30 Clubs in 30 Days: Texas Rangers

Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold reportedly had a really good pro day (in the rain, no less), where a significant portion of the Browns’ staff was in attendance. This makes it all the more likely that Darnold will be the top pick in the draft next month. My preference is still former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, however he has publicly stated that he does not want to play for the Browns so I think it’s more likely he ends up with the Jets at number 3 or the Broncos at number 5. Also, the Giants traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Buccaneers for some draft picks, so perhaps North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb may wind up being the second overall pick. But with that, let’s get to today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, as we begin to wind down with the Texas Rangers.

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2017 Results:

Record: 78-84, 23 games behind Houston Astros, 7 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card spot

Notable Offseason Additions: SP Bartolo Colon, SP Doug Fister, SP Matt Moore, RP Mike Minor, 2B Darwin Barney, 3B Trevor Plouffe, C Curt Casali, RP Shawn Tolleson, SP Tim Lincecum

Notable Offseason Subtractions: CF Carlos Gomez, SP Andrew Cashner, 1B Mike Napoli, SP AJ Griffin, SP Miguel Gonzalez, SP Nick Martinez, SP Tyson Ross, 2B Phil Gosselin

Best Offensive Player: 3B Adrian Beltre

Best Pitcher: Cole Hamels

Depth Chart:

C-Robinson Chirinos, Juan Centeno

1B-Joey Gallo

2B-Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Darwin Barney

3B-Adrian Beltre, Trevor Plouffe

SS-Elvis Andrus

LF-Drew Robinson, Ryan Rua

CF-Delino DeShields

RF-Nomar Mazara, Shin Soo Choo (DH)

SP-Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Martin Perez, Jesse Chavez, Bartolo Colon

Bullpen-Alex Claudio (CP?), Jake Diekman (CP?), Matt Bush (CP?), Keone Kela, Jose LeClerc, Tony Barnette, Tim Lincecum

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Jeff Banister (4th season with Rangers)

Hitting Coach-Anthony Iapoce

Pitching Coach-Doug Brocail

1st Base Coach-Steve Buechele

3rd Base Coach-Tony Beasley

Bench Coach-Don Wakamatsu

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The Rangers had a tough season in 2017. After back-to-back division titles in 2015 and ’16, both of which concluded with unceremonious ALDS exits against the Blue Jays, they fell on hard times and ultimately had to start gutting the team, first by shipping off their ace Yu Darvish and then catcher Jonathan Lucroy. There may be more in store should the team struggle to compete in 2018, which I think they will given how tough the AL West is expected to be this season. Here’s how I’m expecting the Rangers to line up this season.

1. Delino DeShields-CF

2. Elvis Andrus-SS

3. Adrian Beltre-3B

4. Joey Gallo-1B

5. Nomar Mazara-RF

6. Shin Soo Choo-DH

7. Rougned Odor-2B

8. Robinson Chirinos-C

9. Drew Robinson/Ryan Rua-LF

There’s some pop in this lineup that will surely be enhanced by the conditions in Arlington, Texas. Joey Gallo is an interesting case here as he was a huge power threat, hitting 41 home runs and slugging .537. It’s this power that made Gallo worth a very respectable 2.9 WAR despite having the fourth-worst batting average in the majors at .209. Only Baltimore’s Chris Davis struck out at a higher frequency than Gallo’s 36.8%, but again, pretty much all of Gallo’s hits seemed to go for extra bases. In fact, 62 of his 94  hits (66%) were of the extra base variety. He hit more home runs (41) than singles (32). So despite the fact that Gallo doesn’t get a ton of hits, when he does he makes them count. Elvis Andrus quietly had his best season in 2017. He hit .297 with a career high 20 home runs (his previous best had been 8) and drove in 88 RBI while stealing 25 bags. He also played a quality defensive shortstop and had a career best 4.1 WAR. Rougned Odor is a guy I’ve never been a huge fan of (though you have to admit, that was a beautiful right hook on Jose Bautista) and last season he left a lot to be desired. He had the second worst batting average in the Majors at .204, the worst OBP at .252, and was worth -1.0 WAR despite hitting 30 home runs for the second straight season. He also played in all 162 games so it wasn’t like his performance was harmed due to injury. This seems to be more of an approach issue than anything and is something that he has to work on if he hopes to continue to be a part of this lineup. And of course, we can’t forget Adrian Beltre, one of the most underappreciated stars of the last 20 years. In fact, Beltre will be entering his 21st Major League season, which is amazing considering he’s not even 40 yet (he turns 39 in a few weeks). Beltre recorded his 3000th hit last season, a double down the left field line, and despite battling injuries that led him to playing his fewest games in a season since his rookie year, he still managed to hit .312 with 17 home runs and 71 RBI and playing his exceptional third base. His on-field antics are also the stuff of legend and have made him one of my all-time favorite players in this league. It will be a sad day when he finally decides to hang up the cleats. I just hope he can get a World Series win before he’s done.

