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Rangers Vibe Check: Jared Sandler Talks Offseason Moves and 2022 Expectations

Plus: which young Rangers starter in the big leagues has the most potential?
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Who’s ready for baseball? Jared Sandler is. He’s the Rangers’ pre- and postgame host on 105.3 The Fan, as well as our Vibe Check correspondent. Ahead of Friday’s opener, he offers his thoughts on Texas’ gigantic offseason, his realistic expectations for the season, the areas he’s most and least certain about heading into the year, and what he wants to see in the early going. We’ll check back with him around the quarter mark of the season.

We have not chatted since really this offseason kicked off, and if you are a Rangers fan, this has been a riveting offseason. Of all the moves that they made, what was the one that stood out to you most as your favorite or maybe the most shocking thing that happened along the way?

I think the most shocking one was the Marcus Semien addition, just because I thought that he wanted to go to a team that was ready to win a World Series right now and also was interested in going back to the West Coast. So I’m not surprised that the Rangers were interested in him. I just didn’t know enough to know what his interests would be. And he’s the type of player who is so well respected around the league that, if he chooses to go to your team, people notice.

And, you know, the Semien signing happened before the Corey Seager signing, and the Rangers certainly didn’t have any definitive guarantee Corey Seager was going to sign when Marcus Semien signed, but I think the Rangers had made it very clear to Marcus Semien, ‘Hey, you’re not the only guy we’re bringing in.’ And on Corey Seager’s end, I think it helped that Marcus Semien had already signed.

I think that Marcus Semien is going to provide the type of leadership and direction and possess the culture-building qualities that the Rangers very much need at this time. Corey Seager signing here, you look at just how much money they’re paying him, and I think the Rangers expect that he has the biggest impact on the field. And what’s great about the Corey Seager addition is his age. He’s the rare 27-year-old free agent who will turn 28—I think on April 27, if I’m not mistaken—[and] not many guys reach free agency at that age.

You can split hairs as far as which one is the more significant acquisition. I think there’s no doubt the Rangers fully intend on Corey Seager having the bigger and longer impact on the field. But for the next few years, I think the Rangers fully expect and would love to have debates as to who the better player was in that given year. They both are special players.

This close to opening day, we normally don’t have to ask whether a team’s offseason is over. But these are unusual times, so I will ask you: is the Rangers’ offseason actually done?

I think so. The only name who might make sense to the Rangers is Michael Conforto. I get the sense that it would only happen on a one-year deal because I don’t think Michael Conforto’s multi-year asking price was anything the Rangers wanted to engage. A one-year, prove-it, re-enter-free-agency-type deal might make sense. The Rangers certainly aren’t without a place for Conforto, but I also don’t think the Rangers feel like they need to make that move.

So in that respect, yeah, I would imagine their offseason is done. Typically, as you approach the end of camp in the beginning of the season, when roster decisions are made around the league, every team will usually choose to not keep this guy or that guy, and they end up on another team. So the Rangers would definitely engage in that musical-chairs game where I wouldn’t be surprised if they add some Triple A depth. You know, some guys who maybe didn’t make other clubs, and they’re probably going to lose some guys who will make their club.

But as far as significant moves, I don’t think the Rangers are necessarily done this year. I think they’ll be very active in the trade market. Whether they’re contending for a playoff spot or not, I could see them enter the trade market as both buyers and sellers at the same time. You know, Rangers fans obviously remember the Cole Hamels acquisition a few years ago where the Rangers at the time, I think, internally believed that they had another push in them to pursue a playoff spot. And they obviously did, but I think what allowed them to make that move was if they didn’t [make the playoffs], they were comfortable with the asking price because they were going to have multiple years of Cole Hamels.

And I think the Rangers could very well be in the mix for those types of guys. I would say that while they certainly could trade for a rental player, for someone who has control beyond this year. My guess is if it’s going to be a Cole Hamels-type asking price, it would be someone who’s got two more years of control beyond this year. So guys like Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Frankie Montas, I think the Rangers would very much be in play on.

But at this time, the ask that it appears the A’s and the Reds are making for those guys, I don’t think makes sense for the Rangers right now because of their timeline and how it matches up with the control of those players. I don’t think the Rangers want to give up a ton of assets for guys they would have to also extend and pay a lot of money to to make it worthwhile. I think their thought is, if we’re going to spend a lot of money in the immediate, let’s just spend a lot of money; let’s not attach a lot of assets to it as well. And in those deals, it would be both. Now, a little bit of prospect asset moving and a lot of money? OK. Or a little bit of money and a decent amount of prospects? OK. But to do both with the current timeline, I don’t know if that’s where the Rangers are at this time.

You mention the timeline and, look, this has to be multiyear project. There are still enough holes on this roster that no matter how good this offseason has been, this is not going to be fixed in one year. So what should the realistic expectation be this year?

I think the hope is that when the trade deadline comes and goes, the Rangers are playing meaningful games. I think that is a very fair and realistic bar. I think for a team that lost 100 games last year to make the additions they made and to take the steps forward they presumably have taken, it would be a tremendous step for them to play meaningful games where playoff spots are at stake in mid-August and early September. And it will give some of the young guys experience [because] you’d imagine a number of young guys will be a part of what they’re doing at that time. I think it also energizes the fan base. I think it would make a statement to the rest of the league like, wow, they already got a lot better from one year to the next, and things are going in the right direction.

