While watching the division rival Houston Astros take care of business during the current offseason, the Texas Rangers might be taking a step back and saying to themselves “uh-oh.”
Both teams were expected to fight for the A.L. West title last season, but the Astros struggled out of the gate and never came close to challenging the Rangers, who ended the year as back-to-back division champs. Needless to say, the brass in Houston decided to do something about it.
And they are making all the right moves before the MLB winter meetings even begins.
The latest is the signing of free agent outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million deal. Beltran hit .280 with seven home runs and 29 RBI’s after being acquired by the Rangers in a trade deadline move last season. Just as important, the 36-year old added a veteran presence in the Rangers clubhouse which the Astros are now banking on. He’s also familiar with Houston, having played for the Astros during their 2004 playoff run while they were a National League team.
But it’s not just the Beltran deal that has caught everyone’s attention. The Astros were hard at work prior to that, adding catcher Brian McCann, along with outfielders Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki to plug into a lineup that already includes Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman. Adding McCann and Reddick could be a major upgrade on offense as both have swings that fit Minute Maid Park from the left side of the plate. Aoki was a solid leadoff hitter during the Kansas City Royals’ run to the World Series in 2014.
However, the Astros may not be done. Rumors are Houston could be among those in pursuit of Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, despite the White Sox claiming they have no intention of trading Sale to an A.L. team. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer, whom the Rangers were also interested in during last season’s trade deadline, has been mentioned to be on the Astros radar if talks over Sale fall through.
If Dallas Keuchel returns to Cy Young form, Lance McCullers bounces back from an injury-plagued 2016 season, Collin McHugh brings in another solid season and you add a Sale or Archer to the mix, the argument whether the Astros have the best pitching staff in baseball is valid. Anything they get from another free agent acquisition, Charlie Morton, would be a bonus.
There’s no doubt the Astros are gearing up for a run at the division title and more. All the “wheeling and dealing” this offseason could make the Rangers feel like they’ve been put on notice when it comes to division supremacy, especially since the Rangers have holes to plug on their roster, particularly in centerfield, first base and with the pitching staff.
It all looks good on paper, but you still have to play the games. With that being said, the road to the Fall Classic, at least on the American League side, may have to go through Texas. The only question is whether it’s Arlington or Houston.
Written by C. James