SEPTEMBER BASEBALL

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The calendar flipped from August to September with a couple of American League teams having essentially wrapped up the division championship, but the East Division and the two Wild Card playoff spots are still wide open. While Cleveland and Texas are all but mathematically in the playoffs, they have meaningful games to decide seeding and home field advantage. There is exciting and meaningful baseball to be played until the regular season ends October 2.

The rosters expand in September. Teams can add players up to their 40-man roster. The Rangers are up to 34. Teams in pennant races usually like to add players to shore up areas like:

PITCHING: Teams routinely add to their staffs, particularly the bullpen. Texas immediately added Nick Martinez and Yohander Mendez when the rosters first expanded. Jose Leclerc and Tanner Scheppers have been added since. Colby Lewis came off the 60-day disabled list last Sunday, so the Rangers have 17 pitchers on the active roster.

CATCHER: In the 21st century with teams routinely carrying 12 pitchers, there is room for just two catchers. Catcher is one position where teams go for defense first. Often late in games, the defense first catcher comes to bat in a critical situation, and managers are reluctant to pinch hit because they don’t want to later be exposed with no backup catcher on the bench if an injury occurs. A third catcher in September solves the problem. The Rangers added Brett Nicholas in the first wave of call-ups to join Jonathan Lucroy and Robinson Chirinos.

SPEED OFF THE BENCH. Every manager wants a player or two with plus speed for pinch running situations. Outfielder Delino Deshields, Jr. was already on the roster, and Jered Hoying was also added.

Infielders Hanser Alberto and Joey Gallo have also joined the team. Alberto gives manager Jeff Banister flexibility in his infield substitutions and Gallo provides power off the bench.

The expansion of the rosters benefits teams across the spectrum. Obviously, the teams in pennant races like the flexibility to have pinch hitters, pinch runners, and a deep bullpen. However, teams that are totally out of the races have the opportunity to look at their prospects in a Major League setting and to get their prospects acclimated to the Major Leagues. As Buck Showalter used to tell the local media, “You put that third deck on the stadium, and it’s a different ballgame.”

In recent years, there has been a growing sentiment to change the roster situation in September. Many conceptually see playing by one set of rules for five months (a 25 man roster), and then playing by another set of rules in September (30 or more on the active roster) when the races get decided. Eric Nadel even predicted last year that there would be a change to the rules this year. That obviously didn’t happen, but there is at least some chance that changes will be made for next year.

The common theme in the proposed rule changes has teams still being allowed to expand their rosters, but with a per game or per series limit of the usual 25-man active roster.

Quite frankly, I don’t see the need for such change. First, it would hurt teams out of the race by limiting their ability to play the young players they have summoned from the minor leagues. One of the unwritten rules of the game is that a team that is out of the pennant race puts the best team on the field in games against teams contending for the playoffs. If such roster limits were in place and the game turned into a blowout, they could miss the opportunity to use September call-ups that aren’t designated for that game.

For the contenders though, it makes even less sense. Under the present system, teams with a productive farm system get a talent shot in the arm in September. Teams with less productive farm systems don’t get the same jolt. Why penalize teams that are building through their farm system?

The other thing to consider is that in the second decade of the 21st century, Major League General Managers have become very creative at roster management. There are restricted list and paternity leave designations that effectively inflate the 25 man roster during the season.

The one complaint that has some merit is that with the large number of pitchers, game times can expand because of numerous pitching changes. Former Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz ranted earlier this week on the MLB Network about a game in which 19 pitchers were used. That is excessive, but it’s the exception to the rule.

The success of a season is ultimately decided by the success in the playoffs. The playoffs are really played by different rules than the regular season. There are off days for travel, such that most teams shorten their pitching rotation to four or even three starters. That enables teams to drop back to 10 or 11 pitchers and add one or two position players. There is thus more flexibility for defensive replacements, pinch hitters and pinch runners. There’s no reason that the different rules of September baseball shouldn’t be part of the game that decides which teams participate in the playoffs.

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RANGER ROUND UP

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers finished August with a 17-10 record for the month and an 80-54 record for the season. 26 games over .500 is the season high, and they go into September with an 8.5 game lead over Houston and a magic number of just 21. They go into the month with a five game winning streak. The last three of were victories over Seattle that all but mathematically eliminated the Mariners from the division championship. The magic number to eliminate Seattle is 18.

The 80-54 record is the best in the American League, so with the A. L. winning this year’s All-Star game; the Rangers are poised to have home field advantage in all three post-season series. The team looks to be rounding into good form in all areas. They scored 28 runs in the three game Seattle series. The Mariners left town 11.5 games out of first place with 29 left to play. They are toast as far as winning the division and almost toast for getting a Wild Card berth.

Texas now has six players that have hit at least 20 home runs this year. They also scored a run against the Mariners without a hit on a walk, stolen base, sacrifice bunt and ground out. It’s a formidable attack that can score in a variety of ways.

The starting rotation has gotten a boost from the return of Derek Holland. Holland has thrown two outstanding games since getting activated from the disabled list, going six innings and giving up one run each time. He is making a strong bid to part of the playoff rotation, which will most likely be just four pitchers as well as a case for the Rangers to exercise their team option on Holland for 2017.

Martin Perez has struggled since June, but he came back with six shutout innings this week against the Mariners. He has been outstanding at home. He has made 15 starts at Globe Life Park, with an 8-2 record and a 2.65 ERA.

A. J. Griffin has been better of late. Colby Lewis made a minor league rehab start last Tuesday and could get activated soon with the expanded rosters. The rotation appears to be coming together as the team is down to their final 28 games. There are smoke signals from Arlington that the team is strongly considering going to a six-man rotation for September. That would allow extra rest for Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and keep Perez, Griffin, Holland and Lewis engaged.

The bullpen looks sharp at this point. For sure, Sam Dyson can scare the bejeebers out of Ranger fans in save opportunities. In the end, the results are usually there. He has 30 saves, and just four blown saves. Matt Bush is up to six wins, and may be the most consistent late inning reliever on the staff. Jake Diekman has scrambled of late, but he’s still the main left-hander in the pen. Keone Kela had a fine outing this week, so hopefully is regaining his 2015 form. Tony Barnette continues to be quietly consistent.

