The offseason will officially begin at some point in the next week. Either the Phillies or the...sigh...Astros will be World Champions, that team will celebrate, and the offseason will officially begin.
Before that gets here, I figured I would offer up my outline, of sorts, of what I project the Rangers’ offseason to look like — or at least, what I think the team is wanting it to look like. No offseason goes perfectly, and we’ve seen this franchise (though not this current front office, it should be noted) head into the offseason with big ambitions, only to see them fall apart.
Remember Peter Gammons tweeting about the Rangers landing Justin Upton?
If you don't believe the multi-team Upton trade talk, Wednesday night a Rangers official called an Astros officisl and said, "we got Upton."— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 7, 2012
That said, the Rangers owner has made it clear he is tired of losing. The team has the financial wherewithal — and, perhaps more importantly, the reported willingness — to go big in the free agent market this offseason. As of right now, the Rangers have around $110M committed for 2023, assuming they pick up their option on Jose Leclerc and keep all their arbitration-eligible players. The team also has a strong, deep farm system that they can use to add significant pieces via trade. They are well-positioned to be buyers.
The Rangers are going into the offseason with several holes to fill, and will be looking to add players that can make them a playoff contender in 2023. And before you scoff at the notion of a 68 win team making such a leap...they underperformed their Pythagorean won/loss record by nine games in 2022. Unless you expect the team to have another historically bad record in one run games, regression to the mean in one run games alone would result in roughly a ten win improvement in 2023. Which would mean adding 10-15 wins from outside the organization, from internal improvement, or from a combination of the two, should get you into playoff contention.
With all that in mind, here’s AJM’s offseason outline for the Rangers:
1) Bring back Martin Perez (or find someone similar if you don’t)
This might be more properly labeled Step 0, rather than Step 1. Once the trade deadline passed and Perez was still a Ranger, the expectation has been that he would be back in 2023. Perez has made it clear he wants to return, the Rangers want — nay, need — him back, and contract discussions have been engaged in at various points. Jeff Wilson wrote on Sunday that “there has been progress toward a new deal,” though that was then hedged with, “[a]t the very least, the sides have talked multiple times.”
The deadline to keep an eye on here is the fifth day after the World Series ends. That’s the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents,* and if the Rangers and Perez don’t get a deal worked out by then, I would expect the Rangers to make Perez the qualifying offer. This year, that equates to a $19.65 million salary for the 2023 season. Perez then has ten days to accept or decline the qualifying offer.
* You may recall that the qualifying offer system was going away if the league and the union agreed on terms for an international draft by July of 2022. That didn’t happen, so the QO is still around.
I still think a deal gets worked out between the team and Perez before the deadline for making a qualifying offer — however, if a deal isn’t reached, then Perez likely takes the one year, $19.65 million offer. Either way, I expect the Rangers to have Perez back before the offseason really gets going in full force.
If the Rangers don’t bring back Perez? Well, that’s a problem, one that I will expand upon in due course...
2) Get a #1 starter
The Rangers currently have Jon Gray and a bunch of question marks in their rotation. Gray showed signs in 2022 that he could be a guy you’d feel good about starting twice in a seven game series, but he struggled with injuries and inconsistency, and regardless, he’s not a guy a team with playoff aspirations is going to want to be their #1 starting pitcher.
This is where I expect the Rangers to go big, and unless Miami makes Sandy Alcantara available and the Rangers are willing to part with half their farm, they’ll be going the free agent route to fill this spot.
Option 1 — Jacob deGrom
The Mets ace is almost certainly opting out of his deal with the Mets, which is due to pay him $32.5 million in 2023, with a $32.5 million team option for 2024. There’s an argument to be made that he is the best pitcher in baseball, when healthy — he had “just” a 3.08 ERA in 2022, but with a 2.13 FIP, and he posted a Gibsonian 1.08 ERA in 92 innings in 2021, with a 1.24.
The issue with deGrom, of course, is health. deGrom had elbow issues that ended his 2021 season early, and a stress reaction in his right scapula (the same issue that dogged Brandon McCarthy while BMac was with the Rangers) that cost him half of the 2022 season. deGrom had 200+ inning seasons from 2017-19, however, and threw 68 innings in 12 starts in the truncated 2020 season, so there’s that.
Jon Heyman has linked deGrom and the Rangers earlier this offseason. With his recent injury history, and entering his age 35 season, deGrom would seem likely to get a shorter term, high-AAV deal. Max Scherzer got 3 years, $130 million last offseason — Scherzer is almost four years older than deGrom, but also didn’t have the injury concerns deGrom has. I’d say the Scherzer deal is probably the benchmark that will be used in negotiations, with deGrom’s reps wanting to use that as their floor.
