The Sunday Read: Texas Rangers have money to spend. They’re just not going to spend it all
(AP photo/David Zalubowski)
The idea that the Texas Rangers are willing to spend money, and the fact that club officials are saying they are willing to spend money, should make for a fun offseason.
In the just the past week there was chatter that the Rangers and their bank account were the talk of the general managers meetings. There was a fun story on the Rangers opening the 2022 season with a payroll of $150 million.
With that kind of money, the Rangers can sign shortstops Corey Seager and Trevor Story.
And Clayton Kershaw and Seiya Suzuki.
Shoot, and they can trade for first baseman Matt Olson.
And still have money left for another starter or two.
Oh, boy, is this great.
It would be a dream come true for many Rangers fans, who have suffered through five straight losing seasons and haven’t seen their favorite team sign a player to a deal longer than three years since December 2013 (Shin-Soo Choo, seven years, $130 million).
If that’s the route the Rangers end up taking, it would shock baseball.
But they aren’t the only team with money to spend. They’re just the only 102-loss team willing to spend.
The Rangers are going to sign some free agents, but they aren’t going to sign them all. And not every free agent is going to want to come to the Rangers.
That’s just reality, and it’s time to grab hold of it before expectations get too high and come crashing to the ground.
They want to put a better product on the field to give the fans a reason to come to Globe Life Field — and to spend money to help fund the payroll for future seasons.
But a key component of a rebuild is homegrown contributors, and the Rangers want/need to give their top prospects a chance. That’s especially so with starting pitching, and the Rangers actually have some talented starters and depth in their system.
Jack Leiter, Cole Winn and Ricky Vanasco lead the group, which also includes Owen White, A.J. Alexy, Glenn Otto, Cole Ragans, Cody Bradford, TK Roby, Yerry Rodriguez and others. It’s not like Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn, who are likely to be in the 2022 rotation, are veterans.
It would be financially irresponsible and a departure from the long-range plan to load up on free agents all in one offseason. It would also be foolish to go crazy on the trade front by shipping away what should be quality depth for the big-league team for what would be shorter-term players who don’t necessarily fit with the current club.
That’s not to say the Rangers shouldn’t make any trades. If they can get Olson from Oakland, they have to do it and then work out a contract extension. They can make a big trade, but don’t want to do too much dealing.
A healthy major-league team has a healthy minor-league system, and the Rangers’ system is just now getting healthy again.
A healthy team also has some money left to play with at the trade deadline and for future offseasons. The Rangers don’t have to spend it all in one place, in other words, and officials have said that’s not their goal.
They have also looked ahead to future free-agent classes. There will be good players available this time next year and the years after that.
How should they spend?
Adding bats this offseason makes sense. But if the Rangers aren’t expecting to win in 2021, it doesn’t make sense to sign multiple starting pitchers to long-term deals.
Who would be a better fit: Marcus Stroman for $135 million over five years this offseason or Jose Berrios, who is three years younger, for six years and $162 million next offseason with the Rangers ready to contend?
Now, a one-year deal for a few veteran starters? Yes. A shorter-term deal for a veteran? Sure.
That fits, considering the Rangers’ need for innings from the rotation so that they don’t have to rush young starters to the majors early in the season. A half-season at Triple A Round Rock won’t hurt Winn at all.
It will help him.
And that helps the long-range plan.
Here’s the (sales) pitch
Once in the door, the Rangers will have to become salesmen to get a free agent to look past the 102-loss 2021 season and the likelihood of a losing 2022 that even club officials are forecasting.
But they believe they have major selling points, starting with the direction of the franchise. The farm system is well-stocked. Money is going to be available beyond this offseason.
The Rangers have hired two well-respected offensive-minded coaches, bench coach/offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker and hitting coach Tim Hyers. The team believes it has in place the kind of coaches players want.
Globe Life Field is a state-of-the-art facility that caters to the players and promises an on-time game 81 times a season in a weather-controlled environment.
The Rangers also sell the Metroplex, both as a place people want to live and as a convenient place to travel to and from.
That’s the bait on their hook. Now, they have to wait for some bites.
Who’s going to bite?
Kershaw and Story make sense because they are both Metroplex natives. Kershaw and general manager Chris Young are good friends after growing up in Highland Park, albeit nearly nine years apart.
Seager was once coached by manager Chris Woodward and Hyers. So were Seager’s former Los Angeles Dodgers teammates Chris Taylor and Kershaw.
Woodward and outfielder Nick Castellanos hit it off two years ago in the free-agency process. The Rangers have a history of signing players from Japan, so Suzuki makes a lot of sense in the outfield.
The Rangers spent much of their time at the GM meetings talking to player agents, president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said, and are further down the road with them than with other teams on the trade front.
It’s safe to assume they met with Scott Boras, who represents free agents Seager, Castellanos, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Max Scherzer, Carlos Rodon, Michael Conforto and several more.
Free agents want to get paid, and they want to win. The Rangers can deliver only one of those things right now.
So, does Correa want to spend a season losing more than he wins after winning far more than he lost in his career with the Houston Astros? The same can be asked about Seager and Taylor after a terrific run with the Dodgers.
Scherzer is 37 and probably doesn’t want to waste a season of what he has left playing for a non-playoff team.
Kershaw seems to be the player most strongly linked to the Rangers, and the geography makes sense. So do his ties to Young, and Woodward and Hyres from the Dodgers.
Kershaw is going to be in the Hall of Fame. He had a good 2021 season — when he was healthy. He could teach the Rangers’ young pitchers so much about how to navigate the major leagues.
Signing with the Rangers would allow him to be at home in Dallas with his wife and three young kids. Even then, he’ll still be gone half the time on the road, and it’s not like he has been living by himself at an LA budget motel with weekly rates. He has seen his family plenty when playing home games at Dodger Stadium.
He also turns 34 in March. The Dodgers want him back to finish his career with one team. He’s familiar with their medical people and has a career 2.21 ERA at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw, it’s been said, is all about winning.
There’s more to his decision than meets the eye. And the Rangers have some things to consider, too. Kershaw is injured (flexor tendon) and isn’t a sure thing for the start of the season. With 2,454 2/3 career innings, plus another 189 in the postseason, the injury risk seems pretty extreme with him.
There are pros and cons to each free agent, and each has his own wish list for a new team.
It’s not as simple to sign a free agent as just having money to throw at him.
Draft-pick compensation might not be driving the Rangers’ decision-making this offseason, but it’s doing some back-seat driving.
The Rangers would have to cough up a draft pick each time they sign a free agent who reject a qualifying offer. That list of players includes Story, Correa, Seager, Semien, Castellanos, Scherzer, Conforto and Justin Verlander, but not Kershaw, Bryant, Suzuki, Javier Baez, Stroman, Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray or Steven Matz.
That’s another layer the Rangers must consider. How many draft picks does a team that is still trying to stock pile young players want to surrender in one offseason and one draft?
There is also some concern from teams over what draft-pick compensation will look like in the new collective bargaining agreement. Also, no one knows if there will be a new luxury-tax threshold, with one proposal lowering it to $180 million.
The Rangers aren’t going to approach that this offseason, but they could in 2023 and 2024 depending on free agency and salary arbitration. And if they’re any good going forward
The plan is for them to be good again by 2023. The plan also calls for prospects to fill out the roster to help keep the payroll from skyrocketing, for the farm system to remain deep and fruitful, and for money to be available for flexibility in future offseasons and for in-season moves.
An all-out shopping spree this offseason would move the Rangers toward abandoning the plan.
They’re going to spend more this offseason than in the recent past, but they’re not going to go as crazy as some think and many hope.
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org