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Pitching for the Rangers could get problematic. Cole Hamels is still an ace-level pitcher, though his 2017 season was a far cry to what he had done in the past. He had an ERA of 4.20 and struck out a career-worst 6.39 batters per 9. He turns 35 just after Christmas so perhaps he may be headed toward a steep decline, which should have Rangers fans nervous because after him there isn’t much to go off of. Doug Fister was a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox last season, but he was their 7th starter and really only joined the rotation because David Price and Steven Wright got hurt. However he did manage a 4.88 ERA, which isn’t good but his FIP was almost an entire run lower at 3.98. However if that’s your #2 starter, you’re in trouble. Matt Moore hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed as a rookie and had the worst ERA in the Majors last season among qualifiers with the Giants at 5.52. Things don’t get any easier as he moves from the pitcher-friendly AT&T Park to the very hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. I also want to touch on Martin Perez real quick. Perez suffered an elbow injury in December after a bull at his ranch in Venezuela charged at him. How did Perez respond to this? He killed the bull and ate it. It’s unknown whether Perez will be ready to go for Opening Day, however this story is a good way to force hitters to take note of you.

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The Rangers bullpen is interesting. There hasn’t been a declared closer but there are so many options available. Alex Claudio had a strong 2017 with a 2.50 ERA though a low 6.10 K/9. Matt Bush continues to shed the “biggest draft bust of all time” label as he had a 3.78 ERA while striking out almost 10 batters per 9. The team also signed 2-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum to compete for the closer’s role. As of right now, I would say the favorite to land the job is Claudio, given he’s had the most recent success and he’s the reliever manager Jeff Banister went to the most last season and therefore has the most trust in. Though I think the Rangers would benefit in using a closer-by-committee kind of rotation where they have the left-handed Claudio appear in the 9th if the three batters due up are lefty-heavy and the right-handed Bush for when they’re righty-heavy.

Overall, I don’t expect the Rangers to compete too hard in this division. They’re way behind their in-state rival Astros in terms of talent and they didn’t do enough in the offseason to fend off the Angels and Mariners, either. If the Rangers aren’t competitors by the time the trade deadline rolls around, I would expect them to be sellers and begin their rebuild.

Projected Record: 82-80, 4th in AL West

That record could really fluctuate depending on how things go. It’s more of a place-holder, kind of like what I did with the Orioles. I would put more stock in the divisional finish rather than the actual record. That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when we go north of the border with the Toronto Blue Jays who, like the Rangers, are also at kind of a crossroads and will have some real decisions to make at the trade deadline. Let me know what you think of the Rangers’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays

Some positives from Justin Turner’s broken wrist, he won’t need surgery. It’s unknown when he will return but the term “weeks,” not “months” was used when talking about his return, which is a good sign. On a lesser front, Nationals star second baseman Daniel Murphy is expected to miss Opening Day as he’s still recovering from October knee surgery. Since joining the Nationals in 2016, Murphy has been on the best run of his career, including hitting .322 last season. Also, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb to their rotation, basically just leaving Greg Holland as the last remaining free agent of note. With that, let’s get to today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days featuring the Tampa Bay Rays.

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2017 Results:

Record: 80-82, 13 games behind Boston Red Sox, 5 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: OF Carlos Gomez, 1B CJ Cron, RP Daniel Hudson, RP Dan Runzler, SS Christian Arroyo, CF Denard Span,

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 3B Evan Longoria, RF Steven Souza Jr, LF Corey Dickerson, SP Alex Cobb, 1B Lucas Duda, 1B Logan Morrison, SP Jake Odorizzi,

Best Offensive Player: CF Kevin Kiermaier

Best Pitcher: Chris Archer

Depth Chart:

C-Wilson Ramos, Jesus Sucre

1B-CJ Cron

2B-Brad Miller, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle

3B-Matt Duffy

SS-Adeiny Hechavarria, Christian Arroyo

LF-Mallex Smith

CF-Kevin Kiermaier, Denard Span (DH)

RF-Carlos Gomez

SP-Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, Nate Eovaldi

Bullpen-Alex Colome (CP), Dan Jennings, Matt Andriese, Sergio Romo, Daniel Hudson, Chaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Dan Runzler

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Kevin Cash (4th season with Rays)

Hitting Coach-Chad Mottola

Pitching Coach-Kyle Snyder

1st Base Coach-Ozzie Timmons

3rd Base Coach-Matt Quatraro

Bench Coach-Charlie Montoyo

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The Rays blew the everloving shit out of their lineup from last season. In 2017, the Rays as a team hit 228 home runs, 6th best in baseball. In the offseason, they lost each of their top 4 home runs hitters in Morrison, Souza, Dickerson, and the former face of their franchise Longoria. It’s going to be weird seeing a Rays team without Longoria manning the hot corner. It’ll be the first time since they dropped the “devil” out of their name before the 2008 season that he wasn’t the everyday third baseman. With all that subtraction, here’s how the Rays are slated to line up in 2018.

