Offseason In Review: Texas Rangers


The Rangers teased an “active” offseason just before the free agent period opened. They followed through on that promise in a big way, surprisingly landing two of the market’s five high-end shortstops. It probably isn’t enough to take them from a last-place team to the playoffs, but they hope they’ve landed a couple foundational pieces for 2023 and beyond.

Major League Signings

Trades and claims

Extensions

Notable Minor League Signings

Notable Losses

The Rangers went into the offseason on the heels of their third last-place finish in four years. Texas was at least amidst a retool, if not a full rebuild, and it had shown at the major league level — particularly in the results of the pitching staff. As they moved some established veterans and auditioned younger players, they stayed quiet during the 2020-21 offseason. Their biggest commitment that winter was the two-year, $7.34MM investment (including posting fee) in Japanese starter Kohei Arihara, who was making the jump from NPB.

This time around, though, Texas teased more to come. As the offseason neared, both president of baseball operations Jon Daniels and general manager Chris Young hinted at a more exciting winter in Arlington. Daniels suggested the club wouldn’t rule itself out on anyone available in free agency; Young stated they’d be “very active” in bringing in upgrades. The Rangers entered the offseason as a team to watch, but few would’ve envisioned just how aggressive they’d ultimately be.

In early November, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas could add as much as $100MM in 2022 spending relative to last year’s payroll. That didn’t wind up happening, but it reinforced that the Rangers would play for stars. Whom would that be? The possibilities were boundless. With very few internal options locked in around the diamond and oodles of financial flexibility, the front office could cast a wide net.

The Rangers looked like a strong landing spot for any of the top five free agent shortstops. Dallas-area native Trevor Story was frequently speculated as a potential target, but Texas grabbing any of Carlos CorreaCorey SeagerMarcus Semien or Javier Báez seemed viable. One could argue that Semien, as the oldest of the group, made the least amount of sense for a Rangers team in transition, but any could’ve been the team’s marquee pickup.

Texas was linked to each of Story, Semien and Seager in the offseason’s first few weeks, and they made the first strike of the shortstop market. The Rangers signed Semien in late November to a seven-year, $175MM deal that topped MLBTR’s projection by a year and $37MM. It was a big bet on a player headed into his age-31 season, but few players have been as productive as Semien over the past three years. He’s an excellent defensive second baseman, has been remarkably durable and typically offers well above-average offense at the top of the lineup (although he’s off to a slow start in 2022).

A top-three finisher in AL MVP voting in two of the last three yeras, Semien alone could’ve been the Rangers’ big addition. He received what wound up being the third-largest guarantee among free agents, and Texas surrendered a high second-round draft pick to bring him in. Yet even after they landed Semien, reports emerged that Texas was also making a push for Seager.

Indeed, the Rangers wooed Seager from L.A. on a massive ten-year, $325MM contract. It was the sixth-largest guarantee in MLB history and checked in 11th all-time in terms of average annual value. While no one knew it at the time, the Seager deal would also wind up being by far the biggest sum handed out over the offseason, as Correa pivoted to a short-term deal late in Spring Training. One could nitpick Seager’s long-term defensive fit and injury history, but there’s little question about his offensive upside. Headed into his age-28 season, he’s a prime-aged star who should be a middle-of-the-order presence for the better part of the 2020’s.

Seager’s a perfectly sensible long-term building block, and the Rangers (who had already forfeited their second-highest pick to sign Semien) paid a comparatively lower draft penalty than most other suitors would have to land him. Yet it still registered as a shock to see any team sign two of the five star free agents in the middle infield, particularly a last-place club.

While Seager and Semien went down as Texas’ most impactful moves, that wasn’t all they did in the days leading up to the lockout. The front office also found time to hammer out a four-year deal with former Rockies starter Jon Gray in between signing their star infielders. A former #3 overall pick with solid or better velocity, swinging-strike and ground-ball numbers, Gray was one of the more intriguing starting pitching options available. It was easy to dream on his promise outside of the league’s most hitter-friendly environment, even if Gray had been a bit up-and-down from a results perspective in Colorado. This inconsistency may have been one of the reasons the Rockies (somewhat bizarrely) passed on issuing Gray a qualifying offer, so he didn’t come attached with any further draft pick compensation. Gray’s $56MM guarantee exactly matched MLBTR’s pre-offseason projection.