Option 2 — Carlos Rodon
I wrote about Rodon and the Rangers last week. The lefty, who turns 30 in December, only has two above-average seasons in his career, while dealing with a myriad of injuries. The two above-average seasons, though, have come in 2021 and 2022, when he put up a combined 10.5 bWAR in 310.2 innings over 55 starts.
The Rangers reportedly have strong interest in both deGrom and Rodon, and Rodon might be Option 1 instead of deGrom. I mentioned Zack Wheeler’s 5 year, $118 million deal as a comparable for Rodon in the link above, and 5 years at $125-130M would seem to be where I’d expect Rodon to land, though a team may offer him a sixth year as a way of topping the other bidders.
Option 3 — Clayton Kershaw
I mean, he’s Clayton Kershaw. He’ll be 35 next year, and he’s not the guy he was once upon a time. But he’s still Clayton Kershaw. The Rangers have coveted him forever. They went after him last offseason, but he returned to Los Angeles on a one year $17 million deal, and had a strong season, with a 2.28 ERA in 126 innings over 22 starts.
Last offseason, the word was he would either pitcher for the Dodgers or the Rangers, and that appears to still be the case. He has a home in University Park, which he had built in 2005, and there’s been talk he would like to pitch for his hometown team before he hangs it up. Texas will no doubt go hard for him once again once he officially becomes a free agent.
3) Get another acceptable starter
This becomes “two acceptable starters” if the Rangers don’t re-sign Martin Perez, and you can make the argument that even if they bring Perez back and land a TORP, they should go get two more viable starting pitchers, and let Dane Dunning and Company be depth.
This would seem to be the area the Rangers would seem most likely to address via trade, especially if they land deGrom at a $40-50M per year AAV.
Option 1 — Trade for a Marlins starter
While Sandy Alcantara is the dream trade target, he’d likely cost more to acquire this offseason than Juan Soto did. His teammate Pablo Lopez, however, with two years of team control remaining, would potentially be an attractive target.
Option 2 — Trade for a Brewers starter
The Milwaukee Brewers have been consistently, and quietly, good, and have been able to churn out acceptable starting pitchers that have kept them competitive in the N.L. Central in recent years. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are both very good starting pitchers who have two years of team control remaining. The price would be high for either, and Milwaukee may not even be interested in moving either, but if either is available, the Rangers have the need and the farm system to make Texas one of the prime bidders.
Option 3 — Trade for Shane Bieber
Take that paragraph and replace “Milwaukee Brewers” with “Cleveland Indians” and Woodruff and Burnes with Shane Bieber, and it also applies.
Options 4 thru 20 or so — Sign one of the myriad second/third-tier free agent starters on the market
There are second- and third-tier free agent options available, as well. Jose Quintana, who was the object of the Rangers desire a half-decade ago in repeated efforts to pry him away from the White Sox, had a strong bounce back year after signing a one year, $2 million deal with the Pirates. Nathan Eovaldi has been mentioned as a possible Ranger target, though he’s a Mystery Box, capable of finishing fourth in the CYA balloting (as he did in 2021) or posting a negative WAR (as he did in 2019).
Sean Manaea, Andrew Heaney, Kyle Gibson, Taijuan Walker, Zach Eflin...there are a number of arms out there available to grab on a two or three year deal and plug into the rotation.
Option 21 — Trade for a mediocre A’s starter
If you want to go a little lower rent, you could call the Oakland A’s. Cole Irvin, James Kaprielian and Paul Blackburn are all under team control for a few years, are all in their late 20s, and are all mediocre starting pitchers who can give you innings. They probably wouldn’t cost much via trade. They definitely aren’t going to cost much in salary.
This is not a preferred plan. This is what you do if it is almost spring training and you still have a hole in the rotation.
4) Get a COF/DH
The Rangers need another bat. One can argue that they should get two bats of the COF/DH variety, and one would not necessarily be wrong, but there’s a greater need to address starting pitching, and besides, there appear to be more viable internal solutions for dealing with the outfield and DH spots than the rotation.
While Brandon Nimmo’s name has been bandied about, I think the Rangers are more likely to go short-term here. Nimmo is likely looking at something similar to what George Springer got, and I don’t think that’s something the Rangers will be interested in.
Option 1 — Michael Brantley
The Rangers have talked about improving the quality of their at bats, and Michael Brantley would fit the bill there. He gets the Professional Hitter moniker, having put up a .307/.367/.465 slash line in 2240 plate appearances, good for a 124 OPS+, with just 237 Ks against 180 walks.
