Pressing Questions: The Texas Rangers

Is Carlos Gomez back in the circle of trust?
Is Carlos Gomez back in the circle of trust?

All things considered, it’s been a tidy little run for the Texas Rangers. They’ve made the playoffs six times in eight years, and they were an eyelash away from a World Championship in 2011. They’re deep just about everywhere. Although Houston is a little more trendy in the early betting pools (and Pecota projections) for 2017, the Rangers have an excellent chance to make the playoffs again.

Baseball fever is so prevalent in North Texas, the team was able to snooker the taxpayers for a new stadium (club and city will share the burden). The new park, featuring a retractable roof and climate control, will open in 2020 or 2021.

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You’ll need big tickets to land the best of the current Rangers — five of their players are in the Top 85 in early ADP. This roster is a mix of young and old, established talent and emerging talent. Something for everybody. Let’s pop the hood and give them a look.

Q: Who is Carlos Gomez entering his age-31 season?

Not every baseball player will produce a linear career shape, but in the case of Gomez, we’re talking about a butterfly’s route, an erratic graph.

In Gomez’s early 20s, he couldn’t hit a lick. In his mid-to-later 20s, he matured into an All-Star, and a dynamic offensive player. A 2015 slump was taken in stride by most of the fantasy community, but then Gomez completely bottomed out in 2016, with the Astros designating him for assignment in August.

Ah, but perhaps Gomez got his career back on track with the Rangers. Gomez posted a .284/.362/.543 line with his new club, with eight homers and five steals over 33 games. Pro-rate that pace to a full season and we’re looking at a star again. Gomez is never going to be a plate-discipline king, but his contact rate spiked nicely in his new city.

Gomez reportedly had multi-year offers on the table in the offseason, but he decided to take a prove-it one-year deal with Texas. Gomez and agent Scott Boras are gambling for a return to stardom, then a cash windfall 10 months from now. Gomez’s game was especially fun at Globe Life Park — or whatever they’re calling the Ballpark at Arlington today — where he posted an .877 OPS and seven homers and five steals over 28 games. Mash it all up and Go-Go offers an intriguing upside around his current ADP of 153.

Q: Is Elvis Andrus a sucker play as a mid-tier shortstop?

It wasn’t hard to find juicy infield stats last year, and with that in mind, the middle-class of middles loom ominously for 2017. One school of thought is to shoot high or bargain shop for those second basemen and shortstops this year — shopping in the middle of the tier is the -EV play. It could be a donut position, with no value in the middle.

Before we sign off on that, let’s give a look to Andrus’s curious scan.

Andrus is coming off one of his best fantasy seasons. He set new career marks in all the slash categories (.302/.362/.439), and his OPS-plus of 110 was the first time he bettered the league average. No one throws a parade for eight homers, but that was also a career best, along with 69 RBIs.

But Andrus wasn’t as much fun on the bases last year, swiping a modest 24 bags in 32 attempts. And although he’s been a No. 1 or No. 2 batter for most of his career, he spent most of 2016 in the No. 6 spot — and he even battled eighth and ninth a fair amount.

Perhaps a nagging groin problem compromised Andrus on the bases. He had sports-hernia surgery back in early November. But if the Rangers view Andrus as a middle-order stick these days, the aggression on the bases might be gone for good. My biggest concern with Andrus is the idea that he’s going to hit sixth or lower this year, albeit the Texas lineup looks deep as usual (and the ballpark has boosted scoring by 12 percent over the last three years). Bottom line, unless the price hits a surprising bottom at the table, I’ll focus on other names.

Q: Does Sam Dyson have the stuff to keep the closer gig?

Dyson became the ninth-inning savior when Shawn Tolleson collapsed early last year, collecting 38 handshakes and posting solid ratios (2.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP). For someone who cost nothing in most mixed leagues, it’s the type of found money that leads to contention and championships. A meaty 65.2-percent ground-ball rate helped Dyson work his magic.

But do the other stats line up with a consistent, bankable closer? Dyson’s strikeout clip dropped to an ordinary 7.04/9, and his walks nudged upward to 2.94/9. As much as we love those ground balls, a 2.4 K/BB ratio is awfully modest for a modern closer. Dyson also allowed five home runs.

Dyson’s strong 2016 season will earn him a reasonable leash entering the fresh year, but I won’t target him in the middle rounds. Much like the Andrus angle, I’ll probably go big or go bargain with my preseason bullpen assembly. Closer turnover is a fact of life in fantasy baseball, so it’s not like Dyson is the only stopper I’m leery on, but the current 148 ADP is out of my price range.

Mind you, there are plenty of Rangers I covet at their current sticker prices. Adrian Beltre at 83? Can I sign up for that right now? Jonathan Lucroy and Gary Sanchez are basically priced evenly, and I’d take the proven Lucroy 100 times out of 100.

Cole Hamels (83.84) didn’t have the prettiest ratios last year, but there’s something to be said for durability on the mound. His average over the last seven seasons: 211 innings, 205 strikeouts, 3.14 ERA, 1.15 WHIP. Even with the menacing backdrop of Arlington, I am confident Hamels can justify his current sticker price.

Projected Lineup

CF Carlos Gomez

RF Shin-Soo Choo

3B Adrian Beltre

1B Mike Napoli

2B Rougned Odor

C Jonathan Lucroy

LF Nomar Mazara

SS Elvis Andrus

DH Joey Gallo

Projected Rotation

SP Cole Hamels

SP Yu Darvish

SP Martin Perez

SP Andrew Cashner

SP A.J. Griffin

CL Sam Dyson

RP Matt Bush

RP Jeremy Jeffress

Projected Lineup courtesy of Roster Resource