Here’s your pre-winter meetings and post-Zack Wheeler flirtation edition of Evan Help Us:
Me: Yes. There are two. With Zack Wheeler off the market, let’s for a minute think about the Rangers pursuing somebody from the group of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel and, although unlikely, Madison Bumgarner. Those guys are going to go for somewhere in the $15-18 million range. They get that guy and then take a chance or two on a list of injured/non-tendered guys that include some tantalizing talents like Alex Wood, Taijuan Walker and Michael Piñeda. That total investment comes to about $30 million, gives them a guy to drop in the rotation immediately and two others who can work back slowly. It puts the Rangers probably about $10 million above what they had allotted with a chance to trade Minor for a more long-term controllable pitcher (or another need) so that they’d have, say, a front four that included one of Ryu, Keuchel or MadBum, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and one of the Kolby Allard, Brock Burke and Joe Palumbo trio.
The other scenario: The Rangers miss out on every target this winter, decide they can’t compete in 2020 and turn Minor and Lynn into late-winter trade pieces. If they go down that road, you’d have to wonder how long it would be until they’d consider trading somebody like Joey Gallo, too, because at that point they would be back to fully rebuilding and Gallo would have more use as a trade commodity than as a Ranger. That is a worst-case scenario and not one that appears to be on the board at the moment.
From my perspective, though, I think you load up on as many starters as you can get right now, both guys who you can count on from the start of the season and guys whose return can be staggered a little bit. Add in the young guys who got some experience last season and the next group that will likely include Tyler Phillips. And there is a very deep 9-10-man starting pitching pool, one that stands to get better as the season matures. And if it doesn’t work out, you trade Minor for whatever you can at the deadline.
Me: The Rangers were willing to go to at least $100 million on Wheeler and might have even gone a bit higher than that if they would have seen a resolution in sight. That’s plenty big spending. To piggyback on our first answer, the question now is if Wheeler was “worth” $23.6 million per year at age 29 without a ton of credentials, with the bet being on future performance, how do you weigh the next group of guys? Ryu, Keuchel and Bumgarner are all in their 30s with probably their best seasons behind them. You’d be paying a lot based on past performance, which is not a good model. Might be smart to spread that $20 million around to multiple guys who have upside but have some injury histories. That’s why guys like Piñeda, Wood and Walker all intrigue me. I think it’s possible to get two of them and an adequate depth guy for the same money it would have cost to get Wheeler. Will all of them hit? Probably not. But, if you get one Mike Minor- or Lance Lynn-type season from anybody in that group or a combo from the guys who end up comprising one spot, you’ve theoretically accomplished the same as signing Wheeler.
Me: As a Gold Glove-caliber defender, Pillar is certainly intriguing, but the Rangers feel pretty good with Danny Santana moving to center field and Delino DeShields sharing time with him. At the moment, center field isn’t high on their list of priorities. If they were to move an infielder in a trade and the need arose for Santana back in the infield, then yes, Pillar becomes even more intriguing. For now, the priorities remain another starting pitcher, a third baseman (a right-handed-hitting third baseman), perhaps a catcher, perhaps a right-handed-hitting first baseman. There are simply bigger issues to attack than center.
Me: So, I grew up in a Jewish household and we never had a Christmas tree or any real lights decoration. Then I married a woman who loves Christmas and had BOXES and BOXES and BOXES of Christmas trees and decorations. And Gina and the kids made it an annual event to decorate the house, although the outdoor light scene wasn’t crazy.
Now, one thing you should know before we go any further: I am a klutz. I am not handy. I can lug boxes around, but ask me to follow directions and put up a curtain rod and you end up with a wall that looks like it was strafed during World War II. So, mostly for my own safety and theirs, we’ve reached an agreement: I will get the boxes out. I will hang a few ornaments. I will watch her enjoy it, but mostly I sit on the couch during a football game and just stay out of the way. It’s better for everybody that way.
