Texas Rangers Free Agency: Scary decisions will be made this winter

The Texas Rangers have been downright frightening the past 2 years. They’ve combined for a .362 win percentage, their worst since moving to Arlington, sending spine-chilling sensations down fans’ backs.

However, the dreadful years seem to be coming to an end.  As should these Halloween puns. The bright light at the end of the tunnel is really just a lot of money to spend at the right time. According to Spotrac.com, the Rangers only have ~$39 million on the books for 2022 and $6 million for ’23.

Having the 4th highest attendance in baseball for ’21, a large market, and a low payroll are a good combination to have when the free-agent market is historically great. Though the Rangers should have no trepidations about spending, WHO they spend money on could give them nightmares. Here are three realistic targets they should fear, and three they should sign boldly.

Texas Rangers scary and bold free agency decisions

Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw is one of the premier starting pitchers on the market. Already, a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, he has nothing left to prove about his grit or skill. That doesn’t necessarily mean no questions though. He has staggeringly accumulated over 2,454 innings pitched in his 14-year career and the miles seem to be taking their toll.

He has spent time on the IL in 3 of the last 4 seasons, with injuries ranging from back to elbow and forearm. His ERA has also increased in 4 of the 5 past years. Want to know why he seems to be regressing? BECAUSE HE’S A GREAT ALL-TIME PLAYER. The numbers had nowhere to go but up.

The 8-time All-Star put together a 3.55 ERA in 2021, which would have been by far the best on the Rangers. He’s only 33 years old and is an established, leader and competitor. His K/9 rate increased to 10.6/9 which would only have been outdone by his ’14 and ’15 all-star years. His walks per 9 also dropped to 1.6, below his career average of 2.2.

The Rangers’ farm system is looking ripe with young pitching for a change, and Kershaw would be the perfect role model for Leiter and Winn. The Rangers should be BOLD and sign him to a 4 year/$120 million deal.

Carlos Rodón

Carlos Rodón was the 3rd overall draft pick in 2014 to the White Sox. Rodón didn’t take long to reach the majors, making his debut in 2015. He had early success, sporting a 3.75 ERA through 26 games that year, and the high expectations never faltered. Perhaps they should have though, as he battled injury after injury, finally leading to Tommy John in 2019. He was non-tendered by the Sox but resigned at $3 million for the ’21 season.

Making good on the hype and a second chance, he set career marks in ERA (2.37), wins (13), strikeouts (185), and WHIP (.957). Those kinds of numbers and pedigree will net him a large contract. The pitching needy Texas Rangers could go after this All-Star, but with his injury history and an ERA below 4 only twice in 7 years, they should be SCARED of a 5 year/$125 million contract.

Trevor Story

Trevor Story has been a hot name around the Texas Rangers fan base, and rightfully so. He was the 45th pick in 2011 (8 picks AFTER the Rangers that year) and the Irving, TX native has set the baseball world on fire.

His first two hits in the Majors were homers off Zack Greinke, and to show he wasn’t a fluke, Story proceeded to set an MLB record of seven home runs in his first six games. He was also the fastest SS to get to 100 home runs, achieving the feat in 448 games, passing… Alex Rodriguez.

However, Story sure picked a bad time to have a “down” year. In 2021 he hit 24 home runs while batting .251. He is usually known for great defense as well but in 2020 he set the high mark (10) for errors by a SS.

Now, the real fear factor comes in the form of his home-away splits. In the comfy confines of Coors Field, Story has amassed 95 homers while batting .303.  Away from there though? 63 homers batting .241 in about the same amount of at-bats. If the Rangers plan to divvy out a 10 year/$312 million contract, they should be SCARED.

Now, this goes with saying, Story did get time in the minors at 3B and 2B while blocked by Troy Tulowitzki and could make a move if Kiner-Falefa is deemed a better defensive fit. Before his down year, he was looked at as the best available player this offseason. He could see a diminished contract value (due to his substandard year and home/away splits) to 8 years/$224 million, which is much more doable.

Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa was the most heralded, and youngest, player in the 2012 MLB draft. Taken number one overall, he is the highest-drafted high schooler from Puerto Rico. Expectations were obviously sky high and he has met them every step of the way.

