It’s still early in this 2017-2018 Hot Stove Season, yet it feels as though every team is holding its breath until Shohei Ohtani is signed, keeping its money stockpiled until it’s clear it’ll need to find other options.
Every team, that is, except the Texas Rangers. Texas is among the supposed front-runners for Ohtani, but that didn’t stop the Rangers from looking to shore up the back end of their rotation by signing veteran right-hander Doug Fister.
Fister’s deal should have little-to-no impact on any potential Ohtani signing. Rumored to be around $4 million, with various escalators and performance bonuses, this is a perfectly reasonable deal for a veteran starter who went unsigned all of last offseason, and a team in need of fourth and fifth starters with both experience and upside.
After being placed on waivers with the Angels — the team that signed him to a minor league deal in 2017 — Fister caught on with the Boston Red Sox, and ended up with 90.1 innings pitched on a postseason team.
Though his ERA hovered around five, Fister was a strong enough pitcher for the Red Sox that he made it onto their postseason roster, though he couldn’t make it out of the second inning in Game 3 of the ALDS.
There are signs that he could have a solid year. In his last 10 regular season starts with Boston, he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio and the number of ground balls he induced off his sinker, the biggest pitch in his arsenal. All-in-all, though, Fister isn’t really a headline signing. He’s the kind of move that you’d expect a team to make for depth.
So what does this say about the Rangers’ plans going forward? Clearly, they still consider themselves in the race for Ohtani, as do most teams with any kind of international cap room, and with the way this Fister deal is structured, they haven’t limited themselves in the spending department.
Adding another starter to the back end of a disappointing rotation does nothing to endanger the role of a No. 1 or No. 2 arm, and by going out and getting a veteran, Texas could be showing itself to be highly competitive.
Unlike a lot of free-agent chases, where the player (as every player has the right to) picks the team with the highest offer, Ohtani’s team has made it clear that he will be incredibly choosy about the team commitment, atmosphere and support that he will receive wherever he decides to launch his MLB career.
If the Rangers don’t land Ohtani, then there’s a harder question for that front office to answer.
Despite the emerging young talent on its roster, players such as Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara, Texas is in a position where a rebuilding year or two might not be out of the question. There’s no need to do a full-on “tank,” particularly since that tactic is one that has such a narrow margin for success. However, moving some of their more established players for prospects, and accepting a few seasons of purposeful mediocrity, could be in the cards.
Of course, this discounts the fact that Texas has a new stadium opening soon, and with a new stadium comes the desire for a winning team to put fans in seats.
No matter which direction the Rangers end up taking their 2018 season, Fister has a place on that roster, quietly eating innings and hopefully being slightly above the replacement level that the final two spots in the rotation have been for the last few years.
For the moment, that’s all Texas really needs.