That’s basically the back end of the bullpen at this point. Jeremy Jeffress was expected to be part of the mix, but he was arrested for DWI last week and was immediately placed on the restricted list. This week, he entered a rehab facility in the Houston area. He is expected to be out around 30 days as he deals with those issues.

Alex Caudio has been fantastic as the long man. Since his last recall from Round Rock on July 8, he has a 1.54 ERA in 15 outings. This week he relieved Cole Hamels in the fifth inning and threw 2-1/3rd scoreless innings of middle relief. Not only did he keep the game within the Rangers’ reach for a win, which they did; but he saved the rest of the bullpen. Amazingly, only three pitchers saw action in the game despite Hamels’ short start.

Reinforcements are coming with the rosters expanding in September. Two relievers from the minor leagues will be in uniform for this weekend’s series against the Astros (see below). Tanner Scheppers is also expected to join the team. More pitchers are likely to be added next week when the minor league seasons are complete.

The Rangers’ bullpen numbers don’t rank highly in the American League, but most of the pitchers responsible for the bad numbers are gone – Tom Wilhelmsen and Shawn Tolleson to name two. The ERAs of the current group of relievers is quite good.

As the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approached, Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels decided the price for starting pitching was prohibitively high. He made the decision to forego the acquisition of a significant starter, which was his stated preference, and try to make the team better in other areas. Jonathan Lucroy, Jeffress and Carlos Beltran were the three big acquisitions he made. So far, it’s working out great!

Lucroy has probably had more impact than any player traded at the end of July. His offense has been invaluable. In 24 games, he has hit .293 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. His home run total for the season is 20, a new career high.

As valuable as those numbers sound, he’s been even better behind the plate. Derek Holland has thrown his two best starts of the season with Lucroy calling the pitches. Martin Perez has made three very good starts in his last four outings. Lucroy caught two of the three. Yu Darvish has been better with Darvish behind the plate. Add to that his pitch blocking ability and his acumen at throwing out would be base stealers, and he is clearly a HUGE part of the 17-10 record in August.

Carlos Beltran is also making his presence known too. He is hitting .253 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Those are not astounding, but this team is much better with a veteran such as Beltran.

After the trade deadline, the Rangers signed Carlos Gomez. He was activated for the current home stand and has played six games, but has had a significant impact in three of them. He hit a three run home run in his first Ranger at bat. He hit a grand slam this week to break open Wednesday’s game against Seattle. He made two tremendous catches that kept Tuesday’s game against Seattle in range, a game the Rangers won in the ninth inning.

Gomez was known as a bad act in the clubhouse in Houston this year before his release. With Texas, he’s been anything but. He has mainly been a center fielder, but has willingly played left and right fields and is pleased to be in the batting order even if it’s toward the bottom. He’s playing well and he’s with a strong contending team. That may be the difference, but so far, the Rangers have not seen the problematic Carlos Gomez that hit only .205 in 89 games for Houston. There is no question about his talent. He’s got the physical tools to be a top end player.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers announced four call-ups from the minor leagues as the rosters expand in September. They are left-handed pitcher Yohander Mendez called up from AA Frisco, and right-handed pitcher Nick Martinez, infielder Hanser Alberto, and catcher Bret Nicholas from AAA Round Rock. All four are expected to be in uniform for the Houston series this weekend.

* Reliever Tanner Scheppers is also expected to be activated from the 60-day disabled list and join the team this weekend.

* The 14-1 rout of Seattle on Wednesday put the Rangers run differential well into the positive numbers. They have scored 635 runs while allowing 613, a differential of plus 22. It was only plus five when the Seattle series began.

* After the Rangers play a three game series with Houston this weekend, they move on to Seattle for four games. The other remaining series with the two main West Division contenders is a three game set on September 12, 13 and 14 in Houston.

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A TALE OF TWO TEXAS CITIES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers completed two trades just prior to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline. The headliners of the deal were catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress coming from Milwaukee along with outfielder Carlos Beltran from New York. Texas sent five minor league prospects to procure the three Major League players, and three of those prospects are regarded as premium prospects. All three were ranked among the Rangers’ top 10, and all three have been ranked in the top 100 minor league prospects at some point this season. Texas had also earlier made a trade with Atlanta sending another top 10 prospect for two pitchers, including Lucas Harrell, a veteran back of the rotation starting pitcher.

The Astros were in second place and trailed the Rangers by six games on August 1, clearly in the pennant race; but they chose to do virtually nothing to reinforce their team for the final two months of the season. Like Texas, they have a solid farm system with prospects that are attractive to other teams. They had the ammunition to procure Major League talent to boost this year’s team, but they didn’t.

Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels held a press conference with local media about 2-1/2 hours after the trade deadline. He said, “…the front office and ownership believes in this team and recognizes this is the opportunity to back that up and make the club better.” He clearly did back the team up, as most national writers graded Daniels’ moves as the best that were made at the deadline by any team.

Meanwhile in Houston, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, “Texas took three of the top five prospects out of their system to improve today, and that’s a decision that’s going to be here for a while. We are not prepared to do that for our organization at this point. I feel like we have a young team that is going to be here for a while. We are just getting into our window (of opportunity), and we want to keep it open for as long as possible.”

Despite the Rangers winning the division last year, the Astros were the overwhelming favorite to win the division this season. However, Houston sputtered coming out of the gate and scrambled since the low point in May to get back into the race. They have been as close as 2-1/2 games. It looks like a team with a good chance for at least a Wild Card berth even if they don’t catch Texas in the division. It looks like a team just begging for trade deadline help.

One aspect of contenders making trade deadline deals is the psychological boost it gives the team. Certainly, last year was a good example. The Rangers were barely in the race as the deadline approached, and made only deals for players with multiple years of contract control. They immediately started to win, and even made a waiver deal in August for a rent-a-player (Mike Napoli) to bolster their chances. It worked.

