The dust from the Texas Rangers’ 2019 season was still settling Monday, the day after they closed with a 6-1 victory and then closed Globe Life Park.
Players who didn’t check out Sunday evening returned Monday for their belongings and scattered to various parts of the country and Latin America to reacquaint themselves with life.
By the end of Game 162, it was apparent that the Rangers were a better team than a season earlier and saw a group of players take leaps in the direction they needed to go, some unexpectedly.
Others either didn’t get of the launching pad or didn’t go as far as the Rangers had hoped.
That is what led to Danny Santana emerging as the Rangers’ MVP.
That’s not bad thing, as the Rangers discovered a quality player for 2020. However, a player who was a minor-league free agent and wasn’t on the Opening Day roster ended up as their best player rather than someone who had been in the organization and needed to break through.
An injury likely kept Joey Gallo from being MVP, though his development in 70 games was the most important thing to happen to the Rangers. He and Santana and a few others grabbed hold of the coaching and data they were given and had the best seasons of their careers.
Those who didn’t move significantly forward, some arguably not at all, also allowed Santana’s season to rise above all others.
And that’s the problem the Rangers must fix in 2020. Players can’t lag behind again if the team is going to be any better.
“You try to improve every player,” manager Chris Woodward said. “You try to improve the team, the culture and everything to make it better and as good as it could possibly be.
“Our players, through good and bad, were resilient. They accepted the criticism, they learned a lot, but we obviously have another level to get where we truly need to be.”
Rougned Odor remains the team’s biggest concern, even though he led the Rangers in home runs (30) and RBIs (93). A career-high 52 walks in 2019 are a positive, and he homered nine times in September.
The final month of the season, though, is one of the hardest times to evaluate player performance. However, Woodward remains hopeful that Odor will be more consistent than his .205 average.
Despite his power surge, Odor batted only .261 and struck out 27 times in September. Right fielder Nomar Mazara, an off-season trade candidate, and first baseman Ronald Guzman also didn’t take the steps the Rangers had hoped.
“I evaluate guys on a championship level all the time,” Woodward said. “I’m not settling, and they know that. They know when I have conversations with them that I’m pushing them. A lot of guys have revealed themselves in certain ways. Some guys need to get better in certain ways. I think they all know that.”
Santana played seven positions, eight including designed hitter, and spent 17 games at second base. Prospect Nick Solak’s primary position is second. Odor will have competition in spring training.
But Santana said he is most comfortable at shortstop, which he drew up playing, and in center field. Elvis Andrus isn’t likely to be unseated by Santana despite talk that he will also face springtime competition.
Center field and third base, where the Rangers have a gaping opening, could be where Santana spends most of his time next season. The Rangers believe that Delino DeShields is a major-league player, but he won’t have job security entering spring training.
Santana knows he doesn’t have the clout to quibble about where he plays. Ultimately, he just wants to keep playing in the majors after spending parts of the past few seasons in the minors.
“Every player wants to have a position,” he said. “I feel fine with the way I’ve been used. I feel comfortable at a lot of different positions.”
Let’s be clear: Santana deserves to be the Rangers’ MVP.
He was an early call-up from Triple A Nashville and then forced his way into the lineup every day. He connected for a career-high 28 home runs, four times his previous season-best.
He drove in 81 runs, stole 21 bases and posted the highest OPS (.857) among qualifying Rangers hitters. The Rangers want to see Santana walk more, which would cut down on his strikeouts (151).
His speed and arm strength, which Woodward praises as the best on the team, allow him to be a quality center fielder. His arm and experience on the left side of the infield gives him a chance to be a third baseman.
Santana’s work ethic will give him a chance to prove that his 2019 season wasn’t a mirage, but even he was surprised by the power that hitting coaches Luis Ortiz and Callix Crabbe brought out of him.
“It was a very special season for me,” Santana said. “I worked very hard, and I could keep showing that I had the talent to show what I was capable of doing.”
The Rangers need more players to break through as he did in 2019.