In conjunction with this entry in our annual Offseason in Review series, MLBTR will be conducting a Rangers-centric chat today at 11am. You can submit a question in advance, and be sure to check back to participate live.
The Rangers didn’t replicate last year’s half-billion dollar spending bonanza, but they sure didn’t let up in terms of aggression during Chris Young’s first offseason as the lead decision-maker for baseball operations.
Major League Signings
- Jacob deGrom, RHP: Five years, $185MM (includes conditional club/player options for 2028 season)
- Nathan Eovaldi, RHP: Two years, $34MM (includes conditional 2025 player option)
- Andrew Heaney, LHP: Two years, $25MM (Heaney can opt out after 2023)
- Martin Perez, LHP: One year, $19.65MM (accepted qualifying offer)
- Robbie Grossman, OF: One year, $2MM
2023 spend: $82.15MM
Total spend: $265.65MM
Trades and Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
- Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Clint Frazier, Dominic Leone, Sandy Leon, Zack Littell, Reyes Moronta, Travis Jankowski, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Jacob Barnes, Joe McCarthy, Elier Hernandez, Joe Palumbo, Kyle Funkhouser, Bernardo Flores Jr.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Rangers’ offseason was overseen by a baseball operations leader other than Jon Daniels. Ownership dismissed Daniels, who’d been one of MLB’s longest-tenured general managers/presidents of baseball operations, after 17 years on the job. The reins were handed to former big league pitcher Chris Young, who’s spent the past few seasons under Daniels and now has autonomy for the first time in his still-fledgling executive career.
One of Young’s first tasks was to replace manager Chris Woodward, whom Daniels had fired just days prior to his own dismissal, and it proved to be one of the highest-profile acquisitions of the winter for the Rangers. After trending toward less-experienced managers with their last two hires — both Woodward and Jeff Banister were first-time big league skippers in Texas — the Rangers instead hired one of the most experienced and well-respected managers in the game.
Bruce Bochy announced prior to the 2019 season that he planned to retire the following winter, although a year later he’d describe the situation differently, suggesting he was just “pressing the pause button” on his career and taking some time with his family. Indeed, Bochy’s managerial days appear far from over; he’s now the manager in Texas after inking a three-year deal to guide the Rangers out of what looks to be a short-lived rebuilding effort.
With a new dugout leader and revamped coaching staff in place, Young, a veteran of 13 big league seasons on the mound, set to work in building out the roster. While the 2021-22 offseason was focused largely on acquiring bats in the form of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, the 2022-23 offseason looked more like one engineered by a former big league hurler. Recent top picks like Owen White, Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker and Cole Winn are looming, but the Rangers needed instant augmentation for a rotation that ranked 25th in the Majors in ERA during the 2022 season.
And, immediate augmentation they got. Young and his staff effectively acquired an entire rotation’s worth of veteran arms on deals ranging from one to five years in length, which should provide present-day stability while also creating organic opportunities for that burgeoning crop of minor league pitching talent to force its way onto the roster. First and foremost, the Rangers made a straightforward call to offer Martin Perez a $19.65MM qualifying offer after he posted a breakout 2.89 ERA in a team-high 196 1/3 frames. A year ago, a QO for Perez would’ve seemed unthinkable, but Perez earned it with his performance last season, and it’s a sensible short-term bet on a durable lefty who made clear he hoped to stay in Texas following last winter’s reunion.
That, however, only maintained the status quo. Further help was needed, and the Rangers wasted little time in securing it. A five-year, $185MM deal for two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom shattered even the most bullish expectations; there was thought that deGrom could top Max Scherzer’s record $43.33MM annual value on a three-year deal or perhaps even on a four-year deal, but few observers could’ve foreseen a five-year term. The length of the deal perhaps tamped down the AAV a bit, but deGrom’s $37MM AAV was the second-largest for any pitcher in history at the time of the deal and still ranks third, trailing only Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who ostensibly replaced deGrom in Queens when he signed a two-year, $86.6MM pact.
The Rangers are taking pronounced risk with deGrom, who’s pitched just 156 1/3 innings and made 26 total starts over the past two seasons. That’s understandably dropped an injury-prone label on the longtime Mets ace, but it’s worth noting that prior to 2021, deGrom embodied the workhorse mentality. He made all 12 possible starts during the shortened 2020 season and, from 2015-19, averaged 30 starts and 192 1/3 innings per season (not including postseason workload).
