Thus far, there’s been little movement on the free agent market. The couple of market-setting moves we have seen, however, involved starting pitchers: namely, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman accepting $18.9MM qualifying offers, Drew Smyly taking a one-year, $11MM offer from the Braves, and Robbie Ray returning to the Blue Jays on a one-year, $8MM deal. The Smyly and Ray deals say more than either Stroman or Gausman about the current market price for starting pitchers, as those qualifying offers come with a whole set of extenuating circumstances on both sides of the aisle. Regardless, we’re in the very early stages of the offseason and the first few deals don’t always set the pace.
In light of what we’ve seen so far, Lance Lynn’s one-year, $9.3MM deal looks like a more attractive trade piece now than it was even a week ago. But that doesn’t always help grease the wheels. The difficulty in trading a player on a great contract like Lynn is that for the acquiring team, Lynn’s value drops precipitously as the prospect value it takes to acquire him rises. Of course, the Rangers aren’t incentivized to move him without significant and/or talented youth coming back. To oversimplify, trading is hard.
Following a breakout 7.5 bWAR season in 2019, Lynn again posted solid production with a 3.32 ERA across 13 starts totaling a league-leading 84 innings in 2020. Admittedly, Lynn lost about a half mph off his four-seamer, and a career-high 28.1 K% in 2019 fell to 25.9 K% in 2020. That amounts to a difference of roughly 20 strikeouts over a full season. That’s not a worrisome drop in either velocity or K-rate, but it’s still noteworthy for a guy entering his age-34 season.
Using Fangraphs metrics – which were less bullish on his 2020 than baseball-reference – Lynn’s 4.17 FIP put him on pace for a 3.7 fWAR full-scale season (with a similar workload to 2019). That’s closer to middle-of-the-rotation stalwart than it is unequivocal ace. And yet, brass tacks: that’s valuable.
Potential acquiring teams might look at the number of young players who stepped into roles at the Major League level last season and choose to ride it out with their own cheaper, younger, and yet more volatile assets. Lynn no doubt brings more certainty to a rotation, however, and even his one-year contact can be seen as a positive for a team that values financial flexibility. In this day and age, most teams qualify.
If the Rangers decide to move him, they’ll look to get pitching prospects in return, writes Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Generally speaking, GM Jon Daniels spoke highly of their pool of position player prospects, complimenting their depth in that department. Pitching has long been an area for improvement for Texas, and it makes sense to seek pitching if subtracting a presence like Lynn.
There’s value in keeping Lynn, however. If Daniels is unable to get a blue-chip prospect in return, keeping Lynn isn’t the worst outcome. Besides, the AL West is arguably more wide open than at any point in the last five years. The Houston Astros stranglehold on the division finally lessened in 2020, the A’s could lose shortstop Marcus Semien in free agency, and the Angels are currently pivoting in the front office. The Mariners, meanwhile, have begun to put some solid pieces together, but they’re not a deterrent for Texas. Both are in the same boat, presumably near the bottom of the American League West.
Way-too-early oddsmakers peg the Rangers among the least likely MLB teams to win the World Series with odds around 80-to-1. It’s doubtful whether they have enough pitching beyond Lynn to truly compete, but stranger things have happened. Besides, Rangers’ fans might like to have a pitcher of Lynn’s pedigree in the rotation, even in the event that they struggle to keep pace. It’s easy to say from the outside that the Rangers are best served trading Lynn, but sometimes those living inside the house simply like living there too much to sell it.
So let’s hear from Rangers’ fans. Is it time to take the best prospect package available? Or do you want to see what happens to start the season? If you don’t consider the Rangers your favorite team, we want to hear from you too. There are more possible opinions than what I’m offering below, so do your best to choose the opinion closest to yours, then spell out the difference for us in the comments.
(Poll link for app users)