Clearly this year, there was disappointment in the Houston clubhouse that the front office did nothing. Outfielder Colby Rasmus was vocal in his displeasure, saying, ” That shows that (the Rangers are) wanting to go out and better their team. They’ve already beaten us with what they had,…but that shows something that they’re going out and doing that (making the trades).”

This weekend, the Rangers took two of three from Houston to push the Astros into third place 7-1/2 games out of first. The trade deadline deals were the difference on Saturday night. Rangers’ starter Lucas Harrell didn’t pitch well and was knocked out in the fourth inning, but amazingly yielded only one run despite horrendous control problems. Jeremy Jeffress pitched a scoreless inning, and his addition to the pen gave the Rangers the bullpen depth to turn in 5-1/3 innings of one run ball.

On offense, the Rangers eked out the 3-2 win with all three runs driven in by trade deadline acquisitions. Jonathan Lucroy hit a pair of home runs, and Carlos Beltran drove in the other. Houston had no trade deadline acquisitions to answer.

Many took Luhnow’s trade deadline comments as a shot at Daniels. More likely though, it was Luhnow trying to fend off criticism directed toward him.

This is not to criticize Luhnow. His team has injuries. He has an offense that strikes out way too much causing it to struggle to score runs. He may have correctly made the judgement that this team can’t be saved. In the big picture, he has a vision for his team. He tore it down when he took over trading veterans to stock the team with prospects. That led to miserable seasons including 2013 when they lost 111 games, which gave them favorable draft choices to stock the farm system even more.

Attendance is still suffering even as the team’s fortunes have turned. They are averaging a little more than 28,000 per game, while Texas is drawing over 34,000 per game.

Luhnow apparently believes that his farm system will be producing such that his team can be a solid contender in coming years, and is willing to throw away a chance at the playoffs this year to stay on that course.

Texas on the other hand looks to be a team that can not only make the playoffs, but win some series when they get there, even the World Series. Daniels like Luhnow is bringing along young players from the farm system. Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar are integral parts of the team, and none of them have seen their 24th birthday.

However, Daniels unlike Luhnow has mixed in veterans such as Adrian Beltre, Ian Desmond and now Carlos Beltran – leaders to show the young players how the game is played. With Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, they have two top starters. With the acquisition of Jeffress and the blossoming of Matt Bush and Tony Barnette, they have a solid and deep bullpen. With the additions of Lucroy and Beltran and with the return of Shin-Soo Choo from the disabled list, they have the most fearsome batting order in baseball.

They also have one of the best managers in the game – Jeff Banister.

For sure Daniels gave up a lot to get Harrell, Lucroy, Jeffress and Beltran. They also took on about $4 million of payroll to make these deals. One thing the Texas organization has proven though, is that they can scout and develop players. They’ll be able to re-stock the system in less time than most people believe.

Perhaps Luhnow is right that the Rangers’ window of opportunity will close in the next couple of years because of the top prospects that have been traded. However, this Ranger team has a very realistic chance of winning the World Series. Daniels is going for it. He is generally regarded as the trade deadline winner this year. It’s rallied players and fans. The winner he wants to be though is the one holding the big trophy after the last game of the season. This Ranger team has the personnel to do it.

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GREAT TRADING DAY

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – Monday was a fast and furious day of wheeling and dealing, and the Texas Rangers were crowned the champions of this year’s non-waiver trade deadline jamboree. 18 deals involving 49 players were consummated on the trade deadline day, the most since 1995, and the Rangers were involved in two.

Texas made a deal for two pitchers last week and preferred to add even more pitching at the deadline. However, the asking price for quality starting pitching was ridiculously high for starters, and when prices didn’t come down as the deadline neared, Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels turned his attention to shore up other areas of the team.

“We did look at a number of starting pitchers, but the fit wasn’t there,” Daniels said at his Monday evening press conference. “We audibled a little bit and looked to improve the club as best we could.”

When the dust had cleared, Daniels had added catcher Jonathan Lucroy, reliever Jeremy Jeffress, and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Teams had been asking for top Ranger young players – Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara. The bottom line was that Daniels materially upgraded his team and all four are still Rangers.

Lucroy has been linked to the Rangers for months. Many predicted Milwaukee and Texas would make Lucroy a Ranger before the season began. It didn’t happen then, and last Saturday, it didn’t appear that it would happen at all. Word leaked that the Brewers and Indians had agreed on a deal to send Lucroy to Cleveland; and even Daniels went to bed Saturday night thinking that his chance for Lucroy was gone.

The devil is in the details though, and one detail was that Lucroy had a limited no trade clause. There were a list of teams for which he could veto a trade. Cleveland was on that list, and Texas wasn’t. It quickly became apparent Sunday that Cleveland could not satisfy Lucroy to okay the deal. The agreement was nullified, and Lucroy was again available.

The Mets were on the trail early in the day Monday, but in the end, Milwaukee made the deal with Texas. There are more names involved, but the principals in the transaction are Jeremy Jeffress, Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Jeffress, the Brewers’ closer, is coming to Texas, while Brinson and Ortiz are the key prospects going to Milwaukee.

Brinson is a marvelous athlete that plays center field. He’s at AA Frisco, though he’s struggled at the plate after rising meteorically through the Ranger system in 2015. He is clearly Major League ready defensively, as he is, or was until shortly before Monday’s trade deadline, the best defensive center fielder in the Rangers’ organization.

Ortiz was also at AA Frisco until Monday afternoon, and he was regarded as the Rangers’ highest end minor league pitching prospect. MLB.com ranked them as the second and third best prospects in the Rangers’ farm system behind Gallo. Milwaukee did well getting this pair.

Lucroy takes over as the Rangers number one catcher. He is signed through next season and is regarded as one of the top five catchers in baseball. He’s hitting .299 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs. He made the National League All-Star team this season for the second time. He is throwing out would be base stealers at a rate of 37.7%, one of the tops in baseball. The MLB average is 24.9%, and Bobby Wilson and Robinson Chirinos have thrown out less than 20%. He is clearly the best catcher to wear a Texas Ranger uniform since Ivan Rodriguez.