When healthy, deGrom is the best pitcher on the planet. He has a 2.05 ERA, 35.5% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk rate over his past 645 1/3 MLB frames, and although his 2021-22 seasons were shortened he’s been even better in that time: 1.90 ERA with a ludicrous 44% strikeout rate against a 3.4% walk rate. The Rangers are placing a massive bet on deGrom’s ability to return to a full season’s workload, and the risk and contract are particularly shocking when considering that he’ll turn 35 in June. That said, deGrom is so talented that he might not even need to pitch a full slate of starts for the Rangers to feel good about the return on their investment.
The other rotation bets made by Texas were similar ceiling plays with substantial injury risk. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi looked primed for another four-year deal last June, when he was sporting a 3.16 ERA, 25.8% strikeout rate and deGrom-esque 3.6% walk rate through 12 starts and 68 1/3 frames. Back troubles landed him on the injured list, however, and while he returned a month later, Eovaldi worked with diminished velocity before going back on the injured list with a shoulder issue. He returned to toss 9 2/3 innings of one-run ball late in the season, but again, the velocity was down considerably; Eovaldi averaged 96.7 mph on his heater through June 8 but 94.5 mph thereafter.
Nonetheless, Eovaldi’s appeal is clear. He’s the rare hard-thrower who pairs that velocity with elite command; since Opening Day 2020, Clayton Kershaw is the only starting pitcher (min. 150 total innings) with a lower walk rate than Eovaldi. From Opening Day 2020 through June 8 of this past season, Eovaldi boasted a 3.61 ERA, 25.7% strikeout rate and 4.2% walk rate in 299 innings. He’s twice had Tommy John surgery in his career, however, and the aforementioned loss of more than two miles per hour off his heater following back and shoulder injuries is an obvious red flag. Can he regain that lost velo while maintaining his elite command and holding up for a full starter’s workload? Eovaldi has just three seasons of 150-plus innings in his MLB career, but the Rangers were bullish enough on his outlook to surrender a draft pick in order to sign him, as he’d rejected a qualifying offer from Boston. (Texas also surrendered a pick for deGrom; they parted with their second- and third-highest selections in 2023 by making those signings.)
Even higher on the risk-reward spectrum is left-hander Andrew Heaney, who was limited to 72 2/3 innings by shoulder troubles last year but transformed from a tantalizing but homer-prone blend of strikeout-walk intrigue into a legitimate buzzsaw when he was healthy with the Dodgers in 2022. The Dodgers scrapped Heaney’s curveball in favor of a new slider, and opponents were utterly bewildered by the offering.
Heaney fanned a massive 35.5% of opponents against a 6.1% walk rate en route to a 3.10 ERA. He remained homer-prone, but among the 188 pitchers with at least 70 innings thrown in 2022 (relievers and starters alike), no one induced a higher swinging-strike rate than Heaney’s 16.8%. His 39.5% opponents’ chase rate on pitches off the plate trailed only Kevin Gausman (42.7%) and Emmanuel Clase (a superhuman 49.8%).
The Rangers’ new-look rotation is teeming both with upside and with injury risk. However, the risk factor with all these rotation investments wasn’t lost on Texas. The Rangers could surely have found a team interested in acquiring pre-arbitration righties Dane Dunning or Glenn Otto after each posted back-of-the-rotation results in 2022 (4.46 ERA in 153 1/3 innings for Dunning; 4.64 ERA in 135 2/3 innings for Otto). However, Young and his crew held onto both righties — and they also swung a trade to acquire veteran Jake Odorizzi from the Braves. Odorizzi exercised a hearty $12.5MM player option, but the Braves kicked in $10MM to facilitate the swap, leaving the Rangers on the hook for just $2.5MM. For a veteran who’ll likely open in a long relief/sixth starter role, it’s an eminently affordable price to pay (especially considering how solid Odorizzi was in 2022 prior to his trade to Atlanta).
It’s feasible that over the remaining month of spring training or the first few months of the season, other clubs will inquire on the availability of anyone from the Dunning/Otto/Odorizzi trio — especially as other injuries arise on teams with less depth than the Rangers possess. There’s no urgency for Texas to move any member of that trio, though, and the mere fact that an organization that was so pitching-starved in 2022 now has that type of depth is a testament both to the work of the front office and to the commitment of ownership to field a club capable of returning to postseason contention. The Rangers even went so far as to reportedly meet with Carlos Rodon after they’d already signed deGrom, but that match obviously never came to fruition.
