The Rangers will be one of the more interesting teams to follow over the next few months. Coming off two consecutive last place finishes (three in the last four years), Texas doesn’t look like an obvious spender at first glance. The Rangers’ long-term books are wide open, though, perhaps positioning them for a more exciting offseason than those of other clubs near the bottom of the standings.
Texas president of baseball operations Jon Daniels reiterated the team could be aggressive as soon as this offseason when speaking with reporters (including Jeff Wilson and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News) earlier this week. “Ownership has given us a good range to work with this year with the expectation that (payroll) is going to grow over the next several years,” Daniels told reporters. “We will be in a different category than we’ve been the last couple years. The opportunity has got to line up. … We’re open to a longer-term deal on the right player.”
Those comments largely align with general manager Chris Young’s midseason proclamation that Texas would be “very active” in free agency. Like Young, Daniels didn’t delve into specifics about precisely how far the club might be willing to stretch the payroll, but the mere mention of “a longer-term deal” is notable given the Rangers’ place in the competitive cycle. Indeed, Daniels at least hinted at the possibility of playing at the top of the market, noting that while the Rangers “have kind of flipped past” the marquee names in recent offseasons, “it’s been good this year. The [scouts] have a lot of freedom to make recommendations and to really dig into players. It’s definitely been more enjoyable.”
An openness to a long-term deal doesn’t inherently mean the Rangers will sign one, of course. But that desire makes them a threat to land one of their top targets, since there does seem to be ample space on the books. Texas’ payroll maxed out north of $165MM back in 2017, in the estimation of Cot’s Baseball Contracts, but they’ve pared that number back under $100MM as they’ve rebuilt the roster.
Even after accounting for projected arbitration raises, the Rangers have just over $52MM on the books in 2022, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That leaves plenty of room for Daniels, Young and the rest of the front office to make a legitimate run at a priority target — particularly if ownership is willing to push spending back up above this past season’s range as Daniels suggested.
Texas probably isn’t going to add another $100MM to the books and push spending to franchise-record heights this offseason alone. The roster still has plenty of question marks, and even multiple impact additions wouldn’t make them a likely 2022 contender. Adding an external core piece or two this offseason with the anticipation of more upgrades and another payroll hike next winter seems more plausible, though, with the Rangers likely eyeing 2023 as a reasonable window of contention.
Daniels suggested this week (via Wilson) that position players will be the club’s focus. This year’s free agent class is famously shortstop-heavy, with Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Dallas-area native Trevor Story and Javier Báez all likely to land significant contracts. There’ll be some speculation about Story based on his ties to the area, but any member of that group would offer a noteworthy addition around whom Texas could build over the coming years.
Buster Olney of ESPN even hears from some rival executives that the Rangers could look into signing two members of that shortstop quintet with the idea of moving one of those players to another position. It’d be a surprise if any team — particularly one that’s not an immediate contender — ultimately landed two of Correa, Seager, Semien, Story and Báez, but that sentiment drives home the freedom the Rangers’ current level of payroll space affords the front office.
Of course, the Rangers needn’t pigeonhole themselves into the shortstop market specifically. Without established regulars virtually anywhere on the roster, Texas can identify targets around the diamond. Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte, Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto are among the top non-shortstop position players slated to hit the open market.