The Dodgers' Corey Seager is one of several high-end shortstops Texas could chase in free agency. But is he the best one? Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball

What’s the Most Iconic Rangers Moment Ever? Their Best Free-Agent Target? Josh Jung’s Future?

Jamey Newberg opens up his mailbag.

The Rangers have tried to answer a lot of questions this season. In keeping with the theme, I gave it my own shot: taking your questions and doing what I could with them. Sorry I couldn’t get to all of them — and couldn’t offer satisfactory answers to some that I did.


Should Ron Washington have subbed Nelson Cruz out for the ninth inning for defensive purposes or is that hindsight? —Joseph Beveridge

Really? Right out of the chute, Joseph? Is this your way of saying you hate the Mailbag idea and want to ensure I don’t do this again?

(But … yes: #DezCaughtIt basically should have been a three-year takeoff on #EndyCaughtIt)

Which Rangers starting pitcher currently on the major-league roster has the most upside? —Mike K. Overstreet

The young pitchers in the current rotation are Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn, Spencer Howard, Glenn Otto, and AJ Alexy (all of whom came to the Rangers via trade). How are we defining upside? In the traditional sense, meaning absolute ceiling if everything goes right? Alexy’s combination of stuff, variety, and mentality stands out. If, instead, we’re measuring whose flashes of plus stuff shutting down good major-league lineups are showing up more consistently? That’s Hearn. Or is “upside” in this context a measure of whose career you take right now, based on the likelihood that he gives you a Colby Lewis-like workhorse reliability in big games and for the longest stretch? If so, probably Dunning. Or might the best measure of upside be the rankings of all those prospect analysts, since they basically trade in upside? Howard was the No. 27 prospect in baseball going into both 2020 and 2021, according to Baseball America, and none of the others have come close to that sort of tier.

So … I’ll say Otto. I think he might have the best mix of all the above, especially when factoring in risk.

This is an impossible question, but what could we expect out of Josh Jung’s career? Who are his comparable counterparts (realistically)? Are we thinking like Arenado? Parker Schmidt

Jung has had an exceptional year despite coming into the season with less than two months of pro competition under his belt. He hit .308, developed pull-side power, and put up an OPS north of .900 in two months with AA Frisco this spring — and has been even better since his mid-August promotion to AAA Round Rock: .331 with extra-base power, lots of walks, and a 1.025 OPS. He’s going to be a major leaguer in 2022, quite likely on Opening Day.

However … you can’t point to Arenado as a suitable comp, for a couple reasons. First, Arenado’s defense is Beltre-level elite. Jung’s never will be (which puts him in the company of 99 percent of the game’s starting third basemen over the last decade). Second, only Mike Schmidt (nine times) and Alex Rodriguez (seven) had more than the six 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons Arenado has had (and, yes, five came with the Rockies, but he’s done it again this year with the Cardinals). Realistically, no young player should have Arenado as a reliable comp.

Would you take Anthony Rendon’s career (.287/.369/.484 with a 162-game average of 24 home runs and 96 RBI, good defense)? Evan Longoria’s (.267/.336/.474 with 28 and 97, good defense)? Either would be a resounding success

Who do you think are the top three Rangers prospects who have not yet appeared in MLB? Do you think any/all of them will break camp with the major-league team next spring? Hugh Ward

Jack Leiter, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, is the obvious one. After that, give me Jung and righty Cole Winn, who was elevated to AAA after Frisco’s AA season ended so he could get a couple more starts before his breakout campaign ends. This would have been Winn’s draft year out of TCU had he gone to college — and all he did was hold AA hitters to a .144 batting average, the lowest of any starter in all of minor league baseball this year. The idea of Leiter and Winn (and Ricky Vanasco) joining the starters mix that we discussed above may have the Rangers more excited than any facet of what they’re attempting to build.

Leiter will not open the season with Texas. There’s almost no chance Winn would. Jung? Probably better than 50/50 that he does.

How many of the following players will be on the 40-man roster next year: DJ Peters, Brock Holt, Leody Taveras, Charlie Culberson, Jonah Heim, Josh Sborz, Willie Calhoun, and Eli White? Bart Cooper

I‘d be surprised if both Holt and Culberson were back, though each would provide veteran presence on what is likely to remain a young club. I would bet on Culberson of the two, as a more versatile defender (and mop-up pitcher!). As for the others, I’ve got a story cooking in my head that will address the immediate direction of the roster, so I won’t get too deep into a player-by-player breakdown. But they do all have at least one minor-league option remaining, which removes a key factor in the calculus for their hold on roster spots. The only ones who I think might be prompting lengthy conversations upstairs are Sborz (too many walks) and Calhoun (although a brutal series of on-field adversities have stunted his ability to establish himself, he’s entering his arbitration years — meaning a bigger payroll commitment).

Rather than splurging on one of the big three shortstop free agents this off-season, what do you think of the Rangers trading for [Dodgers infielder] Gavin Lux? My thinking is they would get more affordable control and put themselves in a position to go after starting pitching. Steven Solomon

I think the assumption is Los Angeles will look to give a long-term deal to Corey Seager (who is a free agent this winter) or Trea Turner (who hits the market a year later), but not both — and that Lux would settle in as the second baseman alongside either one. If your thought is that Lux’s disappointing production in parts of three seasons might make him a buy-low target, that’s fair. But unless the Rangers feel confident that Lux would clearly be a better long-term bet than anyone in the group of middle infielders already on hand (Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak, Andy Ibáñez) or on the farm (Justin Foscue, Josh Smith, Ezequiel Duran, Davis Wendzel, Luisangel Acuña, Thomas Saggese, Trevor Hauver, Chris Seise, Maximo Acosta, Cam Cauley), then it probably wouldn’t make sense to give up what it would take to trade for Lux even at a supposed discount.

