The Texas Rangers have spent more than half of a billion dollars in about 24 hours. As of 48 hours ago, the Rangers’ highest earner on a per-year basis was pitcher Jose Leclerc, bringing home a yearly base salary of $4.75 million, but with the signings of Jon Gray, Marcus Semien, Kole Calhoun, and Corey Seager, Leclerc is rocketing down that list. Per this graph from spotrac.com, one can see just how much the Rangers have outspent the rest of the league so far this free agent period.
The question: will all of this spending prove beneficial?
Combined, those four players produced a total of 12.6 wins above replacement during the 2021 season. Yet is there enough of a supporting cast in Arlington to justify this massive payday? When adding those 13 (rounding up) wins produced by those players to the 2021 Rangers, the club would have finished 73-89, still in the cellar of the American League West. It is not that simple, but the larger question remains. Adolis Garcia and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are the only players still on the Rangers roster that posted 2+ fWAR seasons last year, with only two other pitchers, in Dane Dunning and the since-traded Kyle Gibson producing 1 fWAR. In short, this Rangers roster is abysmal outside of the new acquisitions.
When Do the Rangers Plan to Compete?
The spending of all of this money would indicate that the Rangers plan to emerge from the AL West cellar as soon as possible, but do they have enough talent to do so in the 2022 season? None of their top-five prospects have yet to play a game beyond AAA, and the lineup as currently constructed has holes in multiple locations.
Starters combined for a 5.33 earned run average with 5.19 fielding independent pitching. The bullpen was not much better either, producing a 4.13 ERA and a 4.20 FIP. Not only were they bad, but there is not much reason to believe there will be any improvement. The Rangers will have to dig even deeper into their pockets to compete in 2022, but it feels more likely that the competitive window hinges on the development of recent first-round pick Jack Leiter of Vanderbilt, as well as top pitching prospect Cole Winn.
Semien and Gray are both on the latter side of 30, and Corey Seager’s health remains a question mark that could only get worse with time. For this to work out, Winn and Leiter need to develop into rather effective front-end starters and do so quickly. One window is opening as another closes, and timing both of those correctly is contingent on so many factors.
Other Potential Additions?
Is there a possibility the Rangers are not done? While the club has spent more than most teams combined in Major League Baseball to this point of free agency, if one takes a look at the way the organization is structured financially, there is a chance they could have enough to go for more.
Prior to any free agent pickups, the Rangers had only $48 million on the books for 2022, 26th in the league. After their spending spree, they now find themselves somewhere in the $105M-$120M range, which while above league average, would only slot them somewhere between the 11th to 14th most in MLB. If the Rangers really want to go for broke, there is room to do so. The front office has been linked with Clayton Kershaw per Anthony Franco of MLBTradeRumors.com, so might they be in the market for more pitching. Perhaps this meme produced by Foolish Baseball had some semblance of reality within it all along.
Flipping the Script:
In this flurry of moves, the Rangers are hoping to produce a new path to success not seen as of recent in baseball. If you look back at nearly every recent World Series-winning team over the last decade, all are highlighted by homegrown talent that is in turn elevated by talent acquired through free agency. The Rangers are hoping to do the exact opposite. The coming years of the Rangers franchise serve to answer the question, "can you buy a title?" Teams that go out and have massive offseasons rarely meet the expectations levied for them, examples being San Diego last year, or the 2013 Marlins.
But when it comes to baseball, there is an exception to every single rule. The Rangers may have produced their very own version of Moneyball, one less concerned with penny-pinching, and instead highlighted by the usage of bloated, long-term contracts to buy a core to supplement with their farm, essentially shifting the burden of development onto other teams and waiting for the results. It’ll be interesting to watch for sure, but there’s a chance this experiment blows up in the face of the Texas FO, leaving them with the roster equivalent of some really nice cars parked right outside of a trailer park.
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