That first Monday after Daylight Saving Time ends is always a little unsettling, because I’m not just a real big fan of headlights illuminating the stop-and-go half-hour home each night.
When it turns out to also be the fifth day after the end of the World Series, it’s just a pile-on.
By the time the sun went down on Monday, the Rangers had pared their roster down to 30 players. Some they moved on from. Others moved on from them. But not really — none of the 12 players who have vacated spots on the club’s 40-man roster since season’s end are ruled out from coming back, even Mike Napoli, probably the longest shot to return.
The contracts of Andrew Cashner, Carlos Gomez, Miguel Gonzalez, and Jason Grilli expired, making them free agents. At the moment, none are Rangers.
Over the last few days, Texas outrighted Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Jared Hoying, Will Middlebrooks, Paulo Espino, Phil Gosselin, and A.J. Jimenez off the roster and bought out club options on Napoli and Tony Barnette, making them free agents as well. None of them are Rangers today, either.
The Rangers picked up Martin Perez’s 2018 option ($6 million), the easiest call of all, and reinstated Chi Chi Gonzalez and Hanser Alberto from the 60-day disabled list.
And now the roster is one-fourth vacant.
There could be further casualties, as Texas will need to decide over the next few weeks whether to tender its arbitration-eligibles or let some go. Are A.J. Griffin and Nick Martinez worth seven figures each to bring back as contestants for the fifth or sixth or seventh rotation slot? How about Ryan Rua at right around $1 million or maybe a little less? Jurickson Profar — if he doesn’t change addresses this month — at maybe a little more?
They won’t all go. One or two might.
Monday also saw the Rangers bring veteran coaches Don Wakamatsu (bench coach) and Dan Warthen (assistant pitching coach) in and shift Steve Buechele to first base coach. That’s a couple highly respected coaches — who have each held bigger roles on big league staffs — arriving to fortify the staff, and on top of that here comes Colby Lewis, assuming a role as Special Assistant to GM Jon Daniels with a focus on working with the organization’s improving stable of minor league pitchers. Ross Fenstermaker was promoted from international crosschecker to director of pro scouting, and that’s a pretty big deal for the 31-year-old whose name you might need to learn to spell before long.
Another 31-year-old, Cashner, was not tendered a Qualifying Offer by the Rangers in advance of Monday afternoon’s deadline, which only means that the righthander now doesn’t have the right to lock in a one-year, $17.4 million deal to stay and that Texas won’t recoup a draft pick after the second round this June if he signs elsewhere. There’s nothing stopping Cashner and the Rangers from agreeing to stay together, but the club’s decision yesterday not to make the veteran righthander a Qualifying Offer gives both sides full flexibility heading into the winter.
I did think there was a reasonable chance the Rangers would tender the QO — much as they did with Yovani Gallardo two years ago, banking on him declining it within the 10-day period to do so so they’d get an added draft pick and the associated bonus pool bump (hey there, Cole Ragans) when he signed somewhere else — and even though the changes to the CBA would have meant a compensatory pick in the 60’s or 70’s rather than at the end of the first round, that’s an area between the slots where the club landed Hans Crouse and Matt Whatley a year ago, and I’ve got to believe it wasn’t an easy call on the Cashner QO.
Ultimately, it’s fairly clear that Texas just wasn’t comfortable with the risk that Cashner — even coming off arguably his best year and, he and his agent might believe, in the best position he’ll ever be to land multi-year security, given his age and the relative thinness of the starting pitching market this winter — might feel that his market isn’t so healthy (based on the peripherals that don’t necessarily support the surface numbers) that he wouldn’t just rather have the $17.4 million guaranteed and another chance a year from now to prove he’s worth a long-term commitment.
Maybe Cashner still comes back, at a much lower price point, but Texas has a whole lot of pitching holes to fill, and even if having to allocate $17.4 million to Cashner were just, say, a 25 percent risk, the club decided the lure of the draft pick wasn’t worth the gamble. As a result, Cashner should have a healthier market than he would have otherwise, as there’s no longer draft pick/international bonus pool forfeiture tied to him if a new team were to lock him up. That’s meaningful for Cashner since, again, the argument certainly can be made that, given his profile, it wouldn’t be surprising if this is the winter in which his free agent leverage is greatest.
Noah Syndergaard is four years from being able to dictate where he pitches, so the fact that he lobbied publicly a few weeks ago for Warthen “to be my pitching coach for the remainder of my career” before the Mets fired him after nearly a decade in that post is a wish that’s going to go ungranted unless a couple GM’s get together and do something monumental and unexpected this winter.
I’m not counting on that, nor am I counting on a trade for Chris Archer or Marcus Stroman or a homecoming for Yu Darvish or (in another sense) Jake Arrieta or a competition win on Shohei Otani, but a baseball fan can dream, and when another team’s players are showing up on Kimmel and MLB Network is handicapping MVP and the sun has disappeared before my drive home from work, that’s where we are.
The off-season is underway. It’s going to be a very busy, challenging one for the Rangers. (There are still 44 spots left for Newberg Report “Night” on November 18, two Saturdays from now. Just $20 a person, and a couple good causes, plus 90 minutes of JD answering your questions. You should go.)
So here we go. There’s a whole lot to be done before Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander pitch the bottom halves of Games 1 and 2 in Arlington 142 days from now. A big part of that is figuring out who will take the ball to start those two games.
For now, on that front and whole bunch of others, we’re going to be in the dark. It’s just that time of year.