Losing Jacob deGrom and Jake Odorizzi for the season left the Rangers a bit thin in the rotation, and the club is reportedly looking to fill that void with a familiar face. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that Texas has a “strong interest in” right-hander Lance Lynn, who previously pitched in Arlington in 2019-20. It isn’t clear if the Rangers and White Sox are anywhere close in trade talks or if negotiations are still in an early stage this far away from the trade deadline, but Nightengale writes that Chicago has “a high asking price” for the 36-year-old.
The 38-53 White Sox are on the fringes of contention even in the weak AL Central, so barring a major hot streak after the All-Star break, Chicago will certainly be looking to sell at the deadline. As of mid-June, the club was apparently only considering moving players who will be free agents after the season, and Lynn fits that description. This is the final guaranteed season of Lynn’s two-year/$38MM contract, and the Sox hold an $18MM club option ($1MM buyout) on his services for 2024.
Lynn is still owed roughly $8.3MM of his $18.5MM salary for 2023, so the White Sox could either absorb most of that remaining figure in order to get a better prospect return from another team, or an interested suitor agree to take on more salary instead of giving up any significant minor leaguers. The Sox might see a Lynn deal as an opportunity simply to get some money off the books in order to reload for 2024, and the Rangers have been such aggressive spenders over the last two offseasons that it stands to reason that they won’t close the checkbook now that the team is leading the AL West.
Between Lynn’s contract situation and Chicago’s struggles, Lynn is a natural trade candidate, and was ranked 13th on MLBTR’s most recent list of the top trade deadline candidates. Lucas Giolito, another White Sox starter heading for free agency, was ranked first, and Giolito’s trade status will surely factor into the Sox front office’s decision on Lynn. With Giolito more of a valuable asset, the White Sox could look to a Giolito deal as their opportunity to add some valuable prospects to the farm system, whereas moving Lynn might be more of an aforementioned salary dump scenario.
Of course, the elephant in the room in any Lynn trade speculation is that in terms of bottom-line statistics, 2023 is the worst season of Lynn’s 12-year MLB career. The right-hander has a 6.03 ERA over 103 innings, and no pitcher in baesball has allowed more earned runs (69) or home runs (22). Lynn’s SIERA is a much more palatable 3.74, as it takes into consideration factors like a .328 BABIP and a low 64.1% strand rate, plus the fact that Lynn’s 27.9% strikeout rate is well above the league average.
Home runs have been the big issue in Lynn’s performance, as his 20% homer rate is almost double his career 10.1% figure from 2011-22. While this is such an unusual outlier that some regression might be inevitable, it isn’t a total fluke, as batters are having much more success at maximizing their hard contact against Lynn’s pitches. His 10.5% barrel rate is by far the highest of his career, as while Lynn’s ability to generate soft contact has been a bit inconsistent, his past barrel rate numbers had been reliably above average.
To this end, Lynn might not necessarily be the Rangers’ top choice for rotation help, even if they think he can improve with a change of scenery. His previous tenure as a Ranger saw Lynn post two of the best seasons of his career, with a cumulative 3.57 ER over 292 1/3 innings in 2019-20, and the right-hander finished within the top six of AL Cy Young Award voting in both years.
Ironically, Lynn was then traded to the White Sox during the 2020-21 in something of the inverse of both teams’ current situation. That offseason, the Rangers were in rebuild mode and the Sox felt they were on the verge of contending after completing a rebuild of their own. Lynn pitched brilliantly in 2021 and helped Chicago win the AL Central, though the White Sox then fell to the Astros in the ALDS.
Texas traded Lynn just a few days after Chris Young was hired as the team’s general manager, even though Jon Daniels was still calling the shots in the Rangers’ front office as the president of baseball operations. With Young now heading into his first deadline in charge of the Rangers’ baseball ops department, he is surely looking to add the final touches to a Texas team that looks like a legitimate contender.
If Lynn can regain his old form, that would go a long way to reinforcing a rotation that has still been quite solid even without deGrom or Odorizzi. Since it doesn’t seem like Lynn’s club option will be exercised no matter which team is on come August 2, the Rangers could view him as a pure rental for the stretch run.