Brantley turns 36 in May, and his season ended prematurely in 2022 due to right shoulder surgery. He has dealt with injury issues prior to 2022. He could be done, or close to done — and if he’s not, he may simply return to the Astros.
But if Brantley is healthy, you are going to have a pretty solid lefty bat in your lineup at LF or DH.
Option 2 — Joey Gallo
Probably the opposite of Brantley. Unlike Brantley, Gallo gives you value defensively in the outfield. Unlike Brantley, Gallo strikes out a ton and, whatever else he may be, is not going to get the “Professional Hitter” label. Unlike Brantley, you have no idea what you’re getting with Gallo.
Joey Gallo gives you a much higher ceiling and a much lower floor than Brantley (or healthy Brantley, anyway). He never wanted to leave Texas, and he played poorly for the Yankees and Dodgers. A one or two year deal at an annual salary not much higher than the $10.28M he made in 2022 would be something one would think the Rangers would have interest in.
Option 3 — Michael Conforto
Conforto missed all of 2022 after a down 2021 season, but before that had been a solid 3-4 win outfielder for the Mets. Conforto will likely be seeking a longer term deal, but if that’s not out there, he could make sense on a one year deal, or a two year deal with an opt-out after year one, for Texas.
Option 4 — Trey Mancini
Mancini’s career arc has been unusual, to say the least. A solid 2017 season that saw him finish 3rd in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting, followed by a down 2018, then a strong bounceback year in 2019, where he put up a 3.7 bWAR. He then missed 2020 due to colon cancer, had a down 2021 season, started off strong in 2022, then fell apart once he was dealt to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline.
With a .247/.323/.412 slash line the past two years and a combined 2.1 bWAR, Mancini will likely be looking at a one year deal in 2023. Texas has had interest in him in the past, though, and his ability to play both outfield corners if needed, as well as first base, gives Texas some flexibility. They could, for example, go with Mancini at DH (or at 1B with Nathaniel Lowe at DH) to roll with a stronger defensive outfield alignment, or allow Mancini to play the outfield to get Mitch Garver or one of the infielders a half-day at DH.
5) Get a closer
While I would argue that the previous items on the list are needs, this may be more of a want than a need. That said, the Rangers don’t have a definitive closer right now, and I’m not sure that the Rangers want to go into spring training with a question mark at the position. At the same time, with Jonathan Hernandez and (assuming he is back) Jose Leclerc, they have a couple of pitchers with closer-caliber stuff that they could turn to, if they choose not to add a closer, or if they add a veteran closer who struggles.
So I think they’d like to add a veteran closer this offseason, but aren’t going to go crazy about it, or panic if they don’t get one.
Option 1 — Taylor Rogers
Rogers closed for the Minnesota Twins in 2019 and 2020, was an All Star for the Twins in 2021, and was dealt to San Diego right before the 2022 season started in a weird deal that sent Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan to Minnesota. Everyone freaked out that the Twins got Chris Paddack for just one year of a middling closer, but then Chris Paddack needed Tommy John surgery.
Rogers closed for the Padres, albeit with a 4.35 ERA, until the trade deadline, when he was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in the Josh Hader trade. Rogers wasn’t good for Milwaukee, and is now a free agent.
If the Rangers want, but don’t need, a Proven Closer to start the 2023 season with, Rogers would be a potential fit. He’s likely looking at a one year deal for less than the $7 million he got in 2022. He either bounces back and is a good closer, and the Rangers’ closer situation is resolved, or he isn’t, and they look at someone else.
Option 2 — Kenley Jansen
Jansen signed a one year, $16 million deal with the Atlanta Braves after a decade as the Dodgers’ closer. Jansen in recent years is kind of erratic, kind of nerve-wracking, but he led the National League in saves in 2022, and put up a respectable 3.38 ERA. He’ll be more expensive than Rogers, but likely will be looking at another one year deal, probably around what the Braves paid him last year. He’s better than Rogers, but also more expensive and harder, given his pedigree, to shunt out of the closer role if he struggles.
Option 3 — Craig Kimbrel
The Joey Gallo of the closer options, the high-ceiling, extremely low floor option. He was dumped on the Dodgers prior to the 2022 season by the White Sox, who had acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline in 2021, only to see him pitch poorly. Kimbrel was bad in 2019 and 2020, was anywhere from good to incredible for most of his career prior to that.
In 2022, Kimbrel was fine for the Dodgers, picking up 22 of the team’s 43 saves, with no one else getting more than 5. If one really wants a Proven Closer, one could go with Kimbrel on a one year deal.