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10 steps to make Rangers contenders again

November 11, 2020

ARLINGTON -- Realistically, the Rangers are going to need three years to be contenders again. At least. But it can be done in 10 easy steps. Here’s how: Establish Taveras, Trevino in 2021 By the end of the 2021 season, Leody Taveras needs to be a proven defensive center fielder

ARLINGTON -- Realistically, the Rangers are going to need three years to be contenders again. At least.

But it can be done in 10 easy steps. Here’s how:

Establish Taveras, Trevino in 2021
By the end of the 2021 season, Leody Taveras needs to be a proven defensive center fielder and an offensive force at the top of the lineup. He’ll still need to get better offensively, but he must leave no doubt next season he belongs in the big leagues

Jose Trevino needs to establish himself as the Rangers' No. 1 catcher and field leader. He doesn’t have to be a perennial All-Star. Just a true leader. Think Jason Varitek, Carlos Ruiz, Bengie Molina.

Three true hitters
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak and Willie Calhoun need to hit. They don’t need to be in the middle of the lineup, but they need to hit: .280-.300, 30-40 doubles, 15-20 homers, 80-100 RBIs. Tough outs. More walks and less strikeouts. Michael Young? Chase Utley? Dustin Pedroia? Why not. Calhoun? How about Bobby Abreu or Nick Markakis.

Pitching Step 1
Left-handers Wes Benjamin and Kolby Allard appear to be best equipped to win the back two spots in the rotation next spring. Allard was the Flavor of the Month in August, then dropped off. Benjamin inherited the title in September. The Rangers need at least one of them to 1. pitch a full big league season in 2021 and 2. establish himself as a long-term candidate for the rotation. Both doing so would be a big step for the Rangers.

Shortstop to be named later
The Rangers' next division championship team almost certainly will include a defensive prodigy at shortstop. There are several candidates, led by Anderson Tejeda and including Maximo Acosta, Luisangel Acuna and Chris Seise.

The Rangers need one to emerge. It doesn’t have to be in 2021. In fact, the Rangers would be better off waiting, letting Elvis Andrus keep the job and have their young shortstops continue developing in the farm system.

Who’s No. 2?
The Rangers will have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft and need to find an impact player. Not just good player. A star. Think Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Justin Verlander, all former second overall picks.

Anybody with a search engine can go online and see who are the top 2021 Draft prospects. Could be Vanderbilt pitchers Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter, Florida outfielder Jud Fabian or Dallas Jesuit Prep shortstop Justin Lawlar. Doesn’t matter who. This draft pick must be a difference-maker.

Pitching Step 2
The Rangers have four talented young pitchers in right-handers Kyle Cody and left-handers Joe Palumbo, Taylor Hearn and Brock Burke. But they have more in common than sheer talent. All four have had their development experience major disruptions over the past 2-3 years because of injuries. Palumbo may win the award for most bizarre setbacks in one Minor League career.

The Rangers need to get all four healthy and put them on the right path to build up arm strength and durability. They can’t afford any missteps or short cuts. This could take a couple of years but if the Rangers do it right, they could end up with a couple of front-end starters for their rotation.

Make shrewd trade
The Rangers went to two World Series because they once acquired Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez. Nelson Cruz was the second player in a deal for Carlos Lee. David Murphy was one of three players acquired for Eric Gagne. Mike Napoli was supposed to be a backup catcher and extra right-handed hitter when the Rangers got him for Frank Francisco.

The Rangers have made some shrewd deals in the past leading to their run of success. Those deals are still out there. The Rays won an American League pennant this season because they traded for outfielder Randy Arozarena from the Cardinals.

Who knows? Maybe outfielder Eli White proves to be a huge pickup. He was getting close this past season until the pandemic disruption.

Bring on the power
Sam Huff could be the Rangers' catcher of the future but that’s not what the Rangers need most. They need his bat. They need middle-of-the-order sluggers to emerge from the farm system. It doesn’t have to be next season -- it won’t be next season -- but in 2-3 years when they are ready.

Huff, Josh Jung, Bayron Lora, Curtis Terry, Sherten Apostel, Davis Wendzel, Jose Rodriguez…the Rangers have guys with muscle, but need to get it to the big leagues and have it generating some serious power. Globe Life Field is not an excuse.

Pitching Step 3
The strength of the Rangers' farm system is the young arms. The issue is some of the best are either 2-3 years away or overcoming Tommy John surgery. Right-handers Cole Winn and Hans Crouse both could be front-end starters but are still a couple of years away after not pitching this past season. Left-hander Cole Ragans and right-handers Owen White, Mason Englert, Ryan Garcia and Ricky Vanasco are among those recovering from Tommy John.

Again, the Rangers have a lengthy rehab process to navigate through with all of them. But if they are successful and avoid any major setbacks -- Ragan had to go through it twice -- then the Rangers could have a wealth of young pitching talent to work with in the next 2-3 years.

But the Rangers need veteran pitchers this season, and possibly next year, to keep them from rushing young arms to the big leagues. That has been far and away their biggest transgression over the past 10 years.

Big ticket
Once the Rangers have completed steps one through nine, then they can take a big plunge into the free agent market. Just don’t expect it before then.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.