Lucroy is from Louisiana and indicated that he had hoped all along that he would be traded to Texas. “It’s like a shot in the arm,” he told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan. “Nice team; new fresh feeling. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Jeffress is a reliever with a tremendous arm. He is much like Sam Dyson in that his best pitch is the power sinker. He has 27 saves for the Brewers this season with a 2.22 ERA. Dyson likely stays as the closer, but Jeffress is a viable alternative.

The other deal may be more controversial from the Rangers’ standpoint. They sent Dillon Tate to the Yankees for Carlos Beltran, a 39 year old outfielder that will be a free agent this winter. The Yankees also received two lesser pitching prospects, Nick Green and Erik Swanson, and the Yankees will pay half of the $5 million salary owed Beltran for the balance of the 2016 season. Tate was the number four overall selection in the 2015 amateur draft, so that’s a healthy price to pay for a two month rental. Of course, the Rangers are optimistic that Beltran will be a three month rental.

The switch-hitting Beltran is having a banner season for the Yankees. He’s hitting .304 with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs. All three of those figures would lead the Rangers. He is regarded as a good teammate in the clubhouse, and he has been extremely successful in the playoffs over his career. In 11 playoff series totaling 52 games, he is hitting .332 with 16 home runs, 45 runs scored and 40 runs driven in.

Money-wise, the Rangers added about $4,000,000 to the payroll. Beltran adds about $2.5 million, and Lucroy adds another $1.5 million.

So what does this mean to the Rangers? In no particular order, the Rangers now have a powerful batting order. Bobby Wilson and Robinson Chirinos, the incumbent catchers have hit less than .200 for two months and have thrown out less than 20% of would be base stealers for the season. Lucroy is a MATERIAL upgrade both offensively and defensively.

Jefress gives the Rangers six strong arms in the bullpen. He joins closer, Sam Dyson, lefty Jake Diekman, Matt Bush, Keone Kela and Tony Barnette to give the Rangers depth.

“With all the guys in the bullpen now, we feel that we only have winning pieces,” Daniels said.

The move for Beltran may signal that Shin-Soo Choo, who is currently on the disabled list, is in much worse shape than the team has let on. If not, it may still indicate that the team has little confidence that Choo can stay healthy once he returns.

The bottom line is that the basic lineup for the Rangers is Lucroy at catcher, Moreland at first base, Odor at second base, Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Adrian Beltre at third base, Beltran in left field, Ian Desmond in center field, Mazara in right field, and Profar at designated hitter. They will line up as the most powerful batting order in baseball.

Jon Daniels said at his press conference after the trade deadline, “We kept the core of the team together, but we gave up some good players.” He’s right. He did give up some very good prospects, but he made this team much more likely to do damage in October.

“We as a front office believe in this team,” Daniels said, “but at the same time we think we can get better.” On paper for sure, the Rangers did get better on Monday.

NOTABLE:

* Mitch Moreland was named the American League Player of the Week last week after he blasted five home runs and drove in nine runs.

* To make room on the 40-man roster for the three new players, Prince Fielder was transferred to the 60-day disabled list, and Bobby Wilson and Bryan Holaday were designated for assignment. Wilson’s DFA cleared one spot on the active roster, and Joey Gallo was optioned to clear another. That created spots for Beltran and Lucroy, who will be with the team in Baltimore Tuesday night. Jeffress is scheduled to report Wednesday, and move to open a spot on the active roster will be made at that time.

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TRADING SEASON

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The American League beat the National League 4-2 Tuesday night to give the junior circuit the home field advantage in this year’s World Series. For Ranger fans, this may or may not be good news. Certainly the Rangers would love to have home field advantage if they make it to the World Series, and this team certainly looks capable of getting there as they already have the best record in the league through 90 games. On the other hand, this is the 14th year in which the outcome of the All-Star game has been used to determine home field advantage in the World Series. In that span, the National League has won just three All-Star games, but two of those came in years in which the Rangers played in the World Series. Hopefully, the Rangers can reverse the trend and reach the World Series in a year that the American League won the All-Star game..

With the All-Star game out of the way and the June amateur draft well in the rear view mirror, it is fully trading season. The non-waiver trade deadline is August 1 this year, leaving less than three weeks for teams to complete deals without having to run players through waivers. At this point there is skepticism as to how active the trade market will be. Only four American League teams and seven National League teams are more than five games out in the loss column for a Wild Card berth. That’s not many confirmed sellers, and there are a lot of needy buyers as the trade deadline approaches. Literally every contender could use help in their starting rotation and bullpen, but with the supply and demand figures suggested by the seller/buyer ration, the price for pitching, especially starting pitching, will be enormous.

Almost certainly, the Rangers will acquire a starting pitcher. They currently have Cole Hamels and Martin Perez as their lead starters. The Rangers have announced that Yu Darvish will be activated to start this Saturday against the Cubs. However, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland aren’t close to returning, and the Rangers can’t be sure of what they’ll have when this duo returns. That leaves A. J. Griffin at the head of the heap for the back of the rotation, and he has not fared well since returning from the disabled list. Nick Martinez and Alex Gonzalez have been busts as the top two minor league starters. Kyle Lohse did not distinguish himself in his initial start last weekend and may be headed for the disabled list.

The possibilities become very slim from there in terms of internal candidates. One of the leading names of available starters was Drew Pomeranz, but Boston made a deal for him shortly after his All-Star game appearance. Some of the other leading names of starters that may be available are Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore, Ervin Santana (Minnesota), Julio Teheran (Atlanta), and Jeremy Hellickson (Philadelphia). Those are the most prominent names being thrown around, and it’s not a particularly distinguished list. There are certainly no Cole Hamels caliber pitchers in the group.

The Rangers undoubtedly will add a reliever or two. The Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman is the most prominent reliever whose name is being mentioned as possibly available. Jim Duquette, a former Major League GM, wrote an article this week that named 12 players he was confident would be traded prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. Chapman was on that list, and the Rangers were one of the interested teams. The Yankees are in a difficult position. They are not close enough to be a sure contender, but they aren’t far enough out to assess their situation as hopeless. A good week could put them squarely in the mix. However, they have a very solid bullpen with Dillon Betances and Andrew Miller joining Chapman. They would still have a very good pen if Chapman was traded.

