The poker term “all-in” was used a number of times during the off-season and spring training to describe the Texas Rangers’ roster construction for the 2017 season.
Six players expected to make significant contributions — five of them former All-Stars and the other a former first-round draft pick — can become free agents after the season.
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The upper levels of the minor leagues have been ravaged by trades the past two seasons to the point that there are no impact prospects ready to burst into the top of the rotation and only one impact position player on the cusp.
The “all-in” term doesn’t sit well within the clubhouse and the front office, nor does the notion that the Rangers’ window to win a World Series will be closed after this season.
All believe that any suggestion that the sun is setting on their championship chances implies that the Rangers are attempting to win the Fall Classic only this season, won’t attempt to retain any of the potential free agents, and will go into a rebuilding mode in 2018.
But the Rangers’ recent run of success — five playoff appearances in the past seven seasons — shows that the front office attempts to keep the window open each season by constructing a winner regardless of losses to free agency.
“I think every year is a window,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Some years you have more work to do than others. Some off-seasons you have more work to do than others. Some seasons the complexion of the team changes more than others.
“But if we do our jobs well — the front office, the scouts, the coaches — I don’t view it as anything ending or closing or anything like that.”
Here’s who the Rangers will see hit free agency after the season if contract extensions aren’t reached:
Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, the Rangers’ starting Opening Day battery Monday against the Cleveland Indians, are the top two players. First baseman Mike Napoli, center fielder Carlos Gomez and right-handers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are also in line to hit the open market.
5 Playoff appearances in the past seven seasons for the Rangers, including two American League pennants
It seems unlikely that the Rangers wouldn’t re-sign at least one of them, but it seems unlikely that the Rangers would re-sign all of them. Darvish and Lucroy might be too expensive, either on their own or together, for the Rangers to retain after they failed to extend either All-Star during spring training.
Hence, the “all-in” description.
“I think every year is a year that we go out to win,” the left-handed Hamels said. “That term doesn’t really sit well with me, just because every year I prepare to win no matter what and at all costs.”
Shin-Soo Choo, who is signed through 2020, said that this season feels like any other and that the thought of having to win in 2017 might create some undo pressure.
“I think that’s too much for me and too much for the players, ‘We have to win this year,’ ” the right fielder/designated hitter said. “I don’t think it seems like this year is a big year. They’ll figure something out next year.”
I think every year is a window. ... But if we do our jobs well — the front office, the scouts, the coaches — I don’t view it as anything ending or closing or anything like that.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels
Hamels has been around long enough to see teams either let the great ones fade away, get away or be traded away. He was traded to the Rangers in 2015 from the Philadelphia Phillies, who had already seen Cy Young winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee either retire or be forced to the sidelines because of injuries. Second baseman Chase Utley was traded only three weeks after Hamels was dealt.
Prospects have taken all of their places. That’s the way baseball go these days.
“It’s getting more and more frequent as I’ve been playing,” Hamels said. “The young guys are getting locked up a lot quicker, and the older guys aren’t getting locked up. That’s just the nature of it.”
The Rangers, though, have been to the postseason in six of the past eight seasons. One of the two misses saw them playing a tie-breaking game No. 163 for the second wild-card spot.
During that stretch, they have lost significant contributors to free agency (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Lee, C.J. Wilson, Ian Desmond, Mitch Moreland, Carlos Beltran), to trade (Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Chris Davis) or to injury (Matt Harrison, Prince Fielder).
That’s half the reason I wanted to come here, because they’re a winning organization.
Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels
But they have signed significant contributors via free agency (Adrian Beltre, Darvish, Joe Nathan, Choo, Napoli, Matt Bush, Desmond, Gomez), via trade (Hamels, Lucroy, Beltran, Napoli, Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman) or via development (Rougned Odor, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar, Nomar Mazara).
That’s also the way baseball go these days, and the Rangers have been among the best at finding a way to survive. So, according to players and executives, the window to win won’t close even if the Rangers lose six key contributors after this season.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” Hamels said. “That’s half the reason I wanted to come here, because they’re a winning organization. They’ve got a great way to develop and they’ve always found tremendous talent and been able to put a guy here and there to help mesh the team. I knew they were always going to be competitive.”