Since the 2022 season drew to a close, the Rangers have acquired or re-signed four starting pitchers, beginning with Martin Perez’s acceptance of a $19.65MM qualifying offer and following with a trade for Jake Odorizzi (and $10MM to help cover the bulk of his $12.5MM salary). Subsequent signings of two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom (five years, $185MM) and left-hander Andrew Heaney (two years, $25MM with an opt-out and a heavy slate of incentives) followed over the past week. That quartet can now join last winter’s top rotation signee, Jon Gray, in rounding out the rotation.
Or so it would seem. Rangers general manager Chris Young told reporters that even after that frenzied slate of additions, he’s still on the lookout for more starting pitching talent (link via MLB.com’s Kennedi Landry). Young stopped short of declaring that he intends to continue playing at the top of the rotation market but referenced the timeless adage of never having “too much” pitching in vowing to continue his efforts to improve the club.
Texas is hardly without any depth beyond that top five. Right-hander Dane Dunning, in fact, could potentially be squeezed out of the starting mix despite giving the Rangers 271 quite serviceable innings over the past two seasons: 4.48 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 21.2% strikeout rate, 8.9% walk rate, 53.6% ground-ball rate, 1.10 HR/9. Dunning has a pair of minor league option years remaining.
Picking up some additional depth, even if it’s on minor league deals, would better position the Rangers to get through a 162-game marathon. And, as they’ve shown repeatedly in the past two offseasons, they probably shouldn’t be ruled out on a more impactful splash. To that end, it’s worth reminding that the Rangersreportedly met with Carlos Rodon even after signing deGrom — although that meeting came before signing Heaney.
More directly, Young plainly stated a desire to explore the market for left fielders. He also expressed confidence in both his catching corps and infield mix. The Rangers will look to Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim and Sam Huff as options behind the dish in 2023, while the infield features Nathaniel Lowe at first base, Marcus Semien at second and Corey Seager at shortstop. Top prospect Josh Jung is the heir-apparent at third base, but the Rangers have fellow prospects Ezequiel Duran and Josh Smith, plus utilitymen Brad Miller and Mark Mathias as depth options.
In left field, things are far less certain. Adolis Garcia is the clear everyday option in right, and Leody Taveras at least provides a glove-first option in center. Left is more problematic, with options including the aforementioned Smith, Bubba Thompson and Eli White.
Smith has spent more time on the infield in his minor league career but was a prospect of note and had a big season in the upper minors before struggling in his MLB debut. Thompson has 80-grade speed but needed a .389 BABIP just to get to a .265/.302/.312 batting line (77 wRC+) in 181 plate appearances in his own debut this season. With a 30.9% strikeout rate and that excessively good fortune on balls in play, his bat is likely to regress from an already troubling starting point. White’s glove gives him a chance at being a solid fourth outfielder, but he’s a career .185/.260/.296 hitter in 389 MLB plate appearances.
It’s not a great market for corner outfielders in free agency, as the bulk of the available names are either coming off injury-shortened seasons (Michael Conforto, Michael Brantley, Andrew Benintendi) or are simply in search of a rebound after a disappointing performance (AJ Pollock, Tommy Pham, David Peralta, Stephen Piscotty, old friend Joey Gallo). The trade market could offer a broad range of alternatives. The D-backs have been listening to offers on several outfielders (e.g. Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas), while the Twins (Max Kepler), Orioles (Anthony Santander) and Pirates (Bryan Reynolds) all have potential trade candidates of varying quality in the outfield.
Even after the Rangers’ spending spree over the past two offseasons, they’re still a projected $29MM from the luxury-tax threshold. Their projected $181MM Opening Day payroll would be a franchise-record mark, but “only” by a margin of about $15MM. The extent to which ownership will continue to green-light payroll increases can’t be known, but the Rangers are committed to spending their way back into contention in the AL West, so there’s little point in taking their foot off the gas now.