MLB

The Rangers went on a Texas-sized free agency spending spree; will it be enough to make them a contender?

The Texas Rangers made their second major investment in a middle infielder in as many days on Monday, reaching an agreement with shortstop Corey Seager that will pay him $325 million over 10 years. The Rangers had, on Sunday, inked second baseman Marcus Semien to a seven-year contract worth $175 million. They had also signed right-handed starter Jon Gray and outfielder Kole Calhoun as part of second-year general manager Chris Young‘s attempt to improve a roster that has finished last in the American League West in three of the past five years.

There’s no doubt the Rangers will be better come next season, and they should be commended for not taking the nihilistic route frequented by fellow cellar-dwellers like the Baltimore Orioles. There is, nevertheless, skepticism being expressed across the industry about whether or not the Rangers took the right approach to this offseason based on their personnel. “It’s all about the timing of this strategy and the competitiveness of the roster,” an analyst with another club told CBS Sports.

In other words, is this the right time for the Rangers to go all-in? And what does it say about their rebuilding efforts that other clubs still don’t view them as a contender after adding multiple All-Stars?

Let’s be clear: the Rangers should be improved. They ranked near the bottom of the majors this year in both runs scored and wRC+, a catch-all metric housed at FanGraphs that adjusts for ballpark and other variables. Adding Semien and Seager, who combined for 61 home runs last season, will improve the Rangers’ on-base and slugging capabilities. Calhoun, for his part, was deemed by CBS Sports to be an intriguing under-the-radar free-agent target due to his strong track record against right-handed pitching. 

Even with those new faces in tow, the Rangers have a lot of work to do between now and Opening Day if they’re going to make a real run in 2022. As constructed, their projected lineup includes Billy McKinney; their rotation features three unproven arms; and their bullpen is hardly more confidence-inspiring. There’s ample offseason remaining, but it’s going to be difficult to fill all those gaps. Coming into the winter, the Rangers were reportedly willing to add $100 million to their payroll. One estimate already has them over $77 million, leaving them with $23 million. That money should enable them to address some of those holes; it’s just probably not enough for them to patch over all in a meaningful manner.

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Teams coming out of lengthy rebuilds, the way the Rangers are trying to do, tend to have the benefit of being able to fill out their rosters with emerging young stars who can serve as long-term core pieces. The Houston Astros had drafted and developed Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Alex Bregman; the Chicago Cubs had Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, and Kyle Schwarber; and so on. The Rangers don’t have that kind of talent base in place. Executives who spoke to CBS Sports on Monday afternoon wondered if Texas will regret starting its clock so soon.

Those same execs pointed out that years of poor drafting and developing have left the Rangers in a suboptimal position, with few impact-caliber prospects and none who are big-league-ready. 

It’s true that the Rangers haven’t had a first-round pick become a fixture on their roster since they selected Joey Gallo nearly a decade ago, in 2012. What’s more is that the next-best player among their first-round selections who have reached the majors is whomever is deemed the winner of a competition between Lewis Brinson, Travis Demeritte, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Dillon Tate. The Rangers, who have resisted making many changes to their scouting department over that time, haven’t nailed their later-round picks, either, save for outliers like Isiah Kiner-Falefa. (And that’s without considering their failure to develop international amateur free-agent signings, be it Ronald Guzmán, Anderson Tejeda, or others.)

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The Rangers do have several recent first-round picks who could change their fortune. Starters Jack Leiter and Cole Winn could assist with filling out the rotation while third baseman Josh Jung and second baseman Justin Foscue give the lineup a boost. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Leiter and Winn have combined for just over 150 professional innings; that Jung is most often compared to former San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley (a good, not great player); and that Foscue would no longer appear to have a home on an infield that now features Seager and Semien, and that could include Jung as soon as this upcoming spring — ditto for Ezequiel Duran, who was acquired in the Gallo trade, and some of the organization’s other infield prospects nearing The Show.

The Rangers have an oddball farm system of sorts. With the exception of Leiter, they don’t have a clear standout star in hand; they nevertheless have have assembled what prospect expert Eric Longenhagen called the “deepest” farm system in baseball earlier this year. As Longenhagen explained, having a deep system isn’t the same as having a great system; the latter is often reserved for organizations with those impact-caliber types (who are so valuable because of the scarcity of superstars and rosters spots). The Rangers do have many “45s” — a scouting grade talent evaluators use to refer to players who project to become back-end starters, platoon or utility types, or seventh-inning relievers. Those players have value, and they can help fill out a roster; they’re just unlikely to be difference-makers.

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By signing Seager and Semien, the Rangers have lifted both their ceiling and their floor heading forward. In doing so, they’ve also flipped the aforementioned hour glass that will remind them they need to take advantage of those gains as soon as possible; it’s no longer enough to wait until their top youngsters reach the majors over the next two seasons before shifting into all-out compete mode. In practical terms, that means the Rangers need to continue to spend and that they need to begin exploring the trade market. They also need to get a little lucky, and have some of those 45s turn into 50s or better (outfielder Evan Carter would seem like an obvious candidate to outperform expectations).

The good news for the Rangers is that they should have the opportunity to do most of the above. Even now, with Seager and Semien’s contracts factored in, they’re projected to be $40 million below the franchise record for Opening Day payroll. The cost of acquiring good players through trade is lower than it used to be, suggesting Young should be able to add talent by consolidating his farm system’s depth, the way former Rangers executive A.J. Preller has done with the Padres in recent years.

Ascending from the bottom of the majors to the realm of playoff contention isn’t easy. The toughest part is often acquiring impact-level talent, however, and the Rangers have accomplished that the past couple days. The key is that Young and the Rangers shouldn’t view their jobs as being done; in some ways, they’re just getting started. 


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