Texas Rangers

Why these winter meetings are as much as about 2020 for Rangers as they are next season

Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jose Leclerc (62) working during the eighth inning as Seattle beats Texas 9 - 7 at Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX, Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jose Leclerc (62) working during the eighth inning as Seattle beats Texas 9 - 7 at Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX, Saturday, April 21, 2018. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

As long as baseball insists on holding its winter meetings and they can’t be in San Diego, Las Vegas isn’t a bad alternative.

The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino will play host to the annual rumor mill, where for parts of five days club officials meet with themselves, meet with agents, occasionally meet with other club officials and then do most of their business via text.

Those club officials do their best to avoid being seen by reporters, and then do their best to not show their hand during designated media sessions. They have teams to build and don’t like any informed reports getting out.

Other teams have Twitter and access to MLB Trade Rumors, too. (Digital subscriptions to the Star-Telegram can be had for $1.99 for the first month.)

And it goes on and on like that, even after the Rule 5 draft Thursday signals the end of the week and serves as the starting gun for the race to the airport. But when out of the media’s line of sight, work gets done.

The Rangers will be looking for starting pitchers for their 2019 club, and some bullpen arms and an infielder, but their primary focus this off-season continues to be the great beyond.

The rebuild isn’t done. Big money isn’t going to be spent for at least one more off-season. The farm system has been restocked, but not fully. The best talent is mostly below Double A.

The Rangers will fill out a roster this off-season and add some depth pieces for the next 162, but all while will continue looking for players who will help end the rebuild and be part of the next window to contend.

“We are looking at players who can help us now,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “We have some work to do clearly on this club. The market is just starting to move now. A lot of the potential moves we have looked at are geared at younger players who can help us in the future.”

The best way to do that is with trades that involve quality big-league talent, and the Rangers, contrary to what some believe, have big-league talent.

They have already received calls from most MLB teams on right-hander Jose Leclerc, who finished 2018 as the closer and was one of the game’s top relievers. The Rangers have a glut of left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, and Daniels has indicated a willingness to move one of them.

While in desperate need of starting pitchers, left-hander Mike Minor could be attractive to teams because of the way he pitched in the second half of last season and because of his wildly club-friendly contract.

These aren’t necessarily players the Rangers want to trade, and they value each player at a different value than other clubs. For instance, the Rangers believe that right fielder Nomar Mazara, who is 23, is a better player than he has shown and they like has three year of contractual control.

Interested teams, though, want him at his 2018 value.

Leclerc showed last season that he can be an elite reliever, and his four years of contractual control make him attractive to all teams.

Minor made 28 starts covering 157 innings in his first season as a starter since 2014. He pitched his best after the All-Star break, and he finished with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.121 WHIP thanks in part to walking only 38 batters.

Not only have the Rangers discussed trading major-leaguers, they have also talked about what they would want in return. A pack of top prospects would be welcomed.

“If we trade off our big league club, it is going to be for the best talent that make senses for us,” Daniels said. “We don’t want to put any restrictions on that. Obviously, you would like a guy closer than further away, but to trade off talent for immediate impact, I’m not sure that’s the right thing.

“I’d rather be on the other side, trying to trade for guys who can help us win now. But a critical part of building a foundation for an organization is having the right young talent quantity and quality We are excited about what we have done in the past with the guys we have brought in. Over the years, some of our best players have come in those deals.”

The landmark trade of the Daniels Era was the Mark Teixeira trade that produced three MLB All-Stars – Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison – on two World Series teams. Feliz was the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year.

The Rangers don’t have a Teixeira-type to trade. Leclerc might produce their best return.

The Rangers aren’t looking to trade him or Mazara or Minor, but they also aren’t looking only at 2019 this off-season.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.