NEXT YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers’ season ended much earlier than anticipated as they bowed out of the playoffs in just three games. It was a disappointing meltdown from the team that had the best regular season record in the American League and looked poised to play deep into October. As one fan said, “Anything short of getting to the World Series will be a disappointment.” It was and is.

The biggest culprit was the starting pitching. Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis combined to pitch 10-1/3 innings, while allowing 17 runs, 16 of which were earned. They allowed seven home runs, while striking out just seven batters. The Rangers only twice even held a lead in a game, both in game three, and never held the lead at the end of an inning. It’s hard to win when your team is constantly behind on the scoreboard.

Make no mistake about it though, the Rangers were deficient in every aspect of the game, except the bullpen. The fielding was shoddy. It was fitting that the winning run in the deciding game three scored on an error. Offensively, Texas was outscored 22-10, and quite frankly, everyone on the team not named Elvis had a poor offensive series. The team went 3-23 with runners in scoring position.

So the question now is where does this team go for next year? Four of the Ranger hitters in Sunday night’s lineup, including the first three in the batting order are eligible for free agency. They are Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland. In the post-season wrap-up press conference, General Manager Jon Daniels said that all of the free agents to be have expressed an interest in returning, and he said that he could envision circumstances for each one of them to return. It’s only a guess, but it’s doubtful that more than one is with the team next year.

Daniels said starting pitching is a high priority, as are first base and center field.

In regard to the starting pitching, Hamels and Darvish will return along with Martin Perez. The Rangers hold a team option on Derek Holland for $11 million with a $1.5 million buyout. That’s a decision that could go either way, though the guess here is that the Rangers will exercise the option. The net cost is $9.5 million, and sadly even pedestrian starting pitchers command $9.5 million in this day and time. It would probably benefit Holland if the Rangers do not exercise the option. It’s a week free agent starting pitching class, and he would likely command at least a three year contract at the same per year salary figure.

Colby Lewis is the Rangers fifth free agent. He always manages to find his way back to the Rangers, so there is a good chance he returns. A. J. Griffin? He’s eligible for arbitration.

The bullpen is actually in pretty good shape. Matt Bush was clearly the best pitcher in the pen at season’s end. Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Alex Claudio, Keone Kela, and Jeremy Jeffress are still under control.

There is also the question of Jurickson Profar. He was a valuable member of the team as a utility player, but he undoubtedly wants to be a starter at a middle infield position, preferably shortstop. The Rangers have those positions filled with Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor. Profar is arbitration eligible, and Daniels said he envisions Profar returning next year in the same super-sub role he played this year.

The club also holds an option for 2017 on catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Exercising that one is a no brainer.

There is no question that top prospect Joey Gallo regressed this season. His strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances was particularly disturbing late in the season. Daniels preached patience with Gallo. He will play winter ball in Venezuela and will play at first base. It sounds like he’ll get every opportunity to start at first base next year if Moreland does not return. Interestingly, it was mentioned that the team will look at Josh Hamilton at first base.

Desmond did a fine job as the primary centerfielder this season. It was his first as an outfielder, and he played extremely well overall. He was clearly the team’s MVP until the All-Star break. His offensive production waned in the second half, particularly the power numbers, but his overall season was very good. This winter’s free agent outfield class is weak, so Desmond should command a healthy contract.

Carlos Gomez has been primarily a center fielder in the past, so could be the center field solution if he returns. He did well offensively with Texas after being terrible with Houston to start the season. He has a reputation of being a bad guy in the clubhouse, a factor that could reduce other team’s interest in him as a free agent and reduce his cost for the Rangers to retain him.

Delino Deshields, Jr. is the internal option. He has plus-plus speed, and certainly sparked the offense hitting leadoff in the latter half of 2015. He lost his position early this year and spent most of the year in AAA. Defensively, his arm is terrible, and despite his speed, he isn’t that good at tracking down fly balls. The Rangers are almost certain to find a center fielder elsewhere.

The Ranger roster that went to battle in the playoffs was significantly different from the one that the Rangers envisioned when spring training began. The roster that the Rangers will envision when spring training begins next February will undoubtedly differ markedly from the one that went to the playoffs. With Darvish and Hamels to anchor the rotation, the catcher and three-fourths of the infield largely intact and a solid bullpen; next year’s team should be competitive, if not the favorite to win the West for a third straight year.

NOTABLE:

* Jeff Banister said that the team expects Tony Beasley to be back as the third base coach next year. Beasley has been fighting rectal cancer. Spike Owen, who coached third base in Beasley’s stead this season, will be reassigned within the organization.

* All of the other coaches have been asked to return next year.

* Nick Martinez is also playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, while top minor league pitcher Ariel Jurado is playing winter ball in the Venezuelan League.

* The World Baseball Classic will be played next year, and Adrian Beltre is contemplating playing for the Dominican Republic.

* The Rangers’ payroll ended at around $170 million, and Daniels said he expects the total to be about the same next season.

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