No, the Texas Rangers didn’t need Rob Manfred to announce that the league had agreed to a universal DH in 2022 (and beyond). They play in the American League, where the designated hitter (DH) has been part of the establishment for decades upon decades.
But the timeliness of the DH topic brings up an interesting positional debate for the Texas Rangers this season: who will get the lion’s share of the at-bats at DH this season?
In 2021, the Rangers split DH duties amongst a group of players, but we’ve identified two this year that should expect to see a fair amount of time there given their lack of set defensive position but strong bat-to-ball skills. Those players would be Andy Ibanez and Willie Calhoun.
Andy Ibanez and Willie Calhoun could fight for the DH spot on the 2022 Texas Rangers
Calhoun has been with Texas since 2019, after being acquired in the 2017 Yu Darvish trade, while Ibanez is a late-bloomer in the organization with good contact skills. Both are “deserving” of playing time in 2022, so that’s not the question here.
It helps having your middle infield secured for years to come (Seager and Semien), but that puts Ibanez out of a position (normally an infielder). As for Calhoun, he’s injury-prone, and while he can play left field, risking his already fragile health out there isn’t worth it.
So who should be the Texas Rangers’ DH in 2022?
The case for Andy Ibanez
Ibanez is a pure contact hitter, a rare skillset in today’s swing for the fences game. That makes him a tremendous asset.
Though he’s 28 already, Ibanez finally broke through to the big leagues in 2021 after years toiling away in the Rangers’ organization. He ended his first big league season with a solid .756 OPS (.277 average to highlight his contact proficiency) in 253 at-bats, playing all over the infield. All things considered, you’d take a .756 OPS from your DH.
The problem? Ibanez doesn’t have a set position. Listed as a third baseman, he’s not a gifted defender by any means, if not a liability. The Rangers had pretty weak infield play in 2021 (save for Isiah Kiner-Falefa), so having Seager, Semien and IKF/Jung at third base should go a long way towards cleaning that up for 2022.
Ibanez is therefore the perfect DH. He’s a bat-first player who has proven he can hit consistently at the highest level. It’s taken this long for him to arrive, so he should keep getting opportunities for all his hard work, and well… he’s just good!
The case for Willie Calhoun
It’s hard not to like Willie Calhoun. He’s got an infectious personality and has fun playing the game. He’s also injured a lot, so rooting for his success when healthy is an easy thing to do.
Calhoun’s only “full” season with the Texas Rangers came in 2019, when he had an .847 OPS and 21 homers in 309 at-bats (83 games). The fact that 83 games is his most played in a single season to date is… concerning, to say the least. He played 75 games in 2021 with 260 at-bats in those games, his most since that 2019 season.
Texas tendered Calhoun a contract last December, indicating they want to give him one last shot in 2022 to show he can stay healthy and reach the ceiling they’ve always known he could attain. The Rangers easily could’ve non-tendered him, though.
Like Ibanez, Calhoun doesn’t have a set defensive position, though he’s listed as a LF. And also like Ibanez, Calhoun isn’t all that good with the glove. He makes his hay with the bat.
Calhoun bats from the left side and has decent pop, both qualities that make him an appealing DH option. The power, in particular, is more traditional from the DH position (think Nelson Cruz). Really, health is the only obstacle holding Calhoun back, but it’s a big one, nonetheless.
I really believe there’s a legitimate scenario in which Andy Ibanez and Willie Calhoun timeshare at DH for the Texas Rangers in 2022. Ibanez’s right-handed bat and Calhoun’s lefty one complement each other from a matchups perspective.
Both offer different approaches at the plate, as well. Ibanez is a contact hitter, as we discussed, while Calhoun is more in the mold of a traditional DH with the power element of his game.
The difference in their bat-first approaches is what could make them a unique DH platoon in 2022. But given the uncertainty of Calhoun’s health, it just feels like Ibanez will end up with more at-bats when it’s all said and done. Therefore, I have to give the slight edge to Ibanez for now, at least until Calhoun proves he’s capable of staying on the field on a more consistent basis.