In one final pre-lockout pickup, Texas snagged veteran corner outfielder Kole Calhoun on a one-year deal. The guarantee was a fairly modest $5.2MM, and the deal included a club option for 2023. It was a buy-low flier on a player who has typically been productive throughout his career. Calhoun, though, is now 34 and coming off an injury-hampered campaign.

The Rangers forcefully demonstrated their presence on the market during the pre-lockout spending spree. The work stoppage offered the front office a chance to reset and identify their next steps. Seager, Semien, Gray and Calhoun unquestionably made the team much better, but the roster still had room for a further shakeup. Reports during the lockout painted a broad picture of Texas’ plans whenever transactions could resume.

First, it became apparent Texas still had a pair of primary targets, including Dallas native Clayton Kershaw. From the beginning, it seemed as if Kershaw’s choice came down to a return to Los Angeles or signing with his hometown club, and the Rangers made no secret about their hope he’d take the latter route.

Texas also geared up for a run at A’s first baseman Matt Olson. A star player whom Oakland was obviously preparing to move, Olson was no doubt a priority target for many teams. Texas perhaps faced an uphill battle in convincing the Athletics to deal Olson to a division rival, although the Rangers’ incredibly deep farm system at least seemed to put them in the running.

There was also the question of how the club would proceed with previous shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa. He’d obviously been pushed out of the middle infield. Third base was a possibility, but top prospect Josh Jung was on the doorstep of the majors. They could always keep him around as a depth piece, but Kiner-Falefa was probably overqualified for such a role.

Once the lockout lifted, all three questions resolved themselves in fairly short order. Texas came up empty on their Kershaw and Olson pursuits. The future Hall of Fame southpaw went back to Los Angeles; Oakland dealt Olson to the Braves. Jung suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and will cost him most of 2022, seemingly opening a spot for Kiner-Falefa to bounce back to the hot corner. Ultimately, however, the 27-year-old proved a more valuable trade piece after showing he could handle shortstop last season.

In what would go down as the Rangers’ biggest trade of the offseason, Kiner-Falefa and pitching prospect Ronny Henriquez were dealt to the Twins for catcher Mitch Garver. The righty-hitting backstop is controllable through 2023 and has had some injury concerns in recent years, but he’s typically been excellent when healthy. Garver was one of the sport’s best offensive catchers in both 2019 and 2021, marking a clear upgrade for a Texas team whose catchers were in the bottom five at the plate last year. (The Twins, of course, would go on to flip Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees and kick off the chain of events that led to Minnesota’s shocking Correa pickup).

With Jung injured and Kiner-Falefa dealt, third base was wide open. There was some brief speculation about the Rangers circling back to the still-unsigned Story and landing three of the top free agent infielders, but that didn’t come to be. Instead, Texas went more affordable with their final multi-year deal of the offseason, bringing in bat-first utilityman Brad Miller for two years and $10MM.

Miller’s not a great fit anywhere on the diamond, but he posted above-average hitting numbers every year between 2019-21. He’s capable of rotating between all four corner spots and second base (although the latter won’t be necessary so long as Semien’s healthy). Miller’s left-handed bat pairs with righty-swinging depth infielders Andy Ibáñez and Charlie Culberson, the latter of whom made the team after re-signing on a minor league deal. They also signed former TCU infielder and three-time All-Star Matt Carpenter to a non-roster deal, gauging if a swing overhaul can help the veteran bounce back from a few poor seasons.

The Miller deal more or less closed the book on the position player moves for Texas. The Rangers felt comfortable enough with their infield depth to send Yonny Hernández to the D-Backs for a low-level outfield prospect. With Garver on-hand as the new starting catcher, Texas traded backstop Jose Trevino to the Yankees for reliever Albert Abreu.

Garver and Jonah Heim formed the tandem behind the dish. Nathaniel Lowe is back at first base after a nice 2021 season. The Rangers were willing to supplant him for Olson, but that was always more about a run at a marquee player than a desire to move on from Lowe. Semien and Seager are the middle infield duo for the foreseeable future, with the aforementioned trio of Miller, Ibañez and Culberson plugging the hot corner.

