Texas Rangers

Surprise Five: Are Rangers one of the MLB teams tanking this season?

Beltre vs. Buechele: A daily battle at Rangers spring camp

Adrian Beltre takes grounders each day from Steve Buechele at Texas Rangers spring training, and it is highly entertaining (video by Jeff Wilson).
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Adrian Beltre takes grounders each day from Steve Buechele at Texas Rangers spring training, and it is highly entertaining (video by Jeff Wilson).

About the only thing the Texas Rangers have been resolute about this spring is that they will carry only one infielder on their bench.

On Sunday, Darwin Barney finally decided he wasn't going to wait around to see if Jurickson Profar was going to spontaneously combust.

Barney, a Gold Glove-winning second baseman, asked to be released from his minor-league contract, and the Rangers gave it to him Monday after sleeping on the decision. Players like Barney don't come along very often.

He has value as a late-innings defender and as a major-league veteran. He was handy with the bat this spring, handy enough to come off the bench cold during the regular season and hold his own.

He's not as good as Profar, though, and so he's elsewhere looking for a job. So is right-hander Erik Goeddel, who asked and received his release, too. It's reasonable to expect that Trevor Plouffe will be opting out.

It's that time of the spring. The end is near, mercifully.

Here's the Surprise Five from Monday.

1. The Rangers' annual meeting with the players association was held at noon Monday, and there were many more perked ears than in springs past.

The players aren't happy with how the offseason went for them. Some very good free agents remain at home waiting for the phone to ring, and others signed deals for far less than they were expecting.

They want to make sure it doesn't happen again, though they don't have a lot of options. One, apparently, is to put heat on the teams who have decided to tank this season. They are easy to pick out based on what they did (dumped star players) and didn't do (sign big free agents) over the winter.

There might be as many as 12 teams who have no intention of winning. A few teams — like, oh, the past three World Series winners — have tanked in recent season, but the union believes there are too many who are trying to lose in 2018.

The Rangers didn't sign any significant players this offseason when they were thought to be candidates for many of them, like Yu Darvish. They didn't make any big trades, but rather a bunch of "value" deals in a season in which general manager Jon Daniels admits the Rangers aren't "all-in."

Are the Rangers one of the tankers?

"I don’t think of it that way," third baseman Adrian Beltre said.

No player has been as outspoken as Beltre for the Rangers' lack of spending over the offseason. He showed up ready to camp ready to spend ownership's money on the bevy of available upgrades.

"I don’t have a problem with the road we’re taking," he said. "We’re not dismantling this team. We still have a good budget. We have really good players. We are not trading players away. It’s, obviously, not close, but my point is there are free agents out there who can help our ballclub. The price might be lower because of the market. Why don’t you take a shot at it?"

Daniels, naturally, also doesn't believe the Rangers are tanking. They might be rebuilding some, but they aren't tanking. Even in 2007, when the Rangers dumped Mark Teixeira to begin their rebuild, it wasn't the kind of rebuild the Houston Astros when through earlier this decade or the kind the Miami Marlins, for instance, are wading into.

"Rebuilding is time tested in every sport," Daniels said. "I think there's a spectrum that all clubs fall on, from a full tear-down model to really stepping on the gas. Even in 2007, we did not go with the full tear-down model. We built around the stable group that was already there. That's more along the lines of what we're doing now."

Players like ...

2. ... Cole Hamels, whose pitching line from his start in a minor-league game wasn't pretty: 5 1/3 innings, five hits, six runs (five earned), four walks and five strikeouts against a Cincinnati Reds Triple A lineup.

This is where it becomes important to explain that this outing is the definition of a pitcher getting in his work. Hamels wanted to work on his fastball, so he threw almost exclusively heaters.

And when he had finished after 81 pitches (54 strikes), he was pleased with what he had done.

Spring training, man.

"To be able to hit the pitch count that I needed throwing predominantly fastballs, creating that life with the fastball, made it something I was able to get a lot out of," Hamels said. "I had to worry about executing fastballs and nothing else."

Hamels knows that he isn't as young as he used to be, and that his fastball has lost some of its giddy-up. He usually throws harder as the season goes along, but he wants to more velo earlier.

Monday's outing was part of that process.

"I’ve got a good feel for my pitches," Hamels said. "Now it's about creating that 'gear' you get with that fastball. Sometimes it comes during the season, but really I'd like to have it a little bit sooner without trying to force it. Sometimes when you don't have the velo, you force it and expose yourself and create bad habits. That's kind of what happened last year.

"As I get older, I know I have to be on my game and be on it a lot sooner than previous years. It's not going to come out of nowhere."

Hamels hasn't been the same has his past two springs. He said he has been on a schedule similar to 2016, when he went 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA despite have a bad final month.

The Rangers' Opening Day starter is in a good place, and he knows he where he will be March 29.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise that ...

3. The Opening Day roster likely won't be settled until the last possible moment, considering there's a sense that the Rangers don't know what they're doing.

Some decisions will probably be made Saturday. Certain players will be told that they have made the team, or haven't made the team. Some will be kept in limbo.

Bartolo Colon is at the top of the list. Jesse Chavez and Kevin Jepsen could also be on the list.

Part of the indecision on the pitching staff is tied to pitchers who might not be available for Opening Day. Chief among them is Tim Lincecum, though manager Jeff Banister said that the right-hander is likely to pitch in a game before camp ends.

Keone Kela's availability has been a concern, though, he pitched twice since Thursday after shoulder stiffness slowed him for 10 days. Add fellow righty Tony Barnette to the list after he was scratched Monday because of back stiffness.

The initial indication is it isn't anything serious, but pitcher and back stiffness is a troubling pair.

Those vying to be the backup catcher could be left in a lurch. Juan Centeno appears to be the front-runner for the job, and general manager Jon Daniels said that the Rangers aren't likely to go outside the organization for catching help.

That doesn't mean they won't as catchers in camp with other clubs opt out of deals or are designated for assignment. It happens every year, and the Rangers have grabbed a couple in recent years.

They gobbled up a former catcher Monday, but ...

4. ... Tommy Joseph is now a first baseman, and only a first base. He's still only 26 and is a right-handed hitter with power and a minor-league option, so the Rangers claimed him from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Daniels said that Joseph is not expected to make the Opening Day roster and could find himself at Double A Frisco if regular at-bats can't be found at Triple A Round Rock. Ronald Guzman is going to be the first baseman there.

Joseph experimented in the outfield this spring with the Phillies, but Daniels said there are no plans to play him there.

So, the signing was not a referendum on Ryan Rua, an outfielder/first baseman who bats right-handed and has power. Or Destin Hood, an outfielder trying to learn first base while having a big spring at the plate.

Joseph hit 43 homers the past two seasons with Philadelphia while batting only .247. The Rangers believe he can hit for a better average, which makes it seem like he will be in the majors at some point this season.

He was on his way to town Monday, which means ...

5. ... He has missed some recent stories in the Star-Telegram. Links are below if you've missed them, too.

A daily battle worth seeing.

Evening the score, plus dinner.

Chemistry 101.

Rougned Odor x 2.

Colon cleanse?

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
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