Rangers losing Jordan Montgomery reminds fans of past gut-wrenching departure

San Francisco Giants v Texas Rangers, Game 5
San Francisco Giants v Texas Rangers, Game 5 / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

Just before the start of the 2024 season, Rangers fans' dreams of a reunion with Jordan Montgomery were officially crushed when it was announced that he signed a one-year, $25 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Rangers' loss of Montgomery is eerily similar to their loss of Cliff Lee before the 2011 season. Lee's and Montgomery's tenures with the Rangers possess many parallels, as they were brought to the Rangers through trade acquisitions and tasked with stabilizing a pitching rotation for a team that was on the verge of being contenders in the AL.

In Lee's case, the Rangers were looking to make it to the postseason for the first time in over a decade and, hopefully, they would do some damage once they got there. The one glaring weakness on the roster was the rotation, full of talented but inexperienced pitchers looking for a leader. Former general manager Jon Daniels went to work and found the Rangers just what they needed: a veteran pitcher and former CY Young winner in Cliff Lee, who was having a career season with the Seattle Mariners, holding a 2.34 ERA, when the Rangers decided to make a run for him.

The Rangers ran into a few good fortunes while trying to acquire Lee, including the Mariners front office, deciding to go into sell mode after the team plummeted a few weeks before the trade deadline. Due to the Mariners' eagerness to sell for prospects and the Yankees striking out on their sweepstakes for Lee, the Rangers were able to acquire the lefty on July 9 for a couple of prospects, including first baseman Justin Smoak, who ended up having  a solid career as a first baseman (primarily with the Blue Jays).

Once Lee joined the team, his presence was felt immediately as he helped rejuvenate the rotation. His pitching led the Rangers to a 90-win season, which tied the franchise record for most wins in a season at the time and got them into the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

Once the Rangers entered the postseason, Lee reached another level, logging a 1.13 ERA through his three games pitched leading up to the World Series. One game in particular that sticks with Rangers fans is Game 3 of the ALCS against the Yankees. Lee put on an absolute clinic and solidified himself as one of the most underrated aces in the league during that time. He shut the Yankees out while only allowing two hits and one walk. His 13 strikeouts tied him with fellow Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer for the third-most strikeouts thrown in a game in ALCS history. Lee's dominant performance in the ALCS and the ALDS helped the Rangers punch their ticket to their first World Series in franchise history.

Unfortunately, as we know, the Rangers' postseason dominance was halted by the red-hot San Francisco Giants, who happened to have the Rangers current skipper, Bruce Bochy, at the helm of their team. Without much of a challenge, the Giants defeated the Rangers through five games, and Lee could not provide much assistance, losing both games he pitched.

This brief summary about Lee's time with the Rangers was not to reminisce about past Rangers' glory days while we were all feeling down about not signing Montgomery, but to remind fans that there is still hope even if things look bleak at the moment regarding our pitching staff.

Similarly, the Rangers were not able to re- sign Lee after the 2010 season came to an end as he ended up returning to the Philadelphia Phillies on a seven-year, $150 million contract. The Rangers simply could not compete with that, and it may have turned out to be a good thing.

Due to the money the Rangers saved by not re-signing Lee, they were able to use that money to address other roster needs. One of them happened to be Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre. Due to an opening in the payroll left by Lee's departure, the Rangers were able to sign Beltre to a five-year, $80 million contract, which now, looking back on it, was a bargain. 

Lee, on the other hand, was able to remain a solid pitcher for the next three seasons with the Phillies, but by the time 2014 came around, injuries were starting to catch up with him. He was out for most of the 2014 season due to elbow injuries. He was out of the league completely by 2016 after succumbing to a multitude of elbow injuries. While Beltre was in Arlington putting up some of the best numbers of his career in 2015, he continued being a dominant force in the league for several more years. He finished his career with the Rangers in 2018 with the highest praise, arguably the most significant free agent signing in team history.

Even though fans might've been bummed out about the Rangers missing out on Montgomery, we are yet to see what will come out of this. As there was a major silver lining in the Rangers missing out on Lee a little over a decade ago, the same could apply here.

Rangers fans should not be in despair about losing Montgomery but should be looking at other opportunities at the trade deadline and next offseason that might be able to improve the team even more.