Between now and Opening Day, we'll be previewing each team with a focus on answering the question: "How will this team be remembered?" For the full archive of each 2017 team preview, click here.
Close your eyes and imagine with me: It is July 20, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. The high is 105 degrees, the air shimmers above the asphalt like light off satin, and the hum of construction on a foolhardy enterprise is strangely muted by the heat, like the sounds of cicadas in the distance. The tinting on the office windows does its best, as does the air conditioning, but even in the shelter of comforting cool air, the taste of summer makes itself known.
As with any good timey-wimey story, there are two timelines in play here: The Good and The Bad, and reality is somewhere in between. Here, we flip the coin—are your eyes still closed? Do you see it?—and as it lands …
It is July 20, 2017, and the Rangers are in third place in the American League West. The Astros have roared out to a triumphant beginning, their world-class infield both raking and taking, and Dallas Keuchel has pitched like he wants to beat the memory of failure out of every single detractor. Does it matter who is in second? In some ways yes—the Angels and the Mariners could easily be in this spot, but somehow it’s the Angels who have pulled together a motley crew around their superstar. And while they seem to be running on pure luck sometimes, pure luck is the best of drugs.
This isn’t 2014, mind you. The Rangers haven’t suffered debilitating losses, just a lack of oomph. Adrian Beltre’s been the bright spot he always is, achieving hit number 3,000 in June, a perfect-story solo shot in a win that broke a losing streak, and ticket sales are still buoyed by that high, but the pressure is starting to mount. Yu Darvish is holding strong at the top of the rotation, but once every five days (and with an offense that appears spellbound into sleep at times) is not enough to hold off the locomotive engines that are the divisional opponents.
Cole Hamels has faded, somewhat, bringing questions into the minds of fans once disposed to trust Jon Daniels with their life, questions on whether that much was just too much, especially as Jerad Eickhoff quietly works a solid campaign that is all too easy to mentally slot into a Rangers rotation. Martin Perez has never regained the form he showed in those last starts before his arm fell apart in 2014. The bottom of the Rangers' rotation is filled with a collection of flotsam and jetsam, none of whom have stayed promising long enough to even see their shirseys sell appreciably. Sometimes, from the concourse, whispers of “Colby Lewis” are still heard, like echoes.
What’s there to do, though? All the trades in the previous years, building towards this one year of complete success, mean that there’s not much of a farm system to fall back on. The future’s names like Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado haven’t quite showed enough at Triple-A for anyone to feel comfortable with them facing big-league hitters, especially since they’re the only arms of real note left at that level. Gone too are the big-name offensive prospects, other than one Joey Gallo, who has seen better results with Round Rock but hasn’t been able to find enough time in the majors to improve any kind of trade value.
This, then, is the worst-case scenario. The Rangers aren’t quite bad enough to tank, to throw in the towel completely, and tell their fans they’re playing for Seth Beer (imagine the promotions!), but they’re also clearly a miracle away from going to the playoffs, even the one-game Wild Card matchup. Beltre’s signed through 2018, and his play is good enough that he has real value, but to trade him to a team where he has a better chance of getting the elusive ring means breaking all those fans' hearts. How about Darvish? Talks of an extension or new contract have started, but they’ve also stalled under the weight of this season. How can Darvish know that in the future, Texas will be good enough to deserve him? Sure, the Angels are having success this year, but all the wasted years of Mike Trout is a situation for which no player wants to sign up.
There’s no winning, either on the field or off it. Time to grit the teeth and bear the season, and the scorn of the orange-clad mass to the south.
Or perhaps the coin lands the other way.
It’s July 20, 2017, and the Rangers are in first place in the American League West, leading by eight games over the surprising Mariners, who have trade-happy-hopped their way over the reeling Astros and moribund Angels. Darvish has basically etched his name on the Cy Young award with half a season to go, finally performing up to the lofty heights expected of him. Hamels began the season a little slowly, but has proven himself still plenty capable of being the no. 2 starter on a contending team. And while Perez still hasn’t performed up to the heights he showed right before going under the knife in 2014, his ground-balling ways have benefited from an extremely solid infield of Profar-Odor-Beltre-Andrus.
A.J. Griffin has shocked the world by being someone who can get major leaguers out more of the time than not, and while the fifth spot hasn’t been amazing, Texas has gotten away with it thanks to a humming offensive lineup. And there’s always the possibility that Yohander Mendez, after solid performances for Round Rock, is brought up to take that spot after the trade deadline. The newspapers have begun reporting on the optimism and excitement of Tyson Ross, nearly forgotten in the spring furor.
Beltre reached the rarefied air of 3,000 hits in early June against division rival Astros, kicking off an astounding run for Texas that saw them to their current top spot. While there have been the occasional injury, twinge, or slump, the engine that could has kept chugging along, largely in part to a breakout season by left fielder Ryan Rua, who was expected to split time with Delino DeShields Jr. but laid claim to an everyday position with his bat. Though he didn’t make the All-Star team, Darvish, Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy (enjoying the stability that a contract extension brings), and closer Sam Dyson did, a solid representation reflective of the team’s successes.
While nothing is guaranteed, Texas doesn’t need to worry about what to do with Beltre, because they are the team with the best chance of finally grasping that ring, so cruelly denied. Though the medium future still looks concerning, purely due to the thinness of the minor-league system, the high they’re riding right now is worth the questions that lie ahead. Flags do fly forever.
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