The Rangers are coming off of two straight AL West titles, including a 95-win season a year ago. Given that recent success, the team apparently didn’t feel the need to add many players of significance this offseason. The most notable signing was a reunion, with 1B Mike Napoli signing a one-year contract to return to the team with which he played in 2011-12 and 2015. The team also signed SP Tyson Ross and re-signed OF Carlos Gomez, who they originally picked up in August after the Astros released him. Returning players include SS Elvis Andrus and 3B Adrian Beltre on offense and SPs Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish in the rotation. The team did lose a couple of key members of its offense as OFs Carlos Beltran and Ian Desmond left in free agency.
The Rangers’ .262 average was tied for the fifth-best in MLB, and their 215 home runs were the seventh-most in the majors. They finished in the top half of the league with a .755 OPS. 2B Rougned Odor hit .271 last season with a team-high 33 home runs — more than double the 16 he hit in 2015 — and a .798 OPS. Beltre was the team’s best overall hitter, hitting .300 with 32 home runs and a .879 OPS; he had a 4.2 WAR. Andrus hit .302 with 8 home runs and 24 steals, tied for seventh-most in the American League. Splitting time between the Brewers and Rangers last season, C Jonathan Lucroy hit .292 with 24 home runs and a .855 OPS. OF Nomar Mazara added another 20 home runs, with a .266 batting average. Napolit hit .239 with 34 home runs for the Indians in 2016.
The pitching wasn’t great, as the team finished in the bottom 10 of the majors with a 4.37 ERA and the staff struck out just 1,154 batters, which was the second-fewest in MLB. The bullpen had a good season, though, as the Rangers led the majors with 56 saves. Hamels led the rotation with a 3.32 ERA and 200 strikeouts — seventh-most in the AL — in 200.2 innings. Darvish made 17 starts in an injury-shortened season and put up a 3.41 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 100.1 innings. SP Martin Perez posted a 4.39 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 198.2 innings. RP Sam Dyson led the team with 38 saves in 43 opportunities. He put up a 2.43 ERA and struck out 55 guys in 70.1 innings.
The Rangers had one of the better offenses in the league last season but losing Desmond and his 22 home runs will hurt them. Napoli may be able to make up for a lot of that lost power, but he likely won’t come close to the .285 that Desmond hit last year. Gomez played well after joining the Rangers last season — .284 with 8 home runs in 33 games — but he hit just .210 with 5 home runs in 85 games with Houston after hitting just 12 home runs total in 2015. He is past his prime and the numbers he put up with the Astros are likely closer to what the Rangers will get out of him this year than the performance he put up in the second half after joining the team.
The Rangers need a pitcher to step up and perform well as a No. 3 behind Hamels and Darvish. Perez could be that guy, if he can increase his strikeout totals to keep more guys off of the bases. P Mike Hauschild is expected to break camp as the fifth starter, targeting him to make his major league debut early in the season. He has put up decent numbers this spring and has a career 3.50 ERA in five minor league seasons. No one knows what the team will get out of Ross, who made just one start last season and will start 2017 on the DL while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He is not expected to be ready to join the major league roster until around June. Assuming he comes back then, there’s no telling how he’ll performed since he essentially hasn’t pitched since 2015.
The Rangers are looking to win their third-straight division title, but I’m not convinced they’ll get it. They should regress a little this season and the Astros should be a better team with the moves they made this offseason. And the Mariners are still in the mix in the division after finishing in second place last year. The Rangers, Astros and Mariners should all be competitive for most of the season, but I don’t think the Rangers will be the team of the three that ends the 2017 campaign atop the division.