Pence makes Rangers; Calhoun optioned

March 21st, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Hunter Pence will be on the Rangers' Opening Day roster as their fourth outfielder. Willie Calhoun is being optioned to Triple-A Nashville.

Those were two of the conversations manager Chris Woodward had in the Rangers' clubhouse Thursday morning. Telling Pence was the fun part, Woodward said.

“For a guy who has played as long as he has, to see the excitement -- he had tears in his eyes -- it was a pretty cool moment,” Woodward said.

"This is a really big deal, and it impacted me in a big way," said Pence. "To be honest, the way I ended last year and how I played wasn’t good enough. I needed to get better and I put my mind to it. I’m extremely appreciative of this opportunity and it’s very special. I worked really hard this offseason and I feel really good about [the club]. Hearing that is definitely a special moment. I’m just grateful, but at the same time, I’ve got a lot of work to do to bring as much as I can, and give as much as I can to help the team win."

The conversation with Calhoun was much tougher for Woodward. Calhoun impressed the Rangers with how hard he worked this offseason in dramatically changing his physical and mental outlook. He came into camp determined to win a job.

But it came down to who was a better fit for the roster. Calhoun is a left-handed-hitting outfielder who is blocked by Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Shin-Soo Choo. Pence is a right-handed hitter who complements those three better.

“Willie was tough,” Woodward said. “He was not happy obviously, and rightfully so. This will be a learning moment for him to see how mature he can handle the situation. It’s not an easy one. He has done everything we’ve asked. He deserved the right to be on the team. But obviously, with our roster the way it is, and the decisions we had to make, at this moment, it just didn’t fit.”

Calhoun told Woodward that he wants to increase his versatility and play all three outfield positions in Nashville. Woodward agreed. The fact that Calhoun is in much better shape physically opens up the possibility of being able to play center field.

Calhoun was supposed to play in Glendale on Thursday, but was given the day off by Woodward while he absorbed the bad news.

“Who he was going up against wasn't necessarily Hunter Pence,” Woodward said. “We needed a right-handed bat on our bench, whether that was Hunter Pence or somebody else, and it just happened to be Hunter Pence. Matt Davidson [who was sent to Minor League camp earlier in the week] probably would have fit that role pretty well with the right-handed power off the bench. Matt Davidson has every right to be just as upset as Willie Calhoun, because he had a great spring.”

Woodward also informed left-hander Jeffrey Springs that he will be on the Opening Day roster. He will be in a bullpen that already includes right-handers Jose Leclerc, Chris Martin, Jesse Chavez and Shawn Kelley. Zach McAllister is another candidate, but has not been informed whether he has made the team.

Rule 5 Draft pick Jordan Romano, a right-handed reliever from the Blue Jays, has been told he will not make the team. According to Rule 5 procedures, Romano must be put through waivers. If he goes unclaimed, the Rangers have to offer him back to the Blue Jays for $50,000.

The Rangers like Romano, but were unwilling to carry him on the Major League roster the way they did with outfielder Carlos Tocci last year.

“We were all impressed,” Woodward said. “He has some things to work on to be a Major League reliever. His ceiling is pretty high, but we just weren’t willing to deal with the lack of options all year. That would have put us in a little bit of a bind.”