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: Kansas City Royals

The NFL Scouting Combine continued, this time the quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends were the participants. Quick takeaway, Josh Allen is about as perfect a physical specimen as you’re going to find, the problem of course being that his numbers in games were not very good. But again, after the combine is over I’ll have a breakdown of what I saw in addition to that day’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. So with that, let’s get to the Kansas City Royals.

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2017 Results:

Record: 80-82, 22 games behind Cleveland Indians, 5 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: 1B Lucas Duda, SP Wily Peralta, RP Blaine Boyer, SP Jesse Hahn, 2B Ryan Goins, OF Tyler Collins

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Eric Hosmer, CF Lorenzo Cain, 3B Mike Moustakas, DH Brandon Moss, SP Jason Vargas, SP Chris Young, RP Mike Minor, RP Joakim Soria, RP Ryan Buchter

Best Offensive Player: C Salvador Perez

Best Pitcher: Danny Duffy

Depth Chart:

C-Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

1B-Lucas Duda

2B-Whit Merrifield, Raul Mondesi

3B-Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier

SS-Alcides Escobar

LF-Alex Gordon

CF-Paolo Orlando

RF-Jorge Bonifacio, Jorge Soler (DH)

SP-Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Jesse Hahn, Nate Karns

Bullpen-Kelvin Herrera (CP), Wily Peralta, Brandon Maurer, Kevin McCarthy, Miguel Almonte, Brian Flynn

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Ned Yost (9th season with Royals)

Hitting Coach-Terry Bradshaw

Pitching Coach-Cal Eldred

1st Base Coach-Mitch Maier

3rd Base Coach-Mike Jirschele

Bench Coach-Dale Sveum

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Did the Royals win their World Series at the perfect time or what? Basically as soon as they hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy after Wade Davis struck out Wilmer Flores to end the 2015 season, the Royals have been preparing for this moment and at long last it has come: the Royals need to rebuild. I mean just take a look at that “notable offseason subtractions” list. You could fill a pretty quality roster with those guys. I should mention, though, that Mike Moustakas, as of this writing, is still unsigned so it’s not totally unthinkable that he returns to Kansas City considering they had a 7-year deal ready for Eric Hosmer. But with all those losses to their core, let’s take a look at who is returning to Kansas City.

1. Alcides Escobar-SS

2. Whit Merrifield-2B

3. Alex Gordon-LF

4. Salvador Perez-C

5. Lucas Duda-1B

6. Jorge Bonifacio-RF

7. Paolo Orlando-CF

8. Jorge Soler-DH

9. Cheslor Cuthbert/Hunter Dozier-3B

I’ve definitely seen worse, though I’ve also seen far better. The only guy still of note here is Salvador Perez, whom I consider to be the best all-around catcher in the American League. He’s a skilled hitter, is hard to run on behind the plate, and does a good job working with a pitching staff. The main issue with Perez is how he’s used. Catchers typically require more days off than any other position player but Perez seems to be the exception to that rule, though the Royals’ coaching staff seem to be wising up to this. Perez played in 150 games in 2014 and since then his games played totals have gone down in each year, bottoming out at 129 (which is more typical for catchers) in 2017. You may also notice that his home run totals have gone up in every season of his career, boasting a career high 27 bombs in 2017. This suggests that the extra rest has really aided his long-term level of play. Alex Gordon’s play has dropped significantly since the Royals won the World Series and 2017 was probably his worst season since he was threatening to become a catastrophic bust early in his career. Despite continuing to play the best left field in all of baseball, Gordon was atrocious at the plate in 2017, hitting .208 with 9 home runs, 45 RBI, reached base at a .293 clip, slugged a measly .315 and was replacement level with a 0.0 WAR in 148 games played. Like I said before, Gordon’s defense is excellent, but those numbers at the plate are just unacceptable. Offensively as a whole the Royals were just 24th in baseball in runs scored in 2017 and now they’ve lost their three best offensive threats in Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas. Kansas City is going to struggle to score runs this season.

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Kauffman Stadium is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the game and the Royals typically play very good defense so I’m not too concerned about how they’re going to pitch despite lacking any real star power on the mound. Though to be fair, when they won the World Series in 2015 their Game 1 starter was Edinson Volquez (they did have Johnny Cueto at the time, though he was a midseason addition and he didn’t pitch that well upon joining the Royals). So the Royals are used to succeeding on the mound without superstars in their rotation. Danny Duffy is their ace and he is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball. Last season he went 9-10 with a 3.81 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, struck out 8 batters per 9 innings, and only let up 0.80 HR/9. He has plenty of arm talent and will more than likely get the Opening Day nod for the Royals provided he can stay healthy, which has been an issue as he’s only qualified for the Major League minimum in innings pitched once in his career (2016). The rest of the rotation is made up of some filler guys, such as Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. They did acquire Jesse Hahn from the A’s in exchange for Brandon Moss, which provides them with some decent depth in their starting rotation, however they lack a true ace, just a bunch of #3-caliber starting pitchers. But again, Kauffman Stadium is very favorable towards pitchers so I don’t think a lack of star power is going to hinder these guys too much.

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There’s a lot to be desired with the Royals’ bullpen. Closer Kelvin Herrera is extremely talented, as his fastball is consistently around 98 mph, but he had a down year in 2017 as he carried a 4.25 ERA a year after back-to-back 2.7 ERA campaigns. Herrera also doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as you’d expect for a guy who throws as hard as he does, as he’s typically somewhere in the 8 K/9 range and has eclipsed 10 K/9 in a season just twice (2013 and 2016). After him, there’s not much. Wily Peralta was the Opening Day starter for the Brewers a couple times but he hasn’t had a sub-4 ERA since 2014 and last season was particularly disastrous as he had a 7.85 ERA in 8 starts before moving to the bullpen to make 11 more appearances. Brandon Maurer is a talented reliever but 2017 was his second season where he carried an ERA over 6, though his FIP was sub-4, suggesting he was significantly better than his ERA might suggest. There still is much left to be desired in this Royals bullpen however the Kauffman Stadium effect does apply here and will likely help their overall numbers.

Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Royals somewhere near the cellar of the AL Central. In fact, I’d probably put them there if the Tigers weren’t looking so terrible. The Royals aren’t going to be very good, but I don’t expect them to be abysmal. Ned Yost is a good enough manager to where I think he could help this team steal some series’. I think the best case scenario for this Royals team is that they’ll be pesky and cause some teams problems, however they won’t be much more than that and will be looking to try and secure a high draft pick.

Projected Finish: 74-88, 3rd in AL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were one win away from winning their first World Series since 1988. Let me know what you think of the Royals’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.