The last time the Texas Rangers were this band, Gerald Ford was president. Courtesy of Creative Commons

To say the Rangers’ season ended with a whimper might be overstating the team’s emotional investment in their 6-0 loss at the hands of the Cleveland Indians/Guardians. That finale felt more like a bored preteen scrolling to the next TikTok video than a group of allegedly elite athletes fighting ’til the bitter end.

This year was always going to be rough, especially after the front office officially embraced the R word. As North Texas sports fans, we’ve grown accustomed to mediocrity — mostly because the Rangers and Cowboys have traditionally refused to undertake a full-on rebuild — but we’re not used to this level of septic toilet water from our teams. It’s tough to know how to feel about what we as baseball fans just lived through.

Watching your sports heroes lose 102 games hurts. Hoping individual players develop into competent big-leaguers — instead of rooting for a win — is a strange way to watch a game. Knowing the team has sucked, currently sucks, and will almost certainly suck again requires a level of trust and patience from fans that no local organization outside of the Dallas Stars has earned. And yet here we are.

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What do the Rangers have to give us fans some hope? A lot, actually. The team is still at least two years away from being competitive, but even the most cynical fan has to acknowledge the slivers of light peeking through the closed vault. A few players emerged, and the once floundering farm system appears to be producing high-level talent.

This season cemented the fates of position players Adolis Garcia, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Nathaniel Lowe as good players. On the pitching side, bullpen ace Joe Barlow and starters Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn established themselves as at least decent, with a chance to be pretty good. All six players belong in the show, and they are locks to be on the 25-man roster next season — barring injury, of course.

Other guys have earned a shot to stick around. Willie Calhoun’s tenure as a Ranger has been snake-bit, but he looks good when healthy. You’d hate to see him put it all together for another team, especially during another rebuilding year. Outfielder D.J. Peters showed flashes of why he’s been hailed as the next Nelson Cruz — a late bloomer with mutant power. Second baseman Justin Solak didn’t blossom the way fans hoped, but was also one of the club’s steadiest, if dullest, performers. He may be relegated to a bench role going forward, but at least manager Chris Woodward knows he won’t embarrass the team. One-time super prospect Leody Taveras showed glimpses of why he was so highly touted. He brandishes the best glove on the team. If he can find consistency at the plate, he’ll be a weapon.

Pitchers Jonathan Hernandez, John King, Brett Martin, Josh Sborz, and Nick Snyder will all have a decent opportunity at bullpen spots. Hernandez was a stud until injuries robbed him of his 2021 campaign. Starter A.J. Alexy cooled down after a sensational start, but he still flashed enough stuff to get major league hitters out. One-time top prospect Spencer Howard regained his fastball velocity after an injury, and he’ll be given a chance to make the mid-season trade that brought him to Arlington look like the steal many of us thought it was at the time.

Despite my misgivings, the front office has promised to be active in free agency this offseason. Whether or not they can convince top-tier talent to come be part of a rebuild will likely define the offseason and the team’s record next year.

If you want to be optimistic about this franchise, just focus your gaze on the farm. Third baseman Josh Jung was only just promoted to AAA, and he looks to be every bit a star. He’ll have to burn an orphanage or lose a leg not to be given the nod at the hot corner next season. Pitching ace Cole Winn is also coming fast. He’s cleaning up in AAA at age 21, and he’ll likely have a taste of camp life next year. Catcher Sam Huff and second baseman Justin Foscue have very little left to prove in the minors. They’ll see Arlington by year’s end.

General manager Chris Young and president John Daniels have set themselves up for an intense game of 40-man roster Tetris, with what looks to be about 12 players vying for roughly five or six spots. Some well-known names — at least to us nerds who follow the minors and prospect rankings — will likely be out of the organization. That’s a good thing, to paraphrase Martha Stewart.

All of that is to say, next season’s team should look dramatically different from the one that just lost 102 games. Will they suck? Probably. But, for now, the goal is progress. And if we’re lucky, the team will rise to the level of sweet, comfortable mediocrity again. At least then, we’ll know how to feel.