Rangers in rebuilding mode decade after only 2 World Series

Stephen Hawkins
Associated Press
Texas Rangers' Deline DeShields bunt grounds out during the seventh inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday in Phoenix.

Elvis Andrus won't be in the building, or at shortstop, for the first time in 13 seasons when the Texas Rangers play their opener this year.

The Rangers are rebuilding, an ongoing process that displaced the last remaining player from the organization's only two World Series appearances a decade ago. 

Texas went to spring training with Gold Glove winners  Joey Gallo and Isiah Kiner-Falefa the only everyday players guaranteed lineup spots. Gallo, the slugging right fielder, hit only .181 last season after a potential breakthrough 2019 All-Star season was cut short by injury. 

Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove at third base before the Rangers moved him to his natural position, declaring him their new shortstop during the winter and trading the 32-year-old Andrus to division rival Oakland before going to camp.

Everything else was pretty much an open competition. Even long-struggling Rougned Odor had to try to become the starting third baseman with young Nick Solak getting a shot to be the everyday second baseman. 

"That's a huge theme. ... With a young group, making these guys understand that everything will be earned. The competitive environment ties into our overall culture, which is going to be a highly competitive one between the lines," third-year manager Chris Woodward said. "Spring training is just the beginning of that. This is something that we're going to continue on, obviously, throughout the season as well."

While the Rangers were an AL-worst 22-38 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, every game of the World Series was played in their new stadium with a retractable roof. Major League Baseball opted for a neutral site postseason, and a limited number of fans were allowed to watch games in the building for the first time. 

With Texas now allowing businesses in the state to operate at 100% capacity, the Rangers are preparing for a potential full house of 40,518 fans for their home opener at Globe Life Field on April 5 against Toronto. They could be the first team in any major U.S.-based sports league with a full-capacity crowd since the coronavirus pandemic started altering the sports landscape a year ago.

NEW LOOK 

Two former NL All-Stars still in the their 20s, outfielder David Dahl (Colorado) and pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (Atlanta), get fresh starts and the opportunity to be regulars again after signing free agent deals with Texas following miserable 2020 seasons with their old teams.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Switch-hitting center fielder Leody Taveras could be at the top of the lineup after making his big league debut last season with 33 games last season. Dane Dunning, a 25-year-old right-hander who is 2-0 in seven big league starts, will have a starting role after coming from the White Sox in a winter trade that sent Rangers workhorse pitcher and 2020 opening day starter Lance Lynn to Chicago. 

PIGGYBACK PITCHING

The Rangers likely will begin the season with seven starting pitchers, with two rotation spots filled by two-pitcher tandems that could alternate who starts different turns without evenly splitting workloads. 

"There's going to be a lot of dialogue and a lot of collaboration on so many fronts to make sure these guys are in the best position possible to succeed," Woodward said.

Opening day starter Kyle Gibson, Foltynewicz and Kohei Ariaha, set for his MLB debut after six seasons in Japan's Pacific League, will likely be traditional starters. Among pitchers likely to be part of tandems are Jordan Lyles, who struggled in his Texas debut last season, and Dunning, who is still building back up after Tommy John surgery two years ago.

NEED SOME RELIEF

Hard-throwing right-hander Jonathan Hernandez was expected to again pitch late in games, and sometimes for multiple innings. But Hernandez was shut down in spring training because of a ligament sprain in his right elbow, and won't even throw again until at least early April. He will then need significant time to build arm strength. He was 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA last season, pitching in 27 of the team's 60 games. 

WILLIE'S WOES

A lingering groin strain limited Willie Calhoun this spring, costing him a chance to earn a starting job in left field or as the designated hitter. He will likely start the season on the injured list. Calhoun suffered a broken jaw last March when he was hit in the face by a fastball in a spring training game. He was ready for the start of the delayed regular season in late July, but then played only 29 games because of hamstring injury.