The 2021 season is finally over. Our early dive into the makeup of next years team isn’t. I’ll be discussing the Texas Rangers options for 2022 here and why.
In a season when you end up with the 3rd worst record in the league, it can be difficult to single out exactly what went wrong. Because often, many things have gone wrong. With that said the starting rotation is relatively easy to pick out. After trading away Lance Lynn for Dane Dunning expectations weren’t exactly high. 2020 had been a rough year for guys like Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles, and Mike Foltynewicz, but they would be counted on to do the heavy lifting for ’21. Gibson was able to step up and become an Ace, for the Rangers anyways, but Lyles and Folty faltered. Kohei Arihara, the biggest free-agent signing for the Rangers, didn’t exactly hold his own either. Even with Gibson looking like an early Cy Young contender, Dane Dunning establishing himself, and other solid contributions through the year, the starting rotation amassed an ERA of 5.33. That’s good (or bad) for the 3rd worst ERA in all of baseball. It gets worse too. According to Fangraphs, they combined for a WAR of 2.1 which is dead last in the big leagues, had the 3rd fewest strikeouts per 9 innings at 7.31, and allowed the 2nd most homers per 9 IP. With above-average defense backing them up, these aren’t the numbers you want to see.
The Internal Options
Now, for the Opening day roster, you’re more than likely NOT going to see Cole Winn or Jack Leiter, the 2 best pitching prospects. Winn could get a call up later in the year and please, don’t even think about Leiter as an option yet. That just leaves a list about a mile long, but I’m trimming it to the top. Arihara has been optioned to AAA while Lyles and Foltynewicz have probably pitched their last games as Rangers. At least as serious rotation pieces here, they could come back as bullpen arms. That leaves current starters available at
- Dane Dunning
- Taylor Hearn
- Kolby Allard
- Glenn Otto
- AJ Alexy
- Spencer Howard
Each is young and promising in their own way, I mean just check out the article from a few weeks ago! Dunning, barring injury, will be in the rotation next year. He was the key piece in the Lynn trade and proved why throughout the year. Hearn has stepped into the role well, sporting a 4.29 ERA over his last 65 innings. Allard is still young but might be suited best in long relief. Otto and Alexy had electric starts early but are still very inexperienced. Howard meanwhile has had a year to forget, but he was up to 26th in MLB Pipeline top 100. That’d be the Rangers 2nd best prospect, ahead of Josh Jung and Cole Winn.
The Rangers picked a good time to have a lot of money to spend. This free agent group is loaded at every position. Of course, the CBA could come along a ruin all the fun but I’m ignoring that. I’ll break down the Free Agents into 2 tiers, A for the top end, rotation cornerstone type, and B for the bounce back, shorter contract, inning eaters type.
The group is LOADED with household names, but if you’re going to get a large contract from the Rangers, there are some requirements. Age is a primary factor since they don’t figure to realistically compete for a playoff spot until 2023. That marks off guys like Scherzer, Verlander, and Greinke. With this group, I’m looking at established front-end starters under the age of 35.
One name that seems like had been around forever though is Clayton Kershaw. Having got his first starts back in 2008, Kershaw is still only 33 putting him just below the age limit. Kershaw has miles upon miles on his arm and was recently pulled from his last start with pain in his elbow. He has statistically declined for a few years now and most expect his next contract to be his last. With that said, he would have been the best pitcher on the Rangers in ’21 and could be in ’22. He managed an ERA of 3.55 across 121.2 innings pitched, increased his strikeout rate to 10. 7 per 9 innings, and lowered his home runs per 9 to 1.1. He is a leader and competitor, and oh yea he’s from the metroplex. He will still command a large contract and you’re doubtful to get much of a hometown discount. But the Dodgers may not run the price up too much, seeing as they’ll be busy trying to resign Scherzer. If he signs in Texas it could look like 4 years at $116 million with incentives and opt-outs. He would step in and be an immediate leader and help the young rotation navigate the majors.
The next target, and maybe should be their first, is Marcus Stroman. Stroman, like Kershaw, is a passionate competitor. He has been compared as Adrian Beltre on the mound more than once. Though he only had one All-Star game to his name he has been a top-end starter for years. He opted out of the ’20 season citing Covid 19 but came back strong. In ’21 he has a 3.02 ERA over 179 innings while spanning a career-high 33 games. He has already accepted a Qualifying Offer so that obstacle won’t stand in the way. Though prying him from New York may be hard. He is a New York native and loves the area but, money can fix a lot of things. He could command a contract looking like 5 years $115 million. Once again, incentives could be a factor here for him. He crossed 200 innings twice but hasn’t since 2017. His career averages are pretty consistent though with 7.5 strikeouts per 9 while limiting homers to 0.8 per 9. Stroman should be the Rangers’ top pitching target this offseason.
