Texas Rangers still have a long way to go, even after spending over $500 million in MLB free agency
The Texas Rangers have spent a truly absurd amount of money in free agency so far this offseason, a record in fact. With more than $500 million now committed to free agents, including Marcus Semien, Jon Gray, Corey Seager and Kole Calhoun, the Rangers are looking to vastly improve upon their dismal 60-102 season.
The sick thing is the Rangers might not even be done (well, at least when the lockout is over — whenever that is), as they’ve been connected to Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson (good luck making that happen within the division) and apparently the entire Cincinnati Reds pitching staff (Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, or Tyler Mahle) in potential trade talks.
So the Rangers are trying to skip their rebuilding phase altogether and start contending in the now-loaded AL West. But how much better will they actually be?
As things are currently constructed, probably not much.
Though Gray does help improve the Rangers’ pitching staff, the rest of it is effectively in shambles. The Rangers had a 4.79 team ERA last season — third-worst in the American League — and their best pitcher by a mile, Kyle Gibson, was shipped off to Philadelphia at the trade deadline. Jordan Lyles (5.15 ERA), Mike Foltynewicz (5.44 ERA), Kolby Allard (5.41 ERA), Dane Dunning (4.51 ERA) and Taylor Hearn (4.66 ERA in 11 starts and 42 total appearances) all collectively had a rough go of it in 2021.
The good news is that there will be plenty of turnover in 2022. Lyles has since signed with the Baltimore Orioles and Foltynewicz is a free agent. Texas could also find some relief in the form of Cole Winn, who was the Rangers’ first-round pick in the 2018 draft and has already ascended to Triple-A. In 86 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Winn sported a 2.41 ERA with 107 strikeouts and ultimately looks projected to slot in near the top of the rotation.
Then, of course, there is Gray, who the Rangers signed away from the Colorado Rockies to the tune of a four-year, $56 million contract. Gray has shown flashes in the past, most recently in a solid 2019 season, but the 30-year-old’s career 4.59 ERA (with a higher career ERA away from Coors Field) should temper expectations. Over time, he should fill the middle of the rotation as the Rangers continue looking for a true ace. Will that be Jack Leiter in a few years? Texas sure hopes so.
All of this is not something any team can come back from in just one or two seasons. Pitching numbers that grotesque are a top-to-bottom systemic issue, and it takes time to rebuild a pitching staff almost entirely from scratch.
And this isn’t even mentioning the offensive side of things. The Rangers had the lowest OPS in the majors last year at .670. Adding Seager, Semien and Calhoun will surely help, but it will take years to rebuild one of baseball’s worst offenses — and that’s if everything goes right.
As for the rest of the AL West, it’s pretty darn good. The Houston Astros remain, well, the Astros, while the Mariners made a big free-agent splash of their own, signing reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a five-year deal (and they don’t look to be done spending, either). The Angels are always in the hunt as they desperately look for more pitching themselves. Long story short, it’s going to be a long, uphill climb for Texas.
So will the Rangers be better in 2022? No doubt — it would be nearly impossible to be worse. The good news for them is that they likely found the bottom and are making moves that should help them begin to build a core that can compete a few years down the road. They might even be able to sniff the playoffs sooner than later thanks to a potential expansion of the playoff field.
But there are no doubt going to be plenty of lean years ahead.