Miller is also working into the corner outfield. He, Calhoun and Zach Reks (whom the Rangers picked up for cash after the Dodgers DFA’ed him in November) are left-handed hitting options on the grass and at designated hitter. That was also true of Willie Calhoun, although his future with the organization could be in question now that he’s gone public about his desire to be traded after being optioned to Triple-A. The righty-hitting Nick Solak is picking up left field/DH work against left-handed pitching, while 2021 breakout performer Adolis García remains as the primary center fielder.

There’s probably no team in MLB that did more over the offseason to improve its offensive group. Texas’ lineup still doesn’t have the depth of the game’s best units, but they’ve arguably added four or five above-average bats in a six-month span. If those players stay healthy, it’s not hard to picture the Rangers finishing in the top half of the league offensively.

The pitching staff, on the other hand, still looks to be among the league’s worst. Gray is an exciting addition, but he’s probably miscast as a staff ace. Dane Dunning is a capable back-of-the-rotation starter, but the other three spots were essentially up for grabs coming out of the lockout. To plug one hole, Texas brought back old friend Martín Pérez on a $4MM deal. The southpaw consistently posts an ERA in the 4.40-5.00 range, so while he should offer some affordable bulk innings, he’s not going to overhaul the staff from a results perspective.

Otherwise, Texas is left relying on many of the same pitchers who struggled last season. Taylor HearnSpencer Howard, Kolby Allard and (to lesser extents) A.J. Alexy and Glenn Otto all drew some praise as prospects. None has yet had much MLB success in the rotation, although Hearn fared alright in relief last year. The Rangers will continue to give those pitchers some run as they await the arrival of their next group of highly-regarded prospects like Jack LeiterCole Winn and Owen White.

They’re also playing a bit of a waiting game in the bullpen, although in that case, it’s in anticipation of a return of a pair of their top arms from Tommy John surgery. Both José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández underwent the procedure in early 2021, setting them up as hopeful midseason returnees this year. Unsurprisingly, Texas had a below-average relief corps last year after losing arguably their two best late-game options. They’re seemingly content to hope that Leclerc and Hernández can reestablish themselves alongside pitchers like Joe Barlow and Brett Martin, as they didn’t make many major investments in the bullpen this offseason.

The one reliever signed to a big league deal was Garrett Richards, who received $5.5MM. The veteran righty has long tantalized with impressive velocity and spin, but he’s struggled with his control and gotten inconsistent results. Bumped out of the Red Sox’s rotation last August, Richards initially looked as if he might blossom in shorter stints, but he finished the year with a rough September.

Beyond Richards, the newcomers in the bullpen were low-cost pickups. Abreu, acquired from New York for Trevino, is out of minor league options and seemed to be on the fringe of the roster in the Bronx. He’s a power arm who has posted massive strikeout totals in the minors, but he has bottom-of-the-scale control. He’s an intriguing dice roll but far from a certainty. Veterans Greg Holland and Matt Moore both made the MLB roster after signing minor league contracts. Holland was released after four games; Moore has only allowed one run in 12 innings thus far, but he’s also issued nine walks and is coming off a poor season with the Phillies.

In all likelihood, the Rangers didn’t turn themselves into a contender. That was never really the goal of the offseason, though. “I don’t think we expect to just come out and be World Series contenders next season,” Young told reporters at the GM Meetings in early November. “That said, we expect to take major steps from where we were this year and continue to build this so that by 2023, we’re in a very good position and competing for the division and have the opportunity to make the playoffs and potentially win a World Series.

Texas set out to install some foundational pieces for 2023 and beyond. They did just that, adding what they expect to be an elite middle infield, a mid-rotation or better arm, and a new catcher. Whether the Rangers’ overarching goal for the offseason was right can be debated. Waiting another season to push the chips in would’ve been more conventional for a rebuilding club, at the very least. One could even argue they didn’t do enough — that once they’d landed Semien and Seager, they should’ve attacked the pitching staff even more aggressively to push for the playoffs immediately. Yet Rangers brass clearly views 2022 as a stepping stone, the final year before everything clicks and they can realistically expect to compete at the top of the AL West. Those efforts will be anchored by the players brought in during a foundational winters for the franchise.



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