And that’s not to say that they might not come out of that and make the playoffs. I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility. But I don’t think the Rangers are entering the season with the mindset of, if we don’t make the playoffs, well, then this is a big disappointment. A lot of times when you invest $500 million in an offseason, I think that’s your mindset because very rarely does a team that loses 100 games convince $500 million worth of talents to come to their team in one offseason. So I don’t think the Rangers necessarily are thinking playoffs or bust. I just think they want to make sure they take a big step in the right direction. And then, if you look at it through a different lens, I just think the Rangers want continued growth with their young guys, whether it’s at the major-league level or the levels beneath, whether it’s Cole Winn getting up to the majors and having success, if it’s Jack Leiter just crushing Double and Triple A, Owen White, Leody Taveras, Bubba Thompson. I just think that right there is going to be a huge part of what the Rangers are hoping to accomplish this year when you consider a big picture.

Looking at this group right now, what is the area on the roster you are least certain about going into the season, and what is the roster spot you are most certain about going into the season?

Well, I think the middle infield.

I probably threw a softball right there. Yeah, you would hope after that much investment.

I’d say this: the Rangers didn’t just sign these guys for one year. And for Corey Seager, for the first time, he’s gonna deal with the pressures of having a massive contract attached to him. Everyone’s wired differently, and I don’t know how that might impact him. If there’s going to be an adjustment, I have zero doubt or hesitation about his production long term. Marcus Semien, he’s kind of being asked to be the guy in the clubhouse, and he’s always had leadership qualities, leadership abilities, but he’s now the guy—and, on top of that, has a big contract. And so I would just encourage fans to be patient and not let the first two weeks of the season define the offseason. But I think I’m so confident in these two delivering in big ways on the field.

And I think the area that’s got the most question marks is the rotation, just because if you look at their rotation to start the season—even guys who are candidates but not in the rotation—the only guy with skins on the wall is Jon Gray. Taylor Hearn had a really nice second half as a starter, but he hasn’t pitched a full season as a starter. Dane Dunning has a full season as a starter but with a little bit of a leash on. This will presumably be his first year just unleashed. You’ve got A.J. Alexy, Spencer Howard, Glen Otto, guys like that who don’t have a full year starting experience under their belts. You’ve got a guy like Martin Perez, who I guess maybe he’s right there with Jon Gray in terms of you think you know what you’re gonna get, but Martin Perez isn’t viewed the same way he was 10 years ago. He’s here to give you some innings.

You’re not going to turn a 100-loss team into a 100-win team in one offseason. It just doesn’t happen that way. And it’s also good to have staggered signings, to have big signings staggered over a few years, and I fully expect the Rangers to be incredibly active in free agency next year with pitching. I think this year, it’s going to be a big discovery year for them on the mound, and it could yield great results. But at minimum, I think the Rangers wanted to yield a lot of answers so they have a better idea of how to pursue improvements to the mound, in what areas, and to what extent they need to improve their rotation.

So I think there’s a lot of questions with the rotation. Then, you know, I imagine there are going to be guys like a Cole Winn who could come up and earn, you know, multiple starts, maybe 10-plus starts depending on how he does in the minors. So while there are a lot of questions in this rotation, I think, to some extent, it’s by design because the Rangers have a lot of questions with guys that they already have internally. And before they go in and invest a ton of money in the rotation, they want to at least have a better idea of what the internal outlook is for these guys.

So given all of that—and maybe this is about pitching, maybe this is something else—what is the biggest question you want to see answered by the quarter mark?

I would like to have an idea of who’s doing what on the mound. I think by the quarter mark, specifically, you could probably have a good idea of the level of progress Spencer Howard has made, and I think of all these young guys who have big-league experience—not the Cole Winns, Jack Leiters, Owen Whites, Ricky Vanascos, but the Ottos, Alexys, Dunnings, Hearns. And Spencer Howard. I think he’s got the highest ceiling.

The other thing is I’d like to know what Adolis Garcia is looking like at the quarter mark because I think that what he did last year wasn’t just a joke, right? Like I know that sometimes we discount rookie year performances because there’s such a track record of these guys taking steps back as Major League Baseball has a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and how to attack them. And there’s a reason why people have that thought process: because it happens a lot, and Adolis Garcia certainly has holes and weaknesses that can be exposed.

But what doesn’t get taken into account is that player’s ability to adjust as well and that player’s ability to grow. What Adolis Garcia did last year, whether he benefited from somewhat of the unknown as a rookie or not, was really special. He did some things athletically on the field that lots of guys just can’t do. So I think that with all the attention given to Seager and Semien and [Mitch] Garver, and you know, Kole Calhoun—just because he’s a new face, even if the level of expectation isn’t as high—and Jon Gray, what is forgotten is that your two best returning offensive players, Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis Garcia, could also be a part of the future equation.

When you’re not asking them to be your best or second-best hitter, it looks a lot different. I think by the quarter mark of the season, we should have a pretty decent idea of what sort of adjustments that Adolis Garcia has made, what his role might be moving forward, and hopefully it’s that he has a role moving forward because there’s obviously a lot of talent at the plate, in the field, and on the bases.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…
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