The Rangers were one of the busiest teams in the spending spree that led up to the lockout in early December, giving out over half a billion dollars to Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun. However, there are still areas of the roster that could be upgraded, if there’s still money left to do so.
Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News takes a look at some paths the club could take after the lockout, emphasizing that the main priority is starting pitching, with the unresolved Clayton Kershaw situation being a key pivot point for the Rangers. Most of the top free agent starters were snapped up before the lockout, leaving Kershaw and Carlos Rodon as the only front-end options remaining. Although both of those hurlers have questions about their health after dealing with injuries in 2021, they should garner plenty of interest after the lockout due to the dearth of similar options. The Rangers may be uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Kershaw situation, however, given that he is a Dallas native and may prefer to stay near his home as much as possible. Furthermore, Kershaw has a connection to Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who was with the Dodgers as third base coach from 2016 through 2018. Woodward admitted in November that the club has had discussions with Kershaw.
Despite dealing with injuries in 2021, Kershaw threw 121 2/3 innings with a 3.55 ERA, 29.5% strikeout rate and 4.3% walk rate. Although he’ll turn 34 in March, he’s still an elite pitcher when healthy and would provide a huge boost for the Rangers. Gray currently occupies the top spot in the rotation, followed by a pile of wild cards and question marks. Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn, A.J. Alexy, Spencer Howard, Kolby Allard, Glenn Otto, Yerry Rodriguez, Brock Burke and Cole Winn are among the options to fill out the remaining spots, but most of them have little or no MLB experience at this point. They also all have minor league options, meaning there’s plenty of room to make external additions and bump everyone else down a peg. If the club isn’t able to nab Kershaw or Rodon, they could pivot to players such as Yusei Kikuchi, Tyler Anderson, Matt Harvey, Johnny Cueto, Michael Pineda, Zack Greinke, and many others.
The Rangers are known to be interested in Seiya Suzuki and Grant suggests that the club touch base with him after the lockout. They currently project to have an outfield of two Calhouns, Kole and Willie, along with Adolis Garcia and depth options such as Leody Taveras, Nick Solak and Eli White. Taveras and White both have options and could spend some time in the minors if another outfielder is added into the mix. Solak also has options but could be best suited as a utility option off the bench, given his ability to play the infield as well. How Suzuzi will fare against MLB pitching can’t be known for sure, but given his success in Japan, he seems likely to be able to contribute as an everyday player. He hit at least 25 home runs in each of the past six seasons and his 2021 line was .317/.433/.639, with 38 homers and nine stolen bases.
Grant also throws out the idea of calling Oakland and trying to acquire Matt Olson, who is expected to be traded after the lockout. Nathaniel Lowe is currently the club’s first baseman and had a fine season in 2021, hitting .264/.357/.415, wRC+ of 115 and 1.6 fWAR. However, Olson would be a clear upgrade, as evidence by his 2021 line of .271/.371/.540, wRC+ of 146 and 5.0 fWAR. But it may be difficult for the Rangers to win the Olson sweepstakes, given that they are division rivals with the A’s. Oakland may not want to send him to a team that they will have to play so regularly, and Texas may also be loath to watch a package of highly-touted prospects flourish in Oakland for years to come.
Much like the rotation, the bullpen could also be bolstered by a veteran presence. The club’s current mix of relievers is entirely composed of hurlers with less than three years’ service time, such as Joe Barlow, Spencer Patton, Brett Martin and others. Jose Leclerc has more than five years on his résumé, but he underwent Tommy John surgery last spring and figures to miss at least part of the season. Grant suggests that the club reunite with former Rangers Jake Diekman and Ian Kennedy, though those are just two of dozen of potential bullpen options on the market. Kenley Jansen, Collin McHugh, Ryan Tepera are among the dozens of others who could be considered.
There’s also the matter of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was one of the team’s bright spots in 2021 but has now been squeezed by new additions. In 158 games last year, he hit .271/.312/.357, which was only good enough for a wRC+ of 85, but was still worth 2.3 fWAR thanks to his baserunning and defensive contributions. Now that Seager and Semien are plugged in at shortstop and second base, Kiner-Falefa seems likely to start the season as the regular third baseman but could be bumped into a super utility role once prospect Josh Jung is deemed ready to join the big league club. Grant suggests that the club could preemptively try to take advantage of this infield surplus by shopping Kiner-Falefa to the teams who need a shortstop but aren’t planning on spending big on the position, such as the Yankees. Whether the club has another big move left up their sleeve or not, they’ve already done enough to have a more interesting season than last year. If they have more chips to push into the center of the table, they still have lots of options for exactly how they do it.