The Rangers announced they’ve reinstated reliever José Leclerc from the 60-day injured list. He’ll be active for tonight’s contest in Detroit, potentially setting him up for his first big league appearance in two years. Texas also activated reliever Brett Martin and outfielder Steele Walker from the COVID-19 IL. Walker and left-hander Kolby Allard have been optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to free active roster space. Tyson Miller, who’d been brought up as a designated COVID substitute, was taken off the 40-man roster and returned to the minors after two appearances.
Leclerc’s return is the biggest development for the Rangers, as it marks the end of a 15-month rehab process. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery just before Opening Day last year, costing him a season and a half worth of action. That came on the heels of a 2020 campaign in which he was limited to two appearances because of a shoulder strain, meaning he hasn’t seen extended action since 2019.
Before the health concerns threw his career off track, Leclerc looked as if he might emerge as one of the sport’s better late-inning arms. He’s shown swing-and-miss stuff throughout his career, but he was particularly effective in 2018. Leclerc posted a 1.56 ERA in 57 2/3 innings that season, striking out an elite 38.1% of opponents with a personal-low 11.2% walk rate. The following offseason, Texas signed him to a $14.75MM guarantee to buy out a pair of potential free agent seasons.
Leclerc’s control regressed in the first year of the deal, and he pitched to an underwhelming 4.33 ERA through 68 2/3 innings. Injuries have cost him the next two and a half seasons, but he’ll finally step back into the bullpen for skipper Chris Woodward. He tossed nine innings over as many appearances on a minor league rehab stint before returning to the MLB roster.
The 2022 season is the final guaranteed year of the aforementioned extension. Leclerc is making $5.25MM, and the club holds successive options for the next two seasons. They’ll have to decide on a $6MM option or a $750K buyout at the end of this year, making the next few months particularly critical for Leclerc’s long-term earning potential.