He won rookie of the year in 2015 and has made two all-star appearances. In 2021 He set a career-high of 26 homers and matched a career-high of 75 walks. One thing offensively he doesn’t do though is stealing bases, as he’s only swiped six bags in the past five seasons, zero in the past two.

The main concern, though, lies in his injury history. He’s spent time on the IL in each of the last four seasons, though ’21 was due to Covid protocol. He has hit for a good, but unspectacular .277 average in his career and strikes out at a 21% rate. He could probably also benefit from becoming more of a threat on the base path. But there isn’t much to complain about his game overall. He plays fantastic defense at a key position, hits for above-average power, and is an intense competitor.

The Texas Rangers should be BOLD and offer a contract in the 10 years, $280 million range. Correa’s market could even go up depending on the CBA and if he holds out to be the last one standing. If his market moves much past $315 million though, the Rangers should think twice.

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant was the number two overall pick in the 2013 draft (just after the Astros BOMB of a pick, Mark Appel). He won the 2015 NL rookie of the year, opposite Correa. He has made four All-Star appearances, with the most recent in ’21, which was considered a down year for him. Bryant did have a forgettable 2020 season, but he’s a career .278 hitter and has 167 homers over parts of seven seasons.

Bryant’s fear factor is the size of his contract. He’ll be looking for something similar to the 7 year/ $245 million Rendon got from the Angel’s. Unfortunately for Bryant, where everything lined up for Rendon, things didn’t quite for him. Rendon entered his free agency with a 7 WAR where Bryant managed a 3.6 WAR according to FanGraphs. Following the forgettable and forgivable 2020 season, Bryant didn’t quite bounce back either, hitting below career averages of .268 with 25 homers. He was inconsistent throughout the year and faltered towards the end of the season.

If signed, it will likely be as a primary OF who could play some 3B if Jung isn’t ready. Bryant has been a household name since entering the league and would give the Rangers a solid middle-of-the-order bat at a position (OF) that needs improvement. The Rangers can look at George Springers’ contract and should be SCARED to, sign him to a 6 year /$162 million deal. Kris Bryant’s market could realistically be higher for 3B needy teams, and the Rangers should test the waters but not reach here.

Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos was drafted in the supplemental 1st round going 44th to Detroit in 2010. Like the aforementioned Bryant, Castellanos originally played 3rd base before making the move to the outfield full time in 2017.

At exactly 2 months younger than Bryant, the career numbers are staggeringly similar. Castellanos has the slight edge in homers at 168, but they have the same batting average of .278. Castellanos separates himself from his former teammate by trending in the opposite direction than Bryant.

Castellanos set career highs in 2021 with 34 homers while batting .309. Typically, you should be cautious when approaching free agents who have career years, but that’s not the case here. Castellanos bumped his home run total up to 27 in 2019, then in 2020, he had 14 which would be about 35 homers across a full season, so the home run numbers don’t seem to be a fluke. Now the average does stand out a bit when looking at his previous years but his batting average of balls in play at .340 for ’21 isn’t significantly higher than his career average of .331 so it wasn’t luck.

His hard-hit rate has been consistent the past 2 years at 47% as well. Nick seems to be finding his stride and will likely opt out to sign a huge deal this winter. The Texas Rangers should be BOLD and sign him to a 6 year/ $138 million contract. Large contracts to Reds outfielders may still have a sour taste to fans but Castellanos is a rising star and the Rangers should go big or risk missing out again.

*BONUS*

  • Michael Conforto – SCARED
  • Noah Syndegaard- BOLD
  • Marcus Stroman- BOLD
  • Corey Seager- BOLD
  • Robbie Ray- SCARED
  • Chris Taylor- BOLD
  • Starking Marte – SCARED

Now, when a team like the Texas Rangers are looking to complete the back end of a rebuild, there’s going to be lots of holes. You can justify buying an upgrade at almost every position. The Rangers may not be ready to compete in 2022 but with the top prospects knocking on the door, this is the time to set your keystone free agents. The trick is not to dig yourself into a hole with a bad contract. For the right price, any of those free agents would be a good get, as long as it’s approached with the future in mind. These are what the lean years are for after all!