It’s gonna be a rough one, Rangers fans.
I won’t re-litigate 2011 very much here; the wound is still quite fresh for Rangers fans even almost a decade later, but it’s worth revisiting it as a turning point for the franchise. Even though Jon Daniels’ crew came just one strike away from a World Series win and a possibly alternate trajectory, they instead found a loss, three more postseason eliminations, and now could be the basement dweller of the AL West (sans the Mariners).
It’s strange how we got here. Minor League Ball ranked the Rangers as the third best farm system in baseball come 2012, and this was for good reason. Jurickson Profar was a possibly generational talent; Leonys Martin was pegged to man the outfield for years to come; they had just acquired Yu Darvish; and, Rougned Odor had the chance to fill Ian Kinsler’s role at second base.
Well, we know what happened from here. Profar had shoulder issues leading all the way up to 2016; the silver lining there is that he put up a whopping two win season in 2018, accounting for all of his major league level, and then he was promptly shipped to Oakland in a three-team deal.
Darvish is gone, his accomplishments surely remembered but is now trying to crack it in Chicago while dealing with his own injury issues. Martin definitely has a big league career, living up to his valuation of defensive guru to buoy his value, but it wasn’t in a Rangers’ uniform. Odor has been a mostly competent big league player, putting up two wins in three of his four full seasons (yikes to his 2017, where he had 30 home runs but a negative WAR).
And it’s not like they didn’t have prospects afterward, either! Joey Gallo was their premier talent with a power-based calling card, and that ended up being his only main calling card. His batting average of .203 and 88 home runs in two full seasons means he’ll be a decent big leaguer, but unless he hits 40 home runs or more, he will be below average. Nomar Mazara probably has the most breakout promise with power and hopefully average, but that has yet to surface.
The Mariners could probably say the same thing, but a great farm system guarantees nothing. The difference is that the Rangers did get to two World Series berths consecutively, thinking the system could carry them into continued and constant contention. That never bore out, as one could say they got the median outcomes out of Gallo and Odor, and much lower for Profar, Mazara (so far), and others. You need those players of course, the average big leaguers to fill the positions, but without hitting on a superstar, mid-market teams will find it hard to get above water.
That’s about where they’ll find themselves in 2019, unfortunately. Daniels stacked the rotation and remaining holes with a cast of undesirables and outcasts to just barely eke out mediocrity: Asdrubal Cabrera should yield them a win or two, Lance Lynn (who somehow got three years?) had encouraging peripherals that should allow him to eat up quality innings.
Edinson Volquez is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and signed last season, so they’d be lucky to get 100 innings out of him. Mike Minor is in the second year of a three-year deal as well, and he should fill about 150 innings of 4.50 ERA ball, and Drew Smyly is making a recovery of his own, so his contributions are unknown as well.
They did shore up the bullpen by locking up Jose Leclerc to a four-year extension and signed Shawn Kelley, so there are teams in that position that could say less for themselves. Yet this will be a grind of a watch for any Rangers fan. Sure, there will be fan favorites like Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, and Gallo, but not one or all combined put enough oomph into this team to likely escalate them above 80 wins.
So while there are teams that have totally forfeited, the Rangers certainly have not—to their credit. Yet it will be another year of struggles to watch a team, and players, that could have been better than the sum of its parts when looking forward from 2012, like shattered fragments of positive memories of an alternate reality where these players were stars.