Last year, the Rangers acquired Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson near the trade deadline. Those two shaped up what had been a shaky bullpen from opening day. This year the Rangers will activate Keone Kela prior to this weekend’s series with the Cubs, which will add a plus to a bullpen that has been pretty darn good at times. However, expect the Rangers to add at least one veteran to the pen in the next couple of weeks.

The other prominent rumor has the Rangers making a deal for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy is hitting .304 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs. It was a good enough first half performance to make the All-Star team. He has made it known that he wants to be part of a contender, which the Brewers aren’t at this time.

There is a question as to how hungry the Rangers are to add Lucroy. The trio of Robinson Chirinos, Bobby Wilson and Bryan Holaday have been very good so far. They all call a good game and are familiar with the Ranger pitchers. Their combined offensive numbers are very good. The one weakness the Ranger catchers have is throwing out baserunners. Lucroy would be a definite upgrade in this area as he is throwing out base stealers at a 39% rate, one of the best in baseball and about double the Rangers’ percentage. There is still a question as to how much the team improves with Lucroy, and consequently, how far the Rangers will stretch to obtain him.

The question then is who the Rangers will trade to make deals. Every team is interested in Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo and Lewis Brinson. Profar is on the Major League roster as a utility player now, but is blocked long term by Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. Gallo is seemingly blocked by Adrian Beltre at third base, though there is some thought that the Rangers will say “good-bye” to Mitch Moreland, who will be eligible to be a free agent this winter, and insert Gallo at first base next year. Brinson, an outfielder at AA, has somewhat regressed this season, though injuries are part of the problem. He’s a marvelous athlete who projects to be a top center fielder, and that makes him a top target for teams looking to trade veterans to Texas.

Luis Ortiz is the Rangers’ best looking pitching prospect at this time, though Yohander Mendez is gaining ground fast in this area. Ryan Cordell has been outstanding at Frisco this year, and in some eyes has even surpassed Brinson in the prospect pecking order. Other second tier prospects that are garnering interest are right handers Connor Sadzeck and Ariel Jurado, first baseman Ronald Guzman, and catcher Jose Trevino.

There are definitely arrows in Jon Daniels’ quiver to make non-waiver trade deadline deals. Daniels is usually proactive in July, so there is every reason that he will be again this year.

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NEW DIGS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINTON, Texas – Last Friday afternoon, the Rangers announced that they and the city of Arlington would embark on building a new home for the Texas Rangers. The current lease on Globe Life Ballpark, originally named The Ballpark in Arlington, expires after the 2023 season. It takes approximately three years to build a ballpark, so all the planning, land acquisition and financing needs to be in place no later than 2021 if a new ball park was in the offing. In short, it was time to contemplate the future.

Clearly, the city of Dallas was already in motion trying to woo the Rangers away from Arlington. Arlington though had one clear advantage. They could tear up the existing lease and get the Rangers moved much sooner. The new park is expected to open no later than the 2021 season.

For Ranger fans that regularly attended games in the old Arlington Stadium, it seems like Globe Life Ballpark should have withstood the test of time to be functional for more than 30 years, the original lease term of Globe Life. It is noteworthy however that the current park that opened in 1994 is younger than just 10 of the other 29 Major League ballparks. Those 10 include the parks in Toronto, Chicago (White Sox) and Baltimore that opened only a few years prior to the Ballpark in Arlington. Boston is the oldest American League park. Oakland, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles (Anaheim), and Kansas City are the other American League parks that are older. Wrigley Field in Chicago and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles are the only two older parks in the National League.

With so much construction since the Ballpark in Arlington opened, which includes two new parks in Atlanta, the norms and standards have become much more demanding. The amenity that is especially missing from Globe Life Ballpark is the retractable roof accompanied by air conditioning. The Rangers looked hard at the option of adding this amenity to the current location, but that was estimated to cost more than half a billion (with a “B”) dollars, such that building a new park from scratch is more feasible. There were also the problematic logistics of the construction to add air conditioning and a retractable roof while the team is playing baseball.

The bottom line is that a new park is the way to go. The initial cost estimate is $1 billion, a figure that is sure to rise. The new park will be located just south of the current location, an area that is currently utilized as parking lots A and B.

Ray Davis, the managing general partner for the Rangers made the announcement Friday. He was very complimentary of the job that Tom Schieffer in particular did with the design of the Ballpark in Arlington. However, he made no promises that the new park would have similar architecture, an aspect of the current stadium that has drawn rave reviews. The new park will be designed with fewer seats. The capacity is anticipated to be in the 42,000 – 44,000 range. That seems to be the trend of newer parks. Teams can sell more season tickets with a capacity closer to 40,000 than 50,000.

There were conceptual architecture drawings, but details are sketchy. The ballpark that is getting much admiration is St. Louis, with the surrounding commercial area dubbed “Ballpark Village”. The Rangers and Arlington intend to build a similar development near the ballpark, which will include a hotel.

For sure, the Rangers should be getting an All-Star game allocated once the new stadium becomes a reality. For sure the retractable roof and air conditioning will assure fans there will be a game when there is the threat of rain; and when the temperatures in the area get into triple digit territory, fans can watch in comfort. There undoubtedly will be other events at the new stadium. It will be a consumer bonanza.

It also will undoubtedly cost fans dearly. Much of the financing will come from some form of fan support in return for seat locations. Bonds were the form for the Ballpark in Arlington. Seat licenses were the form for Jerry Jones’s football stadium next door. More seats will be involved and the cost to participate will far exceed the previous ballpark construction. Ticket prices will escalate on top of that.

