Words on the 2018 season that should hit the right tone for third baseman Adrian Beltre were delivered Wednesday afternoon at the Texas Rangers’ annual end-of-season news conference with the general manager and manager.
“This is not a rebuild,” GM Jon Daniels said. “We expect to win.”
That’s not to say there won’t be young players in the fold. There will be, just as there were during the disappointing 2017 season that ended Sunday.
With a team that needs to add as many as seven pitchers to the rotation and bullpen this off-season, there’s going to be some youth involved.
The Rangers will go about their off-season work with an open mind, from the very top of the free-agent market to the under-the-radar types who could make a positive impact.
But Daniels said that the Rangers won’t have as much money to spend for 2018 as they did for 2017, as their payroll returns to the 2016 level of around $155 million rather than the $165 million they had on their Opening Day payroll this season.
The Rangers, he said, need to “add wisely” as they acquire arms, either by money-whipping a free agent or via trade with another organization. Either way, the Rangers have a lot of heavy lifting to do this off-season.
“The pitching side is where we’re going to be the most active from an acquisition standpoint and what we’re looking to do this winter,” Daniels said. “We probably have two starters and four relievers we can pencil in right now and a number of other guys in competition.
“Sometimes smart is the top-of-the-market moves. Sometimes the best moves are Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels and Joe Nathan. Sometimes the best moves are Jake Diekman and Colby Lewis.”
The Rangers will lean on their scouts and analysts in trying to find the perfect fit, Daniels said. He acknowledged that the Rangers will pursue Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old with a 102-mph fastball, and will also consider moving Matt Bush into the rotation.
The club might not pursue a closer, Daniels said, but is likely to add a veteran arm that can help guide the young relievers through the course of a 162-game season.
Nick Martinez, Austin Bibens-Dirkx and A.J. Griffin are among the internal candidates for the rotation, while Diekman, Bush, Keone Kela and Alex Claudio could compete in spring training to be the closer.
Daniels believes the Rangers can compete because of the core offensive players who are expected to return
Beltre, who said last week that he would consider asking for a trade if the Rangers were to rebuild, is the headliner. Also back are Elvis Andrus, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Shin-Soo Choo, Rougned Odor, Robinson Chirinos and Delino DeShields, who were all regulars down the stretch.
The Rangers finished third in the majors with 237 home runs but also fourth in strikeouts with 1,493.
“We’re going to build on what we did well on the offensive side, which is power,” Daniels said. “We know we need to address some areas. I think you’re going to be able to see the results of that with a little more balanced approach, better at-bats and cutting down the strikeouts.”
Manager Jeff Banister declined to commit to a position for Gallo, who would easily fit at first base, or to commit to DeShields as the starting center fielder. Daniels said that the Rangers haven’t closed the door to re-signing center fielder Carlos Gomez, though the two might not be a match as the veteran seeks a multiyear deal and as the Rangers commit the bulk of their funds to pitching.
The Rangers are free to negotiate with their own free agents — Gomez, Mike Napoli, Jason Grilli and, the key one, Andrew Cashner — through five days after the end of the World Series, when the free-agent free-for-all begins.
Daniels said that the Rangers will be active, “wisely” active, on pitching.
“Just by definition we’re going to look to remake half the staff,” Daniels said. “We’re going to be creative. We’re going to look at every opportunity to get better. I’m really excited about the challenge ahead. I’m excited about the core group of players we have in place that we can build on.”