Taking a page from the playbook of their AL West brethren in Los Angeles, the Texas Rangers went with a strict stars-and-scrubs approach last season, and as their final record indicated, it was much more of the latter than the former. Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Nathaniel Lowe, and Adolis Garcia did their parts, combining for a cool 16.7 rWAR. Unfortunately, that was close to equal to the contributions of the other 20+ members of the roster, and that’s including an even 5.0 rWAR from a resurgent Martín Pérez. Not a pretty scene in Arlington!
2022 record: 68-94 (4th, AL West)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 83-79 (4th, AL West)
Now having landed perhaps three of the ten biggest fish in free agency over the past two offseasons, the Rangers will look to see their spending spree pay off in 2023: After flopping to 68 wins last season, their 83-win projection is the single biggest year-over-year improvement foreseen by this season’s edition of the FanGraphs forecasted standings. FanGraphs still doesn’t think it’s enough to transcend the Mariners, Astros, or even Angels, but now having seen six consecutive losing seasons, I’m sure the fans won’t be complaining.
The biggest difference? Some guy named Jake. Even though his personal tastes might be exquisitely boring to a frankly disconcerting degree, when healthy, he’s still the best pitcher on the planet. It’s been more than three years since he broke 100 innings in a single summer, but he still would have been the 2022 Rangers’ second-best pitcher by WAR to Pérez in any of those years.
News of the five-year, $185 million deal he signed with the team was met with puzzlement in some corners, given the gap between the number of quality innings deGrom that is capable of providing and the substantially greater influx of quality innings the Rangers will need to be competitive in 2023. That puzzlement would make sense if it were the only significant addition made to their rotation, but fear not, Andrew Heaney and Nathan Eovaldi are here! Signed to highly reasonable deals of $25 million and $34 million guaranteed, Heaney and Eovaldi are nothing special, but “nothing special” is still a pretty hefty upgrade over “300 innings at a 5+ ERA from Glenn Otto, Taylor Hearn, Cole Ragans, and Spencer Howard,” which is what they got in 2022. Both are projected to continue to be slightly above-average, something the Rangers haven’t gotten out of the back half of their rotation since they were still reaping the benefits of the Mark Teixeira trade. Good times!
Anyhow, deGrom, Heaney, and Eovaldi will join Jon Gray and Pérez, who returns on a one-year deal after accepting the qualifying offer, to constitute the team’s Opening Day rotation, a solid mercenary group that’s a far cry from what they’ve worked with in recent years. No Ranger has thrown more innings since the start of 2021 than Dane Dunning, and while he’s technically on the outside looking in on a five-man rotation, a rotation that includes deGrom, Eovaldi, and Heaney is simply not a true five-man rotation. Hearn looks set for a full-time bullpen move in 2023, but if the hip injury that ended Dunning’s 2022 season prevents him from being an effective sixth starter, Howard and Otto will likely be next in like.
The team also has Jake Odorizzi in tow following a swap with Atlanta, as well as the oft-injured but sometime effective Danny Duffy on a minor-league deal. It’s unclear what role they’ll be set to play if they land with the team, but they may be factors as well.
On the offensive side of things, the biggest change from 2022 will be the presence of former first-rounder and top prospect Josh Jung at the hot corner. Jung appeared to be on the cusp of breaking camp last spring before a hip injury cost him the season’s first half. He then ripped Triple-A pitching to shreds upon his return before posting an 83 OPS+ in a 102 PA cameo last September. ZiPS has him projected at nearly a three-WAR pace should he receive substantial playing time this season, and without many other additions to the offense, Texas is counting on him for a healthy amount of run production in supplement to Seager, Semien, García, and Lowe.
The Rangers’ catching tandem of Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver are also set to return, making up what they lack in defensive dexterity with a boatload of punch in the bat. The journeyman combination of Robbie Grossman and Brad Miller near the bottom of the lineup won’t be inspiring any confidence, and while minor league signings Clint Frazier and Yoshi Tsutsugo may very well make the team, the time for dreaming on them as potential impact bats has definitively passed.
A more compelling scenario for the Rangers would be one in which one of several high-minors hitting prospects lives up to their ranking and provides a spark to a lineup that still seems to be missing a chunk of production. Second baseman and 2020 first-round pick Justin Foscue has a minor league OPS closer to .900 than .800 and will likely start the season with Triple-A Round Rock, and while outfielder Evan Carter is just 20 years old and has just barely tasted Double-A action, it’s not inconceivable that the consensus Top 100 prospect could make his way to the big leagues in a role that’s currently occupied by Grossman or former prospect Leody Taveras, who looks more like a prototypical fourth outfielder than any kind of impact starter through 660 MLB plate appearances.
The Rangers still have a pretty low floor, but flush with “the owner is sick of being bad” money, this roster has a higher ceiling than any they’ve begun the year with since they won the AL West in 2016 — the last non-Astros team to do so in a standard season. It’s already a time of transition for the organization, which is entering a season without former GM Jon Daniels at the helm for the first time since erstwhile owner George W. Bush’s second inauguration. New GM Chris Young has a high mountain to climb to beat the Astros, but after several years of languishing in the pits with little in the way of upward mobility, it’s finally time for the Rangers to at least try to make the trek.
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