Injury-plagued Rangers rotation faces uncertainty with Max Scherzer's recovery.

The Texas Rangers announced another blow to the starting rotation this morning following Max Scherzer's surgery. They will now have three possible starting rotation arms out until at least the middle of the season.
World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three
World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Earlier this morning it was announced that Max Scherzer underwent successful surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. It is being reported that the surgery will sideline him until the middle of the season. The injury stems from Scherzer's Game 3 start of the World Series, where he was replaced by Jon Gray in the 4th inning following three shutout innings. He was later announced to be out for the rest of the postseason. It was hoped that he would be able to avoid surgery and be back for the beginning of the 2024 season. Unfortunately, that did not end up being the case.

Scherzer came to the Rangers via the Mets at last year's trade deadline. The future Hall-of-Fame pitcher had an up-and-down second half of the season with the eventual World Series champions. He had a 3.20 ERA after being traded to the Rangers, but that included a few rough outings in critical spots. Most notably giving up seven earned in just three innings of work during the last regular season series against the Astros. Some of those struggles can be attributed to injury issues Scherzer dealt with during the season even before the herniated disc.

He also mixed in a few shutout starts as well to balance out some of his rougher ones. His few dominant outings showed that Mad Max still has something left in the tank when he is fully healthy. They also left Rangers fans with optimism that a healthy Scherzer could still be a top-of-the-rotation type pitcher in 2024.

What does this mean for the 2024 season?

The news of Scherzer's lengthy recovery puts more uncertainty around the Rangers starting rotation going into the 2024 season. As of now they have a four man rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, and Andrew Heaney. Barring a trade or free agency pickup, that likely slots in Cody Bradford as the fifth starter for the first half of the season. While those are five solid options, it is worth noting that Eovaldi and Gray both missed time on the IL last season as well. This means that next season the Rangers will have five of eight of their potential starters who missed significant time with injury last season or will start the season on the IL.

If there wasn't urgency to get another reliable starting pitcher before, there certainly is now. The Rangers will have a wealth of options during the second half of the season when they will be able to add back Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and the newly acquired Tyler Mahle. But the question is: can they continue to win and set themselves up to be in a good place when all the injured starters return. It is certainly a concern with a rotation of two injury prone pitchers and at least two more younger, relatively inexperienced starters. Adding another quality starter would ease concern and increase the options and reliability of the starting rotation during the first half of the season. There is also no such thing as too much pitching as GM Chris Young is fond of saying.

The Rangers have a few options at their disposal in response to the Scherzer news. Playoff ace Jordan Montgomery is reportedly still on the table. However, with the limbo of the Rangers TV contract, it remains to be seen if they can afford to bring Montgomery back. His playoff performance means Montgomery will likely require an expensive, long-term deal. There are also a few starters reportedly still available for trade. I discussed earlier whether the Rangers should consider packaging some young talent from the big league roster with minor league prospects for one of those starters. The option seems even more appealing now.

There are also a few options from the minor leagues that could be tested out during spring training. Prospects such as Owen White or Jack Leiter come to mind. Considering either for the big league team to start the season would certainly accelerate their timelines, but could be possible. Still, it is not a guarantee that either will be ready to contribute to the starting rotation yet this season and most would be more comfortable getting another proven commodity.

Is the rotation a more urgent need than the bullpen?

While Scherzer is another hit to an uncertain rotation for this season, the bullpen is still the unit in more urgent need of reinforcement. The Rangers could also focus their attention on fixing the bullpen and stick with a rotation rounded out by Cody Bradford. If Chris Young adds to the bullpen it would certainly give any rotation the Rangers roll out more room for error. It would also provide the Rangers with solid pitching top to bottom when the injured starters return.

Ideally, the Rangers will go after another quality starter AND a couple more solid relievers. But the front office has stuck to their tendency of being tight-lipped. It is still yet to be determined what kind of money they have to work with and what is their plan to strengthen the pitching staff. But at the end of the day, this front office just brought the Rangers their first World Series Championship. While it is hard to be patient as a fan, they will do what they deem is best for the team and Rangers fans should feel confident that Chris Young and company will put their best foot forward to ensure that the Rangers are ready to compete again in 2024.

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