1. Carlos Gomez-RF

2. Kevin Kiermaier-CF

3. Brad Miller-2B

4. CJ Cron-1B

5. Wilson Ramos-C

6. Matt Duffy-3B

7. Mallex Smith-LF

8. Adeiny Hechavarria-SS

9. Denard Span-DH

Not great. There’s not a single bat in that lineup that puts fear in the heart of pitchers. Sure there’s some quality defense in that lineup, particularly in centerfield with Kevin Kiermaier, but at the plate there’s a lot to be desired. Kiermaier spent a lot of time on the DL last season but was still able to provide a lot of value to the Rays. He hit .276 last season with 15 home runs, 39 RBI, 16 stolen bags, and was worth 3.0 WAR. He’s better known for being arguably the best defensive centerfielder in the game and that’s where a lot of his value comes from but he’s also a pretty good hitter in his own right. I can’t toot his horn too much because he went to Purdue so I’m going to stop right there. Brad Miller has had a weird tenure in his two seasons with the Rays. His first season with the team saw him hitting 30 bombs after a previous career-high of 11. In 2017, he hit 9. Injuries played a big part in that but the dropoff is pretty enormous, especially when you consider how big a dip his rate stats took as well. In 2016, Miller hit .243 but also slugged a pretty good .482, resulting in a league average 2.0 WAR. That dropped significantly to a .201 average and .337 SLG, resulting in a -0.1 WAR, all of which are abysmal numbers. It’ll be interesting to see which Brad Miller we get this season, the one that was one of the biggest power-hitting middle infielders in the game? Or the one who can’t hit the broad side of what Jabba the Hut calls an ass?

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The pitching situation is going to be interesting in Tampa. I always find that they seem to develop good pitching every year and this season is no different, as there are a lot of talented young arms in the rotation. But that’s where the intrigue lies. The Rays are going to experiment with a 4-man rotation as opposed to the traditional 5, which you may have noticed when I listed the Rays’ depth chart. You gotta wonder how that’s going to affect their preparation. However the oldest guy between Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, and Nate Eovaldi is Archer at 29 (wait, shit, seriously? Guy looks like he’s 19) so it’s not like they’re dealing with some old dogs who refuse to change their routine. But it’ll be interesting to see how this works out because like I said, this is a talented bunch. Archer is one of those guys who is a much better pitcher than his stats might indicate. Last season Archer had a 4.07 ERA but a 4.6 WAR (All Star-level) and a 3.40 FIP with the 5th best K/9 rate at 11.15. Apparently he’s just been the victim of bad luck. Blake Snell has shown some flashes of being an ace-level pitcher but so far he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Faria had a 3.43 ERA last season and may quietly be one of the better pitchers in the American League. I remember hearing one anecdote that said if you were to start a pitching staff with no names, based on just the eye test alone, Nate Eovaldi would probably be the #1 choice. I can’t really argue with that, since the guy’s fastball consistently touches 98 and he’s got a pretty good curveball to boot but for whatever reason, he just seems to get hit. He hasn’t pitched since 2016 thanks to Tommy John surgery but he appears to be ready to go in 2018.

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The Rays bullpen leaves a lot to be desired. Alex Colome is the only real pitcher of note, being their closer, and he saved 47 games last season, the most in baseball by about 6 saves over Kenley Jansen, however his rate stats aren’t nearly as impressive as the Dodgers’ stopper. Colome had a 3.24 ERA and only struck out about 7 batters per 9. That’s by far the lowest number out of any closer in the top 10 in saves last season (next lowest is Fernando Rodney at 10.57). If he can’t bring that K/9 rate up, the Rays could be in trouble in the 9th inning. After him, Sergio Romo was quietly really good for Tampa last season, posting a 1.47 ERA in 25 appearances, which is really encouraging because he’s had a rough tenure since losing his closer’s job with the Giants so many years ago. Other than those guys, though, nobody in the Rays’ ‘pen is really worth talking about here.

Overall, I don’t think the Rays are going to be any good. They blew up their team in the offseason and I sincerely doubt they’re going to be any threat for a Wild Card spot, let alone the AL East. Yet they always find some way to play the role of pesky spoiler and I wouldn’t put it past them to be that team that costs another team a playoff berth. That just seems to be what the Rays do. But in all, I wouldn’t argue you too hard if you were to tell me the Rays are going to be the worst team in the American League in 2018.

Projected Record: 68-94, last in AL East

That’s going to do it for today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the Texas Rangers, who may need to take a long look at whether or not to blow up the team and start a rebuild after toying with being a World Series threat the last couple years. Let me know what you think of the Rays’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.