The Rangers had a quiet 2020-21 offseason, at least in terms of free agency, as the club focused on creating opportunities for younger players to prove themselves at the Major League level. Lance Lynn, Elvis Andrus, Rafael Montero and Rougned Odor were traded away. Nate Lowe, Dane Dunning and Jonah Heim were acquired and dropped right into the big league mix. Even the team’s limited free-agent activity was focused on younger names with multiple seasons of control: David Dahl, Mike Foltynewicz, Kohei Arihara.
The 2021-22 offseason could be a bit more active for the Rangers, however, as general manager Chris Young told reporters this week that he expects his club to be active in free agency this coming winter (link via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News).
“With the financial flexibility we have moving into the offseason, I expect us to be very active in the free agent market, targeting players who fit kind of our next few years and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Young said.
[Related: 2021-22 MLB Free Agent List]
The mention of “financial flexibility” is something of an understatement. The only two guaranteed salaries on the Rangers’ books for the 2022 season are those of Jose Leclerc ($4.75MM) and the aforementioned Arihara ($2.6MM). Looking solely at guaranteed contracts can be misleading when gauging a team’s payroll at times, as many clubs have large arbitration crops that will inflate that number further, but that’s not the case in Texas. Only Mike Foltynewicz, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Matt Bush, Ronald Guzman and Willie Calhoun are up for arbitration this winter. Foltynewicz and Bush are non-tender candidates. Kiner-Falefa will be getting a raise on a $2MM salary. Guzman and Calhoun are first-time players whose platform seasons have been disrupted by serious injuries; neither will be costly.
The Rangers do still owe the Yankees about $12MM for the remainder of the Odor contract next season, and they’ll pay nearly $7MM to the Athletics as part of last offseason’s Elvis Andrus/Khris Davis swap. Even with arbitration raises and dead money owed from previous trades, however, the Rangers shouldn’t expect to pay any more than $30-35MM for the current roster. Considering this is a team that just opened a brand new park and trotted out an Opening Day payroll of $165MM as recently as four years ago, that level of bare-bones payroll commitments should leave them open to just about anything this winter.
That doesn’t mean that the Rangers will necessarily go wild and sign multiple players to $100MM-plus contracts this winter, of course. The current club is more than just a handful of free agents from competing, but it sounds as though the Rangers are willing to begin spending to augment the roster as they await the arrival of more prospects on the MLB scene. The Rangers’ farm isn’t necessarily elite, but Baseball America listed their system 11th on last week’s midseason farm rankings.
The upcoming class of free agents will be one of the deepest in recent memory. Much has understandably been made of the star-studded crop of free-agent shortstops — Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez — but the market will also be deep in outfielders (Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte, Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto and more) and in starting pitching (Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and Justin Verlander, among others). The looming collective bargaining talks between the league and players association could give some teams pause, but those that are motivated to spend will have ample high-quality targets to pursue.