There have been rumors on and off that Yu Darvish would favor a return to the Texas Rangers pretty much since he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Darvish hasn’t eliminated them from his list of considered teams yet, and the relationship between the Texas front office and the pitcher is well-known. No one really knows what Darvish is considering when looking at potential contracts — despite the pitcher’s amusing openness and witty commentary on Twitter responding to rumors.
To ask “Do the Rangers need starting pitching?” is to not have paid attention at any point in the last five to ten years. If there’s anything Texas is defined by, it’s the need (either real or perceived) for starting pitching. In this way, bringing back Darvish is a no-brainer.
The final three in their proposed rotation right now are Doug Fister, Matt Moore, and Mike Minor. Darvish, at the very least, bumps Minor back into a bullpen role, and no matter his postseason struggles, is a better pitcher than many of Texas’ other options.
Texas is in an unenviable position right now. They’re opening a new stadium in the next few years, another one of the temples to excess that are in vogue right now in athletic arena construction. A new park needs a good team, needs fans in the seats, spending their money.
The Rangers, as currently constructed, aren’t that good a team, especially not in a division where one rival is currently defending a World Series title and the other signed the hottest prospect to come from Japan since Darvish. They have some talented pieces — Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Willie Calhoun — but there’s just not enough there to really see a path even to the wild card.
If they do sign Darvish, maybe that gives them enough to take advantage of a potential slip-up from the Astros or the Angels. Maybe they can sneak into the second wild card — and after all, the new stadium isn’t supposed to open until 2020, so there’s plenty of time for roster turnover. Not signing Darvish might be the answer, then; flexibility with money to chase any really big names that turn up wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
It’s this dichotomy that makes predicting what the Rangers will do difficult. They want to compete, especially with the uncertainty around Adrian Beltre’s future, but it’s getting more and more difficult to actually imagine a way that Texas can place any higher than third in their division. While there is still some good talent on the farm, Texas just doesn’t have the upper-level talent it used to, so there’s not even some promise of future talent ready to wow on that Opening Day roster two years from now.
However, the Rangers have enough talent and enough chance at grabbing some kind of playoff spot to not full-out tank, and the limited timeline before their big move is added incentive to at least attempt to win.
A Darvish signing could be a guard against not having any starting pitchers in two years; Cole Hamels has an option for 2019, but will be both 36 and a free agent after then. Darvish will only be entering his age-33 season in 2020, and could be the anchor for a rotation that seems impossible to prognosticate.
In the end, the Rangers have about as many reasons to sign Yu Darvish as reasons to not sign him. He could be the thing that pushes them into contention, or spend years pitching solid games for a team with no hope. It’s one thing to be a good team or a bad team; being in the middle is always the most difficult place to be.