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 reliever Jharel Cotton.
Jharel Cotton was a good story for 2021. Traded from the Dodgers to the A’s all the way back in 2016, along with Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas, in a deadline deal that brought Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to L.A., Cotton looked, a half-decade ago, to be one of those arms that the A’s seem to be so proficient at finding, a young righty who seemed poised to give the A’s a few seasons of solid work in the rotation before being shipped off once he started getting expensive.
Showing up at #84 on the BA top 100 list heading into 2017, Cotton spent the bulk of the season in the major league rotation, though he struggled with his command and ended the year with a 5.58 ERA and a 5.68 FIP in 129 IP over 24 starts.
And that was the last major league action Cotton saw until 2021. Cotton missed the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery, had his return in 2019 slowed due to hamstring surgery, and struggled when he was on the mound, putting up a 7.16 ERA in 27.2 IP over 18 games between high-A and AAA. Cotton was designated for assignment after the 2019 season, was acquired by the Chicago Cubs, started 2020 at the Alternate Training Site, and then was released in early September, 2020.
When the Rangers signed Cotton in December, 2020, there was some excitement from those of us who could remember when he was a highly touted pitching prospect — that was tempered, however, by the knowledge that Cotton had barely pitched in three years, and it was likely that his role would simply be as an arm in spring training, and maybe AAA depth.
Cotton started the year with AAA Round Rock, and after a rocky start to the year, allowing 15 runs in 20 IP over his first ten appearances, Cotton put up a streak of 13 straight scoreless appearances for the Express from mid-June to late-July, striking out 28 in 21 IP while allowing opponents a .118/.187/.118 slash line. That streak was broken with a one inning, four run outing at Reno, but he had impressed enough in AAA for the Rangers to bring him up on July 30 to help fortify a pitching staff that saw several departures that day.
It was a largely successful return to the majors for Cotton in 2021, as he put up a 3.52 ERA and a 3.72 FIP in 30.2 IP over 23 games, including allowing just three runs over 17.2 IP over his final 13 appearances. Nevertheless, the Rangers waived him in early November, and he was claimed by the Minnesota Twins.
So the question then becomes...if Cotton was a success, and put up acceptable numbers out of the bullpen over the final two months, why didn’t the Rangers hang onto him?
The answer is, essentially, because of the numbers game. The Rangers, you may have heard, had a 40 man roster crunch this offseason. They had to make some decisions on who to keep and who to cut loose on the 40 man roster. And they were pretty heavy in righthanded relievers, making that an area where it seemed likely there’d be some attrition.
And in sorting through the options, Cotton is a bit on the older side — he turns 30 this month. He’s out of options, and he’s arbitration eligible (the Twins settled with him for $700,000), with three years of team control remaining. You can argue that the Rangers should have kept Cotton instead of Josh Sborz, or Dennis Santana, or Spencer Patton, as far as the older borderline righty relievers go, but there’s a pretty good chance one or more of those guys are off the 40 man roster before spring training ends anyway, and I think it is hard to definitively say Cotton should have been kept ahead of any particular one of those guys.
So Jharel Cotton passed through Texas in 2021, got his major league career back on track, and will now have an opportunity to be part of the Twins’ bullpen in 2022 and beyond. I’ll be rooting for him.