On Tuesday night, the Arlington City Council unanimously approved a master agreement that sets out the terms of the partnership between Arlington and the Rangers to build the new ballpark and the surrounding entertainment district. Rangers’ co-owner Ray Davis said in a prepared statement, “Tonight’s action by the City Council is an important step in the process in this public-private partnership to build a new ballpark for Arlington and all our fans. I want to thank and commend Mayor Jeff Williams and the Arlington city leaders for their vision in reaching out to us and helping put together and approving this historic agreement.”

“The Rangers are excited about the possibility of calling Arlington home for many years to come, and we are committed to building a world class facility which will provide the best possible experience for our fans,” Davis continued. “We look forward to working with Mayor Williams, the city leaders and the citizens of Arlington over the next several months to insure that this dream becomes a reality.”

The next step is to put the proposal to a vote on November 8. Arlington residents will be asked to approve to extend the existing venue taxes approved in 2004 to build AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys. This is a one-half percent sales tax, 5% car rental tax, and 2% hotel occupancy tax that will be used to finance the public portion of the development cost.

It seems a shame that the current Globe Life Ballpark is outdated barely 20 years into the life cycle, but as one great baseball man used to say. “That’s the way baseball go.” And that’s the way baseball will be going in Arlington.

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SUSPENSIONS AND FINES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The donnybrook at Globe Life Ballpark Sunday has been the talk of baseball for the past two days. On Tuesday, the MLB office came down with their rulings. 14 players and coaches received disciplinary penalties. For the Rangers, Rougned Odor received the harshest penalty – an eight game suspension and $5,000 fine, approximately 1% of his salary. Elvis Andrus was assessed a one game suspension. Matt Bush, Sam Dyson, Steve Buechele, A. J. Griffin and Robinson Chirinos were also fined, the latter two for going onto the field when they were on the disabled list.

For Toronto, Jose Bautista was assessed a one game suspension, as was first base coach Tim Leiper. Manager John Gibbons was handed a three game suspension. Leiper and Gibbons had been ejected from the game five innings earlier than the fracas, and were given suspensions for returning to the dugout and in Gibbons’ case, returning to the field during the eighth inning brawl. Jesse Chavez, who was the Jays’ pitcher in the bottom of the eighth inning after the brawl ended, received a three game suspension for hitting Prince Fielder. Fines were handed out to bench coach DeMarlo Hale, third baseman Josh Donaldson, and Kevin Pillar.

Andrus accepted his suspension and is sitting out Tuesday’s game in Oakland. Gibbons and Leiper do not have the right to appeal their suspensions as players do. Bautista and Odor appealed their suspensions and are eligible to play until their appeal can be heard and ruled upon. Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels said on an afternoon sports talk show that he expects Odor’s appeal to be heard in the next 10 days to two weeks.

The severity of Odor’s suspension compared with the other penalties is a clear indication of MLB’s distaste for actually landing the punch.

The general feeling around baseball is dislike for Bautista, who set the contention in motion with his arrogant bat flip after hitting a critical home run that proved to be the game winner in game five of the Rangers – Jays playoff series last fall. As distasteful as Odor’s altercation was, there are numerous players around baseball cheering him on.

Gibbons has called the Rangers gutless for waiting until the final game between the two teams in 2016 before retaliating, but it’s a rather self-serving comment. For sure, the Rangers wanted the retaliation to come in Arlington, not in front of a hostile Toronto crowd. That ruled out the first series between these two teams in early May. By waiting until the final game, Bautista was kept in suspense about when retaliation would come.

For sure, the Rangers wanted to send a message that transgressions such as Bautista’s do not go unnoticed. When Bush hit Bautista on Sunday, the Rangers had just taken a 7-6 lead in the game. The last thing a team wants to do in a tight game is put the tying run on base for free. The Rangers however, obviously felt it was more important to send the message than worry about the tying run.

The scoreboard was even when Bautista took first base. His arrogant bat flip was answered. Bautista however, chose not to let it end there. When the ground ball came, he clearly made the illegal slide that resulted in an ending inning double play and erased the tying run from being on base. Even then, Bautista could have diffused the situation by simply trotting to the dugout. He didn’t. He confronted Odor, and the rest is history.

The rhetoric about the brawl that ensued is almost laughable. Bautista had his fist clenched in preparation of trading fisticuffs, but said afterward that he was surprised by the punch that Odor landed. Huh? Why was your fist clenched Jose?

Virtually no one involved in Sunday’s altercation comes out looking good, but Odor unfortunately comes out looking especially bad. For sure, he plays hard with a bit of an edge. He’s certainly had to scrap to get the Majors, as he is undersized and not one of the more physically talented players on the field. His scrappiness has been a major contributor to his success. However, video has surfaced from a similar altercation five years ago when Odor was in the lower minors. That doesn’t help his image at all. It appears that a pattern is developing.

The Rangers will not be allowed to replace Odor on the roster when the suspension is served. One possibility is that the team makes a roster move on another player – most likely a bullpen pitcher – to make available a roster spot for Jurickson Profar to be called up to play second base in Odor’s absence. Profar was scheduled to start Tuesday at second base for AAA Round Rock after playing exclusively at shortstop so far this season.

It’s a messy affair, and there really isn’t much “right” on either side of the equation. Hopefully, the appeals will be heard soon and the suspensions served to put this behind both teams going forward.

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DESMOND TO LEFT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers reacted quickly and decisively to the news that Josh Hamilton will start the season on the disabled list and be unavailable for at least the first month. They made a deal with the very athletic free agent Ian Desmond. Desmond turned down a qualifying offer from his former team, the Washington Nationals after last season; but has been unable to obtain a suitable multi-year offer. With most teams’ rosters full and with little money left unallocated; he bit the bullet and accepted a one year contract at $8.0 million from the Rangers. He’ll try the free agent market again next winter.

Since the Nationals tendered a qualifying offer, the Rangers will forfeit their number one draft pick and the associated slot money that goes along with it, roughly $2.5 million. That pick would have been the 19th in the first round. However, the forfeiture moves the compensatory pick they obtained when Yovani Gallardo signed with Baltimore from 30 to 29.

Jon Daniels was interviewed on the Dallas ESPN radio affiliate (103.3 FM) Monday afternoon about the signing. He said that Desmond told them that he wanted to be with the Rangers and that he was willing to make the position change. Daniels said, “The negotiations went pretty fast after that.”

