With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at outfielder Joey Gallo.
Ah, man. Writing about Joey Gallo means thinking about Joey Gallo, and about how Gallo is no longer a Ranger, and the complex mix of emotions and feelings that brings. Gallo was, coming into the 2021 season, the only Ranger left standing I had real strong feelings about, real strong emotional ties as a fan. Not only was he my favorite Ranger player, he was the only player on the team I could see as an option to be my “favorite.” Once he was traded, I didn’t really have a favorite Ranger player any more. There were players I liked, players I found interesting, players who I was more attached to than others...but once Gallo was gone, there was no longer a true “favorite” player, someone I would stan and go to war for and sweat their performance and be emotionally invested in, the way I was with Gallo, and with Elvis Andrus, and with Ian Kinsler, and a few others over the years.
It was a weird year for Gallo, a very streaky season. April wasn’t great for Joey — he had a terrific three game series in Kansas City to open the year, going 5 for 10 with a homer and 5 walks, and then his power disappeared for the rest of the month. From April 5 to the end of the month, Joey slashed .178/.368/.233 in 95 plate appearances, and he ended the month with a freaky .217/.409/.301 slash line.
There was fretting, there was talk about the new pitcher-friendly ballpark still affecting Joey mentally, talk about how pitchers had figured him out, talk about how the lack of protection meant he wasn’t getting pitches to hit. He seemed to get going in the first week of May, hitting four home runs in a six game stretch early in the month, then tailed off again, homering just three times from May 9 until the end of May. The power outage continued into the middle of June, and on June 19, after a collar in a 3-2 home loss against the Twins, Joey Gallo was sitting at .214/.373/.391, with 11 home runs in 276 plate appearances.
Now...to be clear, that isn’t the slash line of a bad player. Joey was getting on base a ton, was running the bases well, was playing stellar defense in right field. It was an OBP and slugging similar to late career Shin-Soo Choo, and if Choo had been a good baserunner who played great defense in right field, then I think there would be few complaints about him, even at his $20M salary.
But Joey Gallo wasn’t supposed to hit like late career Shin-Soo Choo. Gallo was supposed to be a middle-of-the-order masher. He was supposed to be the guy who was an MVP candidate in the first part of 2019, a player who doesn’t just get on base a lot, but also hits for power — a ton of power, challenging for the league lead in home runs power, not 20-25 home run per year power.
And of course Gallo is, even at his best, polarizing. Folks rail about the strikeouts, complain about the average hovering around the Mendoza Line, point to the lack of sacrifice flies and all the Ks and say he isn’t clutch, argue that he puts up empty numbers but isn’t the sort of player a winning team can count on.
On June 20, Gallo went 2 for 3 with a homer and a walk. That game was the beginning of one of a hot streak for the ages, a torrid run where Joey Gallo was seemingly invincible, unstoppable. From June 20 through July 10, over an 18 game period, Gallo hit 13 home runs, walked 19 times (three intentional), struck out just 22 times, and put up a mindblowing .339/.507/1.036 slash line. It boosted Gallo’s season OPS from 764 to 923, placed him 9th in the majors in fWAR, at 3.6, and earned him a spot on the American League All Star team.
July 10 was the final game prior to the All Star Break. The Rangers had played respectable ball in the run up to the Break, having gone 10-8 after a brutal 7-28 stretch had sent them crashing to the bottom of the standings. Joey Gallo had caught on fire and had MVP caliber numbers for the year. Things were looking up.
I think we all remember what happened after the Break. Texas lost ten straight over a ten game road trip, scoring a total of fifteen runs on the trip, including just five in their first six games. Joey Gallo struggled after the Break, slashing .088/.162/.235 in 11 games through July 27. He was the topic of extensive trade rumors, despite insisting he wanted to stay in Texas and be a Ranger for life. There were apparently talks of a contract extension in the week before the trade deadline, but those talks went nowhere, with the two sides reportedly not even close.
And then Joey Gallo was traded to the New York Yankees. He, along with Joely Rodriguez, headed to the Bronx for Ezequiel Duran, Josh Smith, Trevor Hauver, and Glenn Otto. There were recriminations. The team was pilloried for being cheap. Gallo and his agent, Scott Boras, were pilloried for not being realistic in their demands. The best player the Rangers had developed in the past decade, a guy that they had hoped would be a cornerstone of playoff teams, was gone, shipped off to the Evil Empire.
While Gallo’s time with the Rangers was over, his season was not over. Gallo joined the Yankees, said all the right things, was plugged into the lineup...and flailed. The first six weeks of Gallo’s time with the Yankees, he slashed .133/.302/.320. Things turned around for him offensively in the middle part of September, and he played his usual stellar defense for the most part, but there were a couple of egregious errors late in September that incurred the wrath of Yankees fans. The strikeouts, the disappointing offensive numbers, and then the errors in the field had fans asking why the Yankees had given up so much young talent for Gallo, asking whether he was just another guy who couldn’t handle the bright lights of the Big Apple.
Gallo finished the year with a slash line of .160/.303/.404 in 228 plate appearances for the Yankees, after slashing .223/.379/.490 for the Rangers. His overall line of .199/.351/.458 was solid. He led the majors in Ks, but also led the American League in walks, finishing second in the majors in the category behind Juan Soto. He ended the year with a 4.6 bWAR and a 3.5 fWAR — comfortably in first division regular territory.
And yet...and yet, for many, it seemed like a disappointment. The offensive slippage with the Yankees after the MVP caliber first half performance, the streakiness, and those Ks that get people so worked up...it led to many folks viewing 2021 as a glass-half-empty season for Gallo. Joey Gallo is, at his best, so good, that when he fails to maintain those heights, he becomes an object of criticism.
Joey Gallo is arbitration eligible in 2022, and then will be a free agent after the 2022 season. MLB Trade Rumors projects his arbitration salary at $10.2 million, though it is up in the air as to whether the Yankees will be the ones paying that salary, as there has been talk New York may look to move on from him this offseason, seek to recapture some of the value they gave up for him at the trade deadline and let him play elsewhere in his walk year.
Evan Grant reported soon after the trade that the Rangers offered Gallo a five year, $84 million extension, with escalators that could make it worth more than $100 million. Based on the $10.2 million arbitration salary projected for 2022, that would mean the free agent years would have been bought out at $18-22 million, depending on the escalators. It sounds like the AAV and the years were both issues, though the years maybe a bigger problem, with Gallo and Boras seeking a longer deal.
2021 was a good year for Joey Gallo — the best of his career. He turns 28 next month, and the coming season will be a huge one for him, in terms of his financial future. A 2022 season where Gallo stays healthy all year and improves on his 2021 campaign will likely get him a contract offer better than what Texas offered, and more in line with what he is seeking.