at catcher – maybe. Robinson Chirinos could be the Rangers’ No. 1 catcher in 2016, though he’s 31 and just completed an injury-riddled season in which he hit .232/.325/.438 in 78 games. Journeyman Chris Gimenez performed well down the stretch and started some postseason games, but should either of these backstops be considered first-string options in 2016?
3. Stick with the core. When the Rangers picked up Hamels for a boatload of prospects, people scratched their heads. And yet, it worked, as the Rangers caught fire and quickly established themselves as the AL West’s most formidable club. Shin-Soo Choo stumbled out of the gate but hit well for most of the summer, including a torrid .387/.500/.613 September/October stretch that helped propel the Rangers to the postseason. There’s no reason to believe both players won’t form the nucleus of the 2016 team. And Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor and Delino DeShields will make this a formidable lineup again in 2016.