Certainly, the multi-positional capability for Desmond will enhance his value in the future. Players such as Ben Zobrist that offer roster flexibility have become quite popular in recent years, and they are getting paid well for it. Daniels also noted the flexibility Desmond provides to the Rangers. If say an infielder sustains an injury, Daniels is not limited to infielders in the minor league system as replacements. If an outfielder is the player he wants to put in the line-up, he can call up an outfielder and shift Desmond to the infield.

Desmond has always recorded high strike out totals. He struck out more than 180 times in each of the past two seasons. “That’s part of his game,” Daniels said. However, the Rangers overall have good contact hitters. Sin-Shoo Choo led the Rangers with 147 strikeouts last season. Only two other players reached 100. Daniels does not expect Desmond’s strikeouts to be a big problem.

Desmond is a right-handed batter, and there is no question that the Rangers’ batting order has been too left-handed. He helps balance the offense. He is also known as a player that plays hard and is a good teammate. Cole Hamels spent his entire career in the National League until last July and is thus familiar with Desmond. He told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “He (Desmond) brings a certain kind of energy. He’s got tremendous power. He’s an outstanding addition.”

It is certainly a risk on the Rangers’ part. Desmond is a shortstop and has played less than 10 Major League innings in the outfield in his 12 year career. Exactly none of those innings were in left field. He hit .233 with a .290 on-base average, 19 home runs and 62 RBIs last year in 156 games with Washington. That was the third straight year his batting averaged dropped from a career high .292 in 2012. His career batting average is .264.

$8.0 million for one year is a lot of money for normal people. However, in Desmond’s case, this contract represents a colossal failure on Desmond’s and his agent’s part. Prior to the 2014 season, he turned down a $107 extension from the Nationals. Not only is he taking a financial hit, but he is also transitioning to a new position.

On the Rangers’ part, it could be a tremendous value. For sure it sends a message to the players that management believes in this team and is supporting it. Rumors persisted throughout the off season that the Rangers were so financially strapped that they were unable to make trades or sign free agents that could have helped the team. With Hamilton ailing, and with little faith in the internal candidates, there was suddenly an $8.0 million increase in the 2016 salary budget to accommodate Desmond.

Daniels was asked where this signing leaves Josh Hamilton when he returns from injury. Daniels said he hopes that Hamilton comes back healthy and capable of being the player they envisioned. He’s confident one way or another, the situation will sort itself out if it happens.

Hamilton was also positive about the move, telling the Ranger writers, “I agreed 100% (with signing Desmond to play left field). I told them I thought it would be a great addition.”

This is bad news for the Rangers’ internal outfield candidates – Ryan Rua, Justin Ruggiano, and Patrick Kivlehan. It also virtually shuts out the Rangers’ top three minor prospects – Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson – from consideration of making the opening day roster. Ranger management has consistently indicated that they want the young trio to at least start the 2016 at AAA and perhaps play the entire season there. Desmond’s acquisition makes that more likely.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Desmond, the Rangers placed reliever Tanner Scheppers on the 60-day disabled list. He underwent knee surgery since training camp began that will keep him off the active roster until at least the All-Star break.

“This is a new chapter,” Desmond told the Ranger beat writers. “And I’m going to embrace the challenge.”

NOTABLE:

* The return of Jurickson Profar looks even more promising. In Monday’s intra-squad game, he hit a home run off Cole Hamels in his first at bat, and made two outstanding defensive plays at shortstop.

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NEWS AND NOTES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Pitchers and catchers reported to training camp last week. The position players have all arrived. By the end of next week, spring training will be fully underway, and exhibition games won’t be far behind. Amazingly for so few days in camp, how much news has spewed forth. So in no particular order:

* The team announced that third base coach Tony Beasley has sadly been diagnosed with rectal cancer. There is a strong possibility of a full recovery. He has arrived in Surprise and will begin chemo therapy next Monday. Beasley is optimistic that the chemotherapy will not wipe him out energy-wise, so expects at this point to continue his normal coaching activities.

* Yu Darvish took a giant step forward in his recovery from Tommy John surgery on Monday. He threw off a mound that is 50% of the elevation of a regular mound. The downward motion of throwing from an elevated surface puts pressure on the elbow. That’s why this is an important step. Darvish threw 17 pitches and reported no problems afterward.

* Josh Hamilton’s ailing left knee was examined by team doctor Keith Meister over the weekend. Hamilton has undergone two surgeries on the knee since the end of last season and received a cortisone shot in January. However, the pain has returned. He sought a second opinion and travelled to Birmingham, Alabama to be examined by Dr. Jeff Dugas. This turn of events has the Rangers monitoring outfield free agent and trade possibilities. If Hamilton is ruled out of action, it could open the door for standout prospects Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara. There are a number of free agent outfielders still unsigned including former Rangers David Murphy, Drew Stubbs, Will Venable, Jeff Francoeur, Marlon Byrd and Alex Rios. So far though, Hamilton has been able to perform his spring training baseball activities.

* The Rangers are in negotiations to extend Adrian Beltre’s contract past this season. He will be 37 during the upcoming season, and the Rangers’ top minor league prospect, Joey Gallo, is a third baseman. Still the Rangers want to extend the contract, believing that Beltre is still a very good fielder. Last season, the Rangers were 38-22 in the final 60 games which was good enough to catch the Astros for the division championship. Beltre returned from injury and hit .328 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs in those 60 games.

* Reliever Tanner Scheppers will soon undergo knee surgery that will keep him out until around the All-Star break. He was diagnosed with a torn articular cartilage in his left knee. This may not necessarily be all bad news for Scheppers. He was once a cornerstone of the bullpen as Joe Nathan’s setup man, and thought to be a building block for the future. In 2013, he was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances. The Rangers decided to make him a starter in 2014, and he actually started on opening day. He failed miserably as a starter, and quite frankly his career has spiraled downward since. He’s been plagued by injury. Scheppers would have been one of at least six or seven pitchers vying for two bullpen roster spots, as five of the seven slots are taken. The likelihood is that those two roster spots go to a left-hander and right-hander, so Scheppers was really one of four or five pitchers vying for one roster spot. This way he makes a Major League salary while on the disabled list, and hopefully will be able to contribute once he recovers from the surgery.

