The 2021 Texas Rangers had one of the worst seasons in franchise history. The 60-102 record stands as the fourth worst since moving to Arlington. When combined with the even worse shortened 2020 season, they had their worst stretch with a win percentage at .369 (82-140). Understandably, they completely overhauled their lineup and starting rotation.
During the 2021 season, they traded away their only “star” player in Joey Gallo, landing a haul of players in Ezequiel Duran, Josh H. Smith, Glenn Otto, and Trevor Hauver. Three of those players are already making an immediate impact at the major league level. Duran has come up clutch multiple times in his 13 games with a three-run home run in extra innings, followed by a bases-loaded triple in the ninth inning. Smith was an on-base machine in his five games before a shoulder injury. Otto, meanwhile, carries a 4.24 ERA which is deeply misleading. Outside of one terrible start at Boston where he allowed eight runs in four innings, he has a 2.73 ERA in his other seven starts.
This past off-season, the Texas Rangers were one of the busiest teams, signing Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray, Martin Perez, Brad Miller, and Kole Calhoun. Seager and Semien have been relatively disappointing given the standard of play expected but Seager still leads ALL short stops with 13 home runs while Semien seems to have finally broken out of an early-season slump, batting .303 (36/119) with six home runs in his most recent 29 games. Gray has also recently turned a corner after a season marred by injury posting a 2.52 ERA for June. Perez, meanwhile, has been a revelation as he carried a Cy Young contending ERA of 2.10 through 13 starts.
To top things off, they traded away contributing players in Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino for what amounted to be Mitch Garver and a few innings of relief pitching from Albert Abreu. These moves have given the Texas Rangers a stockpile of players to figure out their next playoff run.
The trick now is to figure out what exactly to do with these players, to properly utilize them for success. The injured Josh Jung is still earmarked for third base, Cole Winn may not make it up this year after being roughed up in AAA but he could turn it around for a late-season call-up.
How should the Texas Rangers utilize their stockpile of young talent?
Starting pitcher Cole Ragans is having a great season, having already progressed to AAA with a solid first outing. He could see time in a Rangers uniform this year. Not to mention 2021 first-round draft selection Jack Leiter is expected to be ready for the 2023-2024 seasons barring an injury.
This leaves a projected 2023 team of:
- Josh Smith, LF
- Marcus Semien, 2B
- Corey Seager, SS
- Adolis Garcia, CF
- Nathaniel Lowe, 1B
- Jonah Heim, C
- Ezequiel Duran, RF
- Josh Jung, 3B
- Mitch Garver, DH
- Sam Huff
- Brad Miller
- Eli White
- Leody Taveras
With a starting rotation of :
- Jon Gray
- Dane Dunning
- Glenn Otto
- Cole Winn*
- Cole Ragans*
Now with no glaring NEED, this is where things can become complicated. Perez and Calhoun are only on one-year deals, so that’s why they don’t project in.
The duos of Coles are still in the minors at AAA and there’s no guarantee they play well enough to warrant a call-up, but 2023 still seems to be their time to shine.
The Texas Rangers have some questions to answer regarding their roster construction in the coming months
Smith and Duran are natural infielders so moving them to the outfield could “throw them off”. I don’t believe it will, though, and with two dynamic, controllable, and CHEAP players, it’ll be needed to find them a home.
Josh Jung, as I mentioned, is earmarked for third base but is no guarantee to stay there. He could be used as a DH or possibly first base to allow either Smith/Duran to stay on the dirt. Then what do you do with Nathaniel Lowe? He swings a slightly above-average bat and equal defense making him resourceful, to say the least. The problem is average at a power position just won’t cut it. Garver and Huff are both capable of manning first base and bring a little more pop to the position. As prior stated as well, Jung could see time there. It makes more sense to sign/trade for a natural outfielder while moving Lowe.
On the other hand, Garver is only under team control till the end of 2023 and also plays in a crowded position battle, making him disposable. I still give the edge to signing Garver, given the natural catcher position and ability with the bat is rare. To add to that, Lowe’s trade value is currently higher when comparing the two players this year.
The Texas Rangers’ main focus at an offensive upgrade should come in the outfield. White and Taveras should both be looked at as late-game defensive replacements and not long-term solutions in case of an inevitable injury or two. Brad Miller is a decent bat to have on the bench to come in and pinch-hit but isn’t an everyday solution. Finding a power-hitting, long-term outfield seems to be the missing piece this team needs.
Aaron Judge should be available but will warrant a MASSIVE contract, especially given what the Yankees could offer. Texas has money to spend and shown they aren’t afraid of big deals but this might be too much to bite off. Joey Gallo and Andrew Benintendi are the free agents to watch this offseason. Trade candidates are Bryan Reynolds, Cedric Mullins, Ramon Laureano, and Trey Mancini. Any of which would take a haul of prospects, likely headlined by Justin Foscue and a starting pitcher to start with.
Now for the pitching side of things. Relief pitching should be the last thing fixed when making a competitive run at things. It’s also usually an ever-changing group as it should be. But with the young arms in Barlow, Burke, Santana, Leclerc, and Hernandez to go along with the emerging Snyder, Lee, Patton, and Tinoco, it’s in relatively good shape already.
As for starting pitching, Jon Gray was signed to a four-year deal that wouldn’t be too easy to move at the moment. Dunning has established himself as a starter for the future and Otto has come around. Taylor Hearn as pitched admirably but seems destined for the bullpen. This group still needs a true ace to start a playoff series if they were to make a run-through. The trade market will have some valuable players available, but with the high competition for their services, it might be wise for them to hold onto their assets. Calling up Spencer Howard, Cole Ragans, and Cole Winn at the tail end of the year would give them a better picture as to how it could play out for 2023.
Perez is a candidate to both be extended or traded before the season ends. He’s already made it known he wanted to come back to Texas by passing up on more lucrative deals and if the Rangers feel he’s finally reaching his potential they could keep him around. If Texas does make a trade during the season, it’d have to be for a controllable front-line starter. Pablo Lopez, Luis Castillo, and Frankie Montas are all likely targets.
In free agency, there are a plethora of starting pitchers to target to replace Hearn, Perez, or Otto. Clayton Kershaw will be the popular name to watch given how close the Rangers were to signing him this past off-season. Others to focus on are Noah Syndergaard, Joe Musgrove, Sean Manaea, and Mike Clevinger.
No room for error
The Texas Rangers find themselves in quite a position. On the brink of exiting their rebuild, this is the time to make solidifying moves. With a deep farm system, Major League-ready players, few holes to fill, and money to spend, Jon Daniels and Chris Young will HAVE to make the absolute correct plays to get this team into contention. There is little room for mistakes in a division with the ever-competitive Astros and with the Yankees mashing their way through the AL.
In the unenviable position of possibly (probably for at least one of them) having their jobs on the line, Chris Woodward, Daniels and Young will need to get this team over the top and into the playoffs on a high standard basis.
First, they’ll have to navigate the complex layout they’ve afforded themselves in roster building.