Why is Bubba Thompson not mentioned in most top-20 rankings of the team’s farm system? I know he has had trouble staying healthy, but the numbers he put up this year seems to me that he should be possibly our CF of the future. Fred Andrews

I had him at No. 16 on my own list a month ago, and had the Rangers not traded Joey Gallo in July, Thompson would have moved up another two spots for me. I wouldn’t rule out the idea that he could be a starting major-league center fielder, but there’s still a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, and he doesn’t walk much. That said, it’s been a big year for the 23-year-old, who stayed healthy — a critical box that he needed to check — and had a very productive season with Frisco, with 48 extra-base hits in 104 games. He led the league in triples and was second in total bases, fifth in doubles, and seventh in stolen bases while playing solid defense.

Thompson is a strong bet to be added to the 40-man roster in November with an eye toward a Texas debut in 2023, if not sometime in 2022. But he has some things to iron out before cementing himself as a 150-game player at a feature position.

What should be the Rangers’ No. 1 position focus in free agency, and who do you think would best fill it? Brad Lessem

Count me in the go-get-a-shortstop camp. With Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, and Javier Baez all hitting free agency this winter — and with the Rangers insisting they will be active in the market — there’s an opportunity that may not come back around for a while. It’s not often that so many premium players become available at the same time at one position.

I’ve gone back and forth on the first three — I don’t think Baez’s approach at the plate is a fit (he leads the National League in strikeouts, fanning at just about the same rate as Gallo but walking only one-fourth as often) while Semien is already 31 — but I’m presently on Team Correa. His brand of leadership would be huge on a young team (a category Detroit fits as well; a reunion there with manager A.J. Hinch is making the rumor rounds).

I’m struggling to understand why a team this far from contention would chase a top-tier free agent like Correa. Yes, he’s great, and he’s young, AND he’ll be expensive. By the time the youngsters learn to hit big-league pitching, half of his contract could have been used up — and to what purpose? He’d have to be a Beltre in the clubhouse for this to be a good investment, and that’s not likely, IMO. Joe Stroop

He turned 27 last week! Hearn and White are older. Andy Ibanez is a year and a half older. 

Semien is going to make a lot of money playing shortstop for someone over the next few years. In Year One of that deal, he’ll be the same age Correa will be in the fifth season of his upcoming contract. I’ll take my chances that Correa can handle the position that long (and move to first base after that). 

It’s time to add pieces to the very top of the roster.

I’ve been watching a video series on the history of the Mariners franchise recently, and it got me thinking. The video makes the case that “The Double” in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS is the Mariners’ defining moment, the greatest event in franchise history. Prior to 2010, the Rangers had even less postseason success than the Mariners, with only one postseason win in 10 games. Up to that point in their history, what would you say was the Rangers defining moment?

Bonus question: including 2010 and 2011, how does your answer change? I guess it’s arguable that the franchise’s greatest event and defining moment are probably different, much to the chagrin of Rangers fans everywhere. Mitchell Greer

Pre-2010: Sadly, it was a 46-year-old pitcher pummeling a 26-year-old with bad judgment.

Factoring in 2010 and 2011, yes, you are correct — and you and everyone else reading this has already come up with both the “greatest” and “defining” moments. First, a curveball that caught A-Rod looking and, second, a line drive that oh-so-momentarily caught Nellie Cruz doing the same.

We can even give the two moments the same name, differentiated by a single punctuation mark:

One strike, away.

One strike away.

Assuming Gallo keeps up his major league leading strikeout total next year and his batting average around .200, would the Yankees or anyone else give him a free agent contract anywhere near the range of $80 million that he turned down from the Rangers? Would the Rangers be interested in getting him back for a reduced amount, or is it time to move away from a home-run-or-nothing guy on offense but a very good defensive player and great arm and runner? Melvin Schwartz

I am all about the idea of bringing Gallo back after 2022. The pennant-race experience with New York will have helped, he loves it here, and he’s a very, very good baseball player. 

And, yes, he will get more than whatever it is he turned down before he was traded this summer.

Do the Rangers trade IKF this offseason? @texasstarsaddle

Don’t think so. I bet he is the team’s starting shortstop or, if a marquee free agent is signed at that spot, its second baseman. I just don’t think his trade value would be at a level that makes moving him the better option.

Is your favorite player on the next Rangers playoff team already in the system? If so, who? Dustin Kuczaj

I hope not. 

Why does Woodward continue to put a guy (Taveras) batting in the .150’s in the leadoff spot when Yonny Hernandez is a prototypical leadoff hitter with a much higher OBP? And Yohel Pozo is the best hitting catcher we have at this time. What does he have to do defensively to surpass Trevino or Heim on the depth chart to become at least the No. 2 when you factor hitting and defense? Mark Markwardt

While at AAA this year, Taveras had his best season to date in terms of walk rate. It’s a sign of his game maturing, and, especially in a season like this one, he’s being challenged to carry it over in the big leagues. As for Pozo, it’s telling that since returning to AAA, he has caught only twice in eight games.

One minor league player on another team that you back up the trade boat for? Russell Budai

While Julio Rodriguez or Adley Rutschman might be the objectively correct answer, it’s gotta be Bobby Witt Jr., right?

Am I ever going to get to watch the Rangers on TV again? Even with the team being so bad, I would’ve gladly watched games this year but had no way to do so. It saddens me that, after watching almost every game for over 20 years, either in person or on TV, Sinclair/Bally Sports can’t reach a deal with most TV providers in [North Texas]. Seth D. Kaplan

Let me know if you find out first.

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