When the Rangers attempt to repeat their 2023 World Series championship next season, they’ll have two more familiar names on the roster. The club announced today that left-handed veteran Andrew Heaney exercised his $13MM player option for the 2024 campaign, while the club picked up a $6.25MM team option on the services of righty reliever Jose Leclerc for next season.
Heaney, 32, was regarded as a borderline candidate to opt out of his final year in Texas and return to the open market this offseason. MLBTR readers were polled on Heaney’s upcoming decision last month, with 62% of respondents suggesting that Heaney ought to exercise his player option for the 2024 campaign and return to the Rangers against 38% suggesting he return to the open market this offseason in search of a more lucrative deal.
It’s certainly an understandable decision. After signing in Texas on the heels of a strong albeit injury-shortened campaign with the Dodgers last year, Heaney managed to stay healthy in 2023 but saw his results take a turn for the worse: while his 147 1/3 innings of work in 2023 more than doubled the 72 2/3 innings of work he posted in LA, his ERA ballooned from 3.10 last year up to 4.15 in 2023 while he struck out just 23.6% of batters faced after striking out a whopping 35.5% with the Dodgers. Given the downturn in results and his lengthy injury history, it was reasonable to wonder if Heaney would simply be better off hoping for a stronger platform season in 2024 rather than wading into a deep class of free agent starting options.
With Heaney locked in as a member of the Rangers pitching staff for 2024, it leaves Texas with a quality, mid-rotation veteran option available to them as a potential Opening Day rotation option next season. With Jordan Montgomery and Martin Perez both heading to the open market and ace righty Jacob deGrom rehabbing Tommy John surgery to open next year, Heaney’s return could theoretically round out a Rangers starting five that already contained Max Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, and Dane Dunning. With that being said, both Heaney and Dunning have seen plenty of time in relief roles in the past, leaving the door open for potential additions to the club’s starting group if they look to re-sign Montgomery or add another front-end starter to pair with Scherzer and Eovaldi atop the club’s rotation.
As for Leclerc, the Rangers’ decision to retain the 29-year-old righty is hardly a surprising one. After struggling in 2019 and missing time in 2020 and 2021 due to a shoulder strain and Tommy John surgery, Leclerc has been nothing short of excellent for the Rangers the past two seasons, with a 2.75 ERA (155 ERA+) and 3.67 FIP in 104 2/3 innings of work the past two seasons. 2023 in particular was a strong season for the righty, as he posted a 2.68 ERA and 3.62 FIP while striking out 28.8% of batters faced. Given those numbers, retaining Leclerc to help anchor the club’s bullpen next season was something of a no-brainer, particularly given the club option Texas holds for his services in 2025.
The bullpen figures to be a major area of focus for the Rangers this offseason. The club’s 4.77 ERA out of the bullpen in 2023 was the seventh-worst figure among all big league clubs, and the Rangers stand to lose flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman and veteran set-up options Will Smith and Chris Stratton to the open market this offseason. While the club has some interesting young arms like left-handers Brock Burke and Cody Bradford who could be relied on to help cover innings, the club will need to restock its relief corps with late-inning options who can surround Leclerc. Of course, a hypothetical addition to the starting rotation could help improve the club’s bullpen as well by kicking either Heaney or Dunning into a multi-inning relief role.