Of course, the rotation is just one element of the roster, and it’d be fair to wonder whether the Texas front office put enough emphasis on the rest of the team. The Rangers allowed Matt Moore to depart for a division rival (Angels) after he turned in one of the most effective seasons of any reliever in MLB last year, and they’ve done nothing to concretely replace him. Recognizable names like Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Dominic Leone, Reyes Moronta and Zack Littell were signed to minor league deals, but none are guaranteed roster spots. Meanwhile, the Rangers are also expected to be without southpaw Brett Martin for most or all of the 2023 season, after he underwent shoulder surgery.
In their defense, the Rangers are hoping to get full seasons out of both Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez in 2023. Both righties missed substantial time in 2022 while mending from Tommy John surgery performed a year prior. That’s a huge boost to the relief corps, and last year’s quiet breakout from Brock Burke and strong showing from Joe Barlow give Bochy a quality group of arms in the late innings. Still, there was room for at least one more bullpen addition. Perhaps Young & Co. have one more strike up their sleeve and will swoop on a lefty like Zack Britton, Will Smith or Brad Hand — each of whom remains unsigned — but the lack of attention to the bullpen could come back to bite them.
Similar questions abound with regard to the lineup. Semien and Seager form a quality middle infield combo. First baseman Nathaniel Lowe had a breakout showing at the plate. Jonah Heim is an underrated option behind the dish. In the outfield, Adolis Garcia has a questionable approach at the plate but a tooled-up blend of power, speed and defense that’s tough to match. Leody Taveras didn’t hit much in 2022 but can play center field better than most.
Still, that only accounts for two-thirds of the lineup. Top prospect Josh Jung will get an opportunity at third base after shoulder surgery wiped out most of his 2022 season, but he’s yet to prove himself as a big league regular. There was clear room to add a regular in left field, but the Rangers added Robbie Grossman after spring training had opened and will rely on him combining with Brad Miller, Josh Smith, Bubba Thompson, Mark Mathias and perhaps some non-roster invitees (e.g. Clint Frazier, Travis Jankowski, Elier Hernandez) to round out the outfield. At designated hitter, the Rangers seem likely to rotate several members of that left field hodgepodge.
That said, Lowe’s glovework at first makes him a DH candidate, so Texas could’ve added at least one more first base/corner outfield type of bat to deepen the lineup. Given all the money spent on the rotation and all the risk they took on in that regard, it’s a bit puzzling that Texas essentially pulled some punches when addressing the lineup. A platoon with Grossman bashing lefties and one of the Rangers’ many lefty-swinging left field candidates could prove productive, but it’s an underwhelming conclusion to an offseason that featured so many fireworks on the starting pitching front. And, if Jung gets hurt again or looks overmatched at the hot corner, there’s little in the way of veteran depth to help offset the struggles. Miller is an option, but he’s a 33-year-old seeking a rebound on the heels of a poor 2022 showing.
Jung is a big-time prospect, and there are so many bodies in the left field/designated hitter mix that it’s possible this is all much ado about nothing a few months down the line. It’s equally plausible, however, that the Rangers find themselves in the market for some corner help to bolster the lineup this summer, and at that point, the lack of attention to the the lineup would only prove more glaring. This feels like an area where they should’ve placed some greater focus, but it’s admittedly tough to be all that critical of ownership’s spending after they invested $821MM over a period of just two offseasons.
Everyone in the AL West is looking up at the Astros. The Rangers, while improved, aren’t clearly better than the Mariners after Seattle ended a 20-year postseason drought in 2022. The Angels are an improved squad as well. Even after all their spending dating back to last winter, a playoff berth is not a given for these Rangers.
It’s overwhelmingly clear, though, that this is the most formidable Rangers club we’ve seen in some time, and if they can improbably find themselves in a spot where deGrom, Eovaldi, Heaney and Jon Gray hold up for the bulk of the season alongside the more durable Perez, the Rangers could find themselves in the thick of the postseason race. You can question the risks they took, but this a team that’s clearly aiming to contend right now, and the pieces to do just that are in place — if they can avoid the injured list.
How would you grade the Rangers’ offseason?