Another winter meetings filled with sleepless nights and abundant dead ends wrapped up Thursday morning for the Texas Rangers, whose officials scurried to the airport as quickly as they could once the Rule 5 draft ended.
Their freedom after four days at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center came with the knowledge that their off-season work isn’t done.
But that isn’t anywhere the Rangers haven’t been before in their quest to put together a roster for a new season. Their refrain sounded familiar, too.
The Rangers have faith in what is already on the roster.
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Money appears to be tight.
The coveted young, controllable starting pitcher remains elusive.
Other teams in the American League West have improved.
There’s still time to put the roster together.
That’s the biggie. Time, and the reactions that come with it as it dwindles, needs to befriend general manager Jon Daniels for yet another off-season.
As things stand now, the Rangers, at least on paper, look to be the third-best team in their division after the Houston Astros, the Rangers’ punching bag the past two seasons, and the Seattle Mariners have improved their rosters.
A spring-training battle royale, possibly featuring the perpetually re-signable Colby Lewis, could determine the final spot in the rotation. The Rangers selected right-hander Mike Hauschild from the Astros’ Triple A roster in the Rule 5 draft and anointed him a rotation candidate.
First base will be filled by Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo, which seems pretty impotent with Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli available.
Designated hitter might be a revolving door of regulars getting a game a week at the spot for rest.
Spring training is two months away, though. Free agents will see their options shrink and could be had at a friendlier rate. Teams might run out of options and be forced to give in some in trades for one final piece.
The flip side is that what looks like doom and gloom isn’t that terrible.
A Rua-Profar-Gallo triple team at first base could as productive as Mitch Moreland offensively.
DH hasn’t exactly been a club strength two of the past three seasons.
Carlos Gomez is signed, pending a physical, so the Rangers are better at center field than they were 12 months ago. The Rangers also will have full seasons from Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, Nomar Mazara is expected to improve, and the bullpen will open the season deeper and steadier in the back end than in 2016.
A rotation of Darvish, Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Andrew Casher and TBA arguably is better than the 2016 season-opening rotation of Hamels, Perez, Lewis, Derek Holland and A.J. Griffin.
“There’s a good argument to be made that we’re better today than we were Opening Day last year in a number of spots,” Daniels said.
He’s right, but he knows that might not be good enough.
His job now is to make it good enough despite the obstacles of having fewer prospects to dangle in trades, an unwillingness of other clubs to trade their pitching, and, somehow, tight finances.
21.5 Dollars, in millions, the Rangers have spent this off-season to sign Andrew Casher and Carlos Gomez
The money thing is always a head-scratcher. The Rangers routinely have one of the top 10 payrolls in the game. Ownership always seems able to find millions when the right deal comes along.
No one from the ownership group speaks to the media about club finances. The club still leads everyone to believe that the TV deal is worth only $1.6 billion or $80 million annually, failing to take into account escalator clauses that boost the payout each year.
Yet, Daniels was left to say Thursday that the Rangers might not have enough money to re-sign Lewis, who made only $6 million last season. The Rangers aren’t going to find the rotation upgrade they are seeking for anything less than that.
Asked if it’s the Rangers’ intent to acquire a starting pitcher, Daniels was non-committal.
“I don’t know if we will or not,” he said. “We’d like to build younger controllable options. We don’t have any trades that we’re close to executing. There’s still a couple balls in the air.”
The Rangers didn’t complete their roster building last off-season until after spring training started. Maybe an Ian Desmond-type deal will present itself. Maybe a team will let go of a starter for the missing piece the Rangers might have.
Maybe owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson will slip another $20 million under the Christmas tree for the Rangers to spend.
Fortunately, the Rangers have two months until spring training begins.
Time is on Daniels’ side. He needs it to befriend him for yet another off-season.