* The Rangers announced they have picked up the 2018 club option on manager Jeff Banister and have added another club option for 2019. He is in the second year of the three year contract he originally signed. The team won the American League West pennant and he was named American League Manager of the Year in his first year on the job. COMMENTARY: What took the Rangers so long?

* The Baltimore Orioles have come to terms with free agent Yovani Gallardo for a 2016 contract. Since announcing the agreement, questions have arisen in regards to Gallardo’s physical. Assuming the contract is finalized, the significance to the Rangers that they will receive a draft choice in next June’s Amateur Draft between the first and second rounds as compensation. They will also receive an increase in the pool of money they are allowed to spend for players taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft. Baltimore also forfeits their first round draft pick for signing Gallardo, since the Rangers offered him a qualifying contract after the season, which Gallardo turned down. Texas will now have picks 19 and 30 in next June’s draft, if they receive the compensatory pick.

* Texas signed left-hander Jeremy Guthrie over the weekend to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Guthrie is an experienced starting pitcher that has not fared well of late. He is 36 and a twelve year veteran. He was 8-8 last season with a 5.95 ERA in 24 starts and six relief appearances for Kansas City. He will join Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Phil Klein, Anthony Ranaudo, Cesar Ramos and A. J. Griffin as candidates for the fifth position in the starting rotation.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Christmas is past and the New Year is upon us. Most of the top end free agent pitchers have signed. The outfielders are the remaining position still available. For many teams, so much money has already been committed that there may not be a lot left to fill out the roster.

The Rangers have had a quiet winter so far. They did the big name shopping last summer when they traded for Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson. Those trades were made with a view for the long run, as all three are contractually under control for years. Amazingly, they paid off with the West Division pennant last season.

This off season may seem quiet, but the Rangers have made the team better. By season’s end, the Rangers had four strong bullpen pitchers. Shawn Tolleson was the closer. Diekman and Dyson were the left- and right-handed setup men. Keone Kela was the seventh inning guy. This quartet could take a sixth inning lead and turn it into a win.

So far, GM Jon Daniels has added Tom Wilhelmsen and Tony Barnette, a righty and a lefty. Sam Freeman is another lefty that could complete a very strong bullpen. Daniels made the bullpen better at little cost. The key player traded for Wilhelmsen was disgruntled outfielder Leonys Martin. Barnette was a free agent that signed a two year deal with $3.5 million guaranteed.

Unlike last season, the bullpen should be good from the start. Daniels said he wanted to add a couple of starting pitchers. He finally announced one – a very familiar face. Colby Lewis is set to join the roster on a one year, $6.0 million deal. Lewis led the Rangers last season in wins (17), starts (33) and innings pitched (204.2). He faltered down the stretch and was the odd man out when the starting rotation was cut from five to four in the playoffs.

We now know that he suffered with knee problems late in the season and has undergone surgery to repair since season’s end. He has gotten better and better over the last two years, and there is every reason to believe that at the age of 36, he will be at least as good in 2016 as he was last year.

With Lewis in the fold, the Rangers’ starting rotation looks a lot like the one that finished the season. Hamels is the number one starter followed in some order by Lewis, Derek Holland and Martin Perez. That leaves a host of internal candidates for the fifth spot – Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Anthony Ranaudo for sure.

Texas also recently signed A. J. Griffin, a former All-Star caliber pitcher that underwent Tommy John surgery and was later released by Oakland when his recovery was coming along slowly. It’s a signing that doesn’t cost the Rangers much and could pay off big time. The odds aren’t good, but it’s in the realm of possibility.

The Rangers also took a page from the Dallas Cowboys philosophy when they signed Matt Bush. Bush was the number one pick in the draft in 2004, and was signed shortly after he was released from prison. He has served more than three years for intoxicated hit-and-run. He was originally a shortstop that converted to pitching in his fourth season. He’s strictly a reliever at this point in his career.

The other glaring need was to make the batting order more right-handed. There was talk of moving Mitch Moreland to clear a spot, but those talks did not come to fruition. Moreland, Fielder, Chu and Hamilton remain as a big part of the Rangers’ batting order, with only Adrian Beltre as a right-handed bat in the middle.

Texas has signed Justin Ruggiano, a former player at Texas A&M. Ruggiano has had spectacular numbers against left-handed pitching over the past four years. Ryan Rua and recently obtained Patrick Kivlehan will also contend for a seat on the Ranger bench to play against left-handers.

Daniels appeared with Norm Hitzges on his annual fund raiser marathon (the “Normathon”) to raise money for the Austin Street Homeless Shelter. Daniels said in no uncertain terms that the Rangers were not players for the remaining middle of the batting order free agent outfielders – namely Yoenus Cespedes and Justin Upton, though rumors persist that the Rangers continue to check in on this pair. Perhaps if a multi-year contract for one of these two doesn’t become a reality, the Rangers might be an attractive fall back position to sign for a year and try free agency again next winter.

This week, arbitration took the headlines. Seven Rangers filed. Texas has not had an arbitration case go to a hearing since 2000 when they lost to Lee Stevens. The odds are good it won’t happen this year, as four players have already come to terms. They are infielder Jurickson Profar, relievers Tom WIlhelmsen and Tanner Scheppers, and catcher Robinson Chirinos.

The remaining three are first baseman Mitch Moreland and relievers Jake Diekman and Shawn Tolleson. The club and players exchanged salary figures on Friday, and the difference is more than $1,000,000 for Tolleson and Moreland. The Rangers and Diekman are $575,000 apart.

It’s obvious that the Rangers are squeezed financially with six players that zap up $105 million in payroll. However, they managed to put together a team good enough to win the pennant in 2015. With Darvish coming back most likely in May, and a good bullpen from the start, the Rangers are still the team to beat in the American League West.

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