Call it streamlining or (pre-)spring cleaning, but a team conceding its need to overhaul its pitching staff in a major way cut three more big league pitchers loose on Friday, declining to tender 2018 contract offers to righthanders A.J. Griffin, Nick Martinez, and Chi Chi Gonzalez. As a result, the Rangers currently have only three pitchers with significant experience starting big league games: Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, and Doug Fister.
The 40-man roster is now down to 35, but more to the point, the roster now includes just 18 pitchers, several of whom (Joe Palumbo, Jonathan Hernandez, Brett Martin) probably won’t be counted on to contribute in 2018.
At the start of December a year ago, and the start of each month after that until Opening Day, Texas had 23 pitchers on its roster.
Go back to 2015, and as of the first day of December and then each subsequent off-season month, the roster never included fewer than 22 pitchers.
The process of retooling this stable of arms is afoot. In a big way.
Now, it’s certainly somewhere between possible and probable that the Rangers end up bringing one or more of the three (along with infielder Hanser Alberto, also non-tendered last night) back into the fold. They were dropped because of money (Griffin and Martinez were projected to make something in the range of $3 million and $2 million, respectively, via the arbitration process) or health (Gonzalez is expected to miss all of 2018 as he rehabs from July Tommy John surgery), and because the Rangers prefer the flexibility of having those roster spots back, for now, as they look to upgrade things — but one or more of them could end up returning if they’re willing to take lesser commitments from the club.
An hour before last night’s deadline for the Rangers and the other 29 teams to decide whether to tender contracts to arb-eligibles and pre-arb players, it became official:
Earlier on Friday, MLB owners unanimously approved a new posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball, and though the three-year agreement doesn’t take effect until November 2018 and thus doesn’t apply to Shohei Ohtani, MLB announced — in conjunction with news of the new agreement — that the Nippon Ham Fighters would formally post Ohtani, at the maximum $20 million release fee. Shortly after MLB’s announcement, the Fighters in fact posted the 23-year-old righthander/outfielder.
Interestingly, the 30-day negotiating window that applied under the previous versions of the agreement (including when Texas signed Yu Darvish six years ago), and that will apply under the new agreement as well, does not apply to Ohtani. MLB announced that the 30 clubs’ negotiating window with Ohtani will last only 21 days, expiring at 10:59 p.m. Central time on December 22.
That’s a lot of work for Ohtani and his representatives to get done in what amounts to an abbreviated window of time, though of course we shouldn’t expect Ohtani’s camp to take meetings with all 30 clubs (or 29, as it appears the Marlins have already folded).
The Rangers, according to local reports, expect to meet with Ohtani — with whom they have years of history — sometime next week, before the December 10 Winter Meetings get underway in Orlando. The club has a track record with position players moving to the mound:
But I don’t recall any that the Rangers whiteboarded before as a two-way player . . . until now.
The day before the Fighters posted Ohtani, word got out that Texas had signed big league veteran outfielder Anthony Gose to a non-roster deal — with the intent of looking at the 27-year-old as both a position player and a reliever. I’m not 100 percent sure about this, but I feel like Brooks Kieschnick might be the only player in my lifetime to make legitimate (non-mop-up) big league appearances both on the mound and as a hitter.
Gose has made 223 big league starts in center field — including 125 for Detroit in 2015 — but as a lifetime .240/.309/.348 hitter who hasn’t reached base enough to take advantage of his plus speed or hold down an everyday job, he asked for a position switch in 2017 when the Tigers outrighted him off the roster in January. The lefthander spent the entire spring in Lakeland, Florida, transitioning to pitching through spring training and then extended spring before an assignment to High A in the same complex in May.
In 11 relief appearances for the Flying Tigers, Gose held Florida State League hitters to a .189/.318/.324 slash line (seven hits and six walks in 10.2 innings), punching out an impressive 14 with a power fastball (first pro pitch: 99 mph) and a workable curve. He didn’t swing the bat all season — and he didn’t pitch after July 2 (three days, incidentally, after his first and only back-to-back-days assignment), shut down with an elbow strain that didn’t require surgery.
But he’s apparently good to go now, and even though he was strictly a pitcher in 2017, when the transition was given full focus, Gose is reportedly being viewed by the Rangers as both a relief pitcher and a center fielder.
Imagine a situation in which Gose comes into the game for defense in the eighth inning, with Ohtani on the mound . . . and he trots in from right field to face Kyle Seager, with Ohtani taking Gose’s place in right . . . after which Ohtani and Gose trade places again so the big righthander can polish off Mitch Haniger and Mike Zunino to preserve his own lead.
Enough. That’s getting a good half dozen steps ahead of things.
But maybe it’s not completely coincidental that the Rangers, who broke ground when they Rule 5’d Ogando and when they swooped in to claim Strop off waivers when Colorado was trying to quietly slide him through and when they found Edwards in the independent Pecos League (which had never produced a big league player and which hasn’t since) and when they signed Bush out of a Golden Corral parking lot tryout, are making it known that they’re more than just open to the idea of the two-way baseball player.
Also on Friday, hours after word broke that Texas had signed Gose and hours before Nippon Ham would post Ohtani, Levi Weaver’s highly anticipated “The Upset Sports” website launched, and you can go there to read more about what Ohtani wants to know from interested clubs and about Gose and about the Rangers’ non-tenders and about the Dallas Stars and about things that Levi thinks about and develops into really awesome stories.
And that’s just one day in. You ought to sign up.
Levi got things rolling on Friday, a day lots of us were eagerly awaiting.
Same could be said, on maybe just a little different scale, about Friday’s Shohei Ohtani rollout, a huge development eagerly awaited by nearly 30 teams with designs on putting his name on their uniform, one team of which arguably checks every box for the player as decisively as any — including an openness to the pitcher-hitter concept that goes beyond mere lip service — and whose need for rotation innings, and a potential Number One to build with, is without question its number one winter priority.