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Rangers appearing in free agent rumors

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With the MLB offseason starting in a couple of weeks, the Rangers are popping up in connection with a variety of pending free agents

Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game One
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MLB Rumors: Top free agents and the Texas Rangers have not, generally, been connected much in rumors in recent years (with one rather notable exception), as the team had (correctly, it appears) viewed its shutting window of contention and shaky farm system as not being the right situation to spend big on one of the top free agents on the market. Texas has been involved in free agency the last half-decade, but generally with targets that top out in the mid-level range. And while they have had success with Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson on three year deals at around $10 million per year, the expectation is that a contending team with the Rangers’ financial wherewithal should be able to aim higher.

Jon Daniels, Chris Young and Chris Woodward have all been open about the fact that the organization is planning on being more aggressive this offseason, as part of a plan to have the team positioned to be a serious contender by 2023. As Jon Daniels put it in this Evan Grant article from yesterday, the team “didn’t start on the first page [of the free agent lists] the past couple of years,” with Evan saying that the JD/CY combo “have convinced ownership to do what’s necessary to land high-profile free agents.”

I get that there is skepticism from a lot of fans about this. I will also note that it would be really stupid for the Rangers to talk a big game about going after big time free agents this year, and then not doing it. And I think that means that they understand that signing top free agents means spending more than what would seem “rational” — as Andrew Friedman famously said, “If you’re rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent.” Landing a top free agent inherently means overpaying — that’s the nature of the Winner’s Curse.

But with free agency kicking off in less than three weeks — Game Seven of the World Series (if necessary) is November 3, less than two weeks away — we have the offseason rumor mill starting to crank up, and the Rangers are showing up in connection with top free agents.

Mark Feinsand has a story at MLB.com about Trevor Story’s free agent market, and of the nine teams he lists as “likely suitors” for Story, he has the Rangers second on his list. That shouldn’t be a surprise, as the Rangers have been linked to Story, a Metroplex native, for a while now.

Story is the third best shortstop on the free agent market (and arguably fourth or fifth best, depending on whether you view Marcus Semien, who played second base for Toronto this year after being a shortstop for the Oakland A’s from 2015-20, as a shortstop going forward, and depending on your feelings about Javy Baez), and there’s the possibility the Rangers (or some other team) swoops in and makes a strong offer to Story early to try to nab him while the other big game hunters are focused on Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. There’s also the possibility that nothing happens in regards to the shortstop market until Correa and/or Seager sign. Correa, who just turned 27 and who has the sort of makeup the Rangers view as a prerequisite for a player they’d be committing to for a bunch of years and a ton of money, may be, from reading the media tea leaves, the Rangers’ dream target, but ultimately, I imagine they’ll have interest in all the top shortstops.

And this, from the Feinsand article, is worth keeping in mind:

Texas has less than $30 million committed to the 2022 payroll and zero commitments in 2023, so the Rangers should have the money to pursue Story if they choose to do so.

Texas also has a new park with expensive seats and had the fourth highest attendance in MLB in 2021, which gives them a financial leg up on most teams. The combination of almost no future commitments (and few high dollar arbitration cases expected in the next few years), a strong TV contract, and a new park with top five attendance in 2021 means that the Rangers have an ability to spend, in the near term, like few other teams in baseball.

That is echoed by Buster Olney, who says that the Rangers “are expected to be aggressive, with a high focus on building a strong organizational culture,” and mentions that “rival evaluators are keenly aware that Seager has a strong relationship with Texas manager Chris Woodward,” along with the Story/Metroplex angle, leading to speculation that the Rangers could sign a pair of shortstops from this year’s class and move one to another position. Seager, as an example, has been seen as someone likely better suited to third base in the long term, while Semien, as discussed above, has played second base in 2021 for the Jays. Semien also gets praise for being a high character and makeup guy, a guy viewed as a strong team leader, which would make him a fit with Olney’s comment about the team’s focus on organizational culture.

Meanwhile, Jon Heyman tweeted last night that, while the Dodgers are seen as the team most likely to sign Clayton Kershaw, the Rangers are seen as the second most likely team. Kershaw, as I’m sure you know, is, like Story, a native of the Metroplex, having been drafted by the Dodgers out of Highland Park High School with the 7th overall pick in the 2006 draft — coincidentally, Jon Daniels’ first draft as the Rangers g.m. The Rangers have long been rumored to covet Kershaw, and even though he is no longer the Kershaw of old — since 2018 he has 10.3 bWAR over 519.2 IP, which is mid-rotation type work, rather than ace-caliber — and even though he turns 34 in March and has missed the playoffs due to an elbow injury, he’s the type of pitcher who you can see the Rangers targeting on a three or four year deal for a variety of reasons, not least of which the “organizational culture” standpoint discussed above and providing a veteran example for the bevy of young pitchers coming up.