Where the tension arises is over wreaths. I’m not a wreath guy. I don’t get the wreath. It’s even spelled unnecessarily. And Gina loves them. She’s got wreaths for every season and just brought one home for this Christmas that lights up. It comes with a handy carrying case. In our garage we have the equivalent of the Olympic wrings (see what wreath does to your spelling?) of wreaths. Save me from the Wreather Madness.
Me: Start here: Both Harper and Machado were 26 when they hit free agency while Rendon is 29. Ages 26-28, man, those are considered prime years for hitters. There was a premium for that. Second, both those guys wanted the biggest, longest contracts they could find. And Scott Boras is good at doing that.
Rendon may be a little different. There are reports that while he loves the game, he simply doesn’t want to play into his late, late 30s. He’d like to be home raising his family by then. In fact, there is some thought that he’d take a five-year contract with higher AAV than go for a seven- or eight-year deal that would pay him more in total dollars. Boras is a good advocate for his clients. He’s going to seek out the highest market for his players unless his players specifically instruct him to work under a different set of parameters. That may be the case with Rendon vs. Harper/Machado.
Me: It’s just not as much of a priority right now, I don’t think. And, quite frankly, the extensions for guys the Rangers identified as core players mostly haven’t worked out. Elvis Andrus’ contract, which pays him an average of $15 million a year, is starting to handcuff the Rangers financially, especially since so many good teams have younger, better shortstops. Rougned Odor’s contract is becoming a burden as it jumps to $9 million for 2020 with salaries of $12 million in each of 2021 and 2022 looming. Jose Leclerc’s contract doesn’t carry the same kind of financial burden since it was for $14 million over four years, but he couldn’t hold on to the closer’s role in 2020. The extensions have simply not worked out.
The most likely extension candidate this winter is Joey Gallo. If that becomes a discussion, it’s only going to happen after the Rangers have sorted through the free agency market. And with Boras as Gallo’s agent, it’s likely to be a protracted process. I think the Rangers may take a year off on the extension program. Willie Calhoun may be a very strong candidate for an extension after 2020.
Me: Nothing at the moment. Jung would continue to play third base for the time being. At the appropriate time when Jung appears poised to start pushing toward the major leagues, the club would only then start to consider alternate routes. Jung is athletic and can play almost anywhere in the infield.
For context, see this: The Rangers signed Adrian Beltre for the 2011 season. In 2012, they drafted then-third baseman Joey Gallo. It wasn’t until two yeas later that Gallo played ANYWHERE other than third and, at that point, that consisted of seven games at first base. The next year he started to move around more, priming himself to be ready to be called up wherever the Rangers might need him. As it happened, he was needed at third base when Beltre got hurt. So he played there. But since, he’s moved to first, left, center and, most likely for 2020, to right field.
If the Rangers get Rendon and Jung continues to progress, they will find a way to have both players plugged into the lineup.
Me: Solak spent his time last year trying to make adjustments to third base on the fly and that was challenging. First was not a priority. That’s not to say it doesn’t become one. But he’s an awfully small target (he’s listed at 5-11) and the small first baseman is just a rarity in the game today. Carlos Santana was the only guy listed at 5-11 or shorter to play at least 100 games at first base in a season over the last four seasons. If you go back as far as 2010, the only other 5-11 or shorter guy to play first base was Prince Fielder. And I’m not sure Solak is as tall as Fielder was. So, it would not be ideal. Doesn’t mean the Rangers won’t do it if they have to and the way that happens is if Solak hits, the second baseman hits, the DH hits and there remains a hole at first base.
As for Guzman, I think the most likely scenario is he begins the season in the majors platooning at first base with a right-handed hitter. That would also give you the ability to use Guzman’s defense at first with a lead late in games he didn’t start. That may even be a path to using Solak at first base. Have Solak start occasionally there vs. a left-handed pitcher. Get three at-bats from him and hopefully take a lead to the sixth or seventh and then install Guzman at first.
Oh, and regarding Mazara, I still think he either plays more outfield/DH than anywhere or gets traded. But working at first base can’t hurt. If the Rangers simply can’t keep Guzman at first, having a lineup that included Gallo, Calhoun, Mazara, Choo, Odor and Santana facing right-handed starters may be very intriguing.