Kevin Gausman may not have been a name many expected to land in this category but he’s earned it. After accepting a Qualifying Offer from San Fransisco, Gausman has had a career-best year. At the age of 30, he has finally become an All Start, holding down a remarkable 2.81 ERA over 33 games and 192 innings. Gausman isn’t your typical Ace though having constant up and down years. in 2019 he had an ERA of 5.72 with almost half his appearances coming in relief. His career ERA of 4.02 may not inspire on Opening day but we could be looking at a Lance Lynn type of career. After solid but not overwhelming years of success, he seems to be on the verge of a breakout. San Fransisco won’t let Gausman get away easily but the Rangers have the cash. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a 4 year $26 million per year contract for him.
Finally, we have the one with the most question marks. Noah Syndegaard has the potential to be a transcendent talent…if healthy. He had Tommy John surgery in March of 2020 and didn’t pitch again in the big leagues until September 28th, 2021 due to complications during rehab. It was an electric 1 inning though, striking out 2 in it and looking the part. Syndegaard is also a metroplex native, coming from Mansfield but has said stated “I can’t imagine leaving New York”. Now you can’t look too much into a guy saying the right things…but he did say it. He is also eligible for a Qualifying Offer that would be around 20 million dollars. He would likely accept it and try to rebuild his value for a contract that would exceed $300 million…but what if they don’t extend him the offer? The Rangers can jump in and be a player for the man known as “Thor”. Syndegaard could accept a multi-year deal, but it’d likely have an opt-out after the first and second years. It’d also have to be enough to sway him from other suitors. A Ranger classic 3 years deal for $60 million could do it. If they want to dive all in on him and go 8 years for $200. That would give him some financial stability, but maybe less than he would get in ’23 with a good year. For the Rangers it’s a risk he stays healthy AND performs well. The most likely scenario remains that he accepts a QO from the Mets with the second being a 1-year prove-it deal, but as mentioned before, there’s a lot of questions with this one.
This group is where you can find the bargains. you’ll have success stories like Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson. Also busts like Foltynewicz and Lyles. The risk is still relatively low since the Rangers won’t be seen as competitive in ’23, but it’s also very important for the organization. Finding a Lynn now could prove beneficial fiscally, and if things seem more dire than anticipated, they can be traded for future assets. Most of these names and numbers won’t exactly…sparkle…but are still important for the team. The contracts will range from 1-3 years at sub $15 million AAV for these individuals.
Corey Kluber falls here at the age of 35, missing the above category because the guy hasn’t been healthy. Over the past 3 years, he’s only managed 116.2 IP combined, 1 of those for the Rangers. That’s right, in case you forgot, Kluber was the last acquisition for immediate contention for Texas. He managed to cost us Emanual Clase, pitch 1 inning, get hurt, then left for the Yankees and proceeded to no-hit his former team. That isn’t exactly going to warm many hearts around here but this is a redemption story. From 2014-18 he pitched well over 200 innings a year, managing a sub 3 ERA in ’14, ’17, and ’18. He won’t be offered a large contract by anyone he may see primarily 1-year deals. But if he comes back to Texas, he’d all but be guaranteed a rotation spot. In the 80 innings, he did pitch this year, he held a respectable 3.83 ERA. He didn’t quite look dominant this year but did show that there could be more tread on those wheels.
Dylan Bundy/ Carlos Martinez
Dylan Bundy and Carlos Martinez will be put together here cause you really shouldn’t sign both. Bundy, 29 and Martinez 30, were both young and full of promise at one point. Martinez with the most success between them, with 2 All-star appearances with St. Louis. His best years were 2015-18 where he was a reliable starter with ERAs hovering just above 3, before spending 2019 in the bullpen and fighting the injury bug the past few years. He could be a prime breakout candidate if he can stay off the IL. Bundy may be the only one who seemed to have benefited from the covid shortened season in ’20. He set a career-low ERA at 3.29 in 11 starts and was looking primed to break out in a big way. Unfortunately, that big way was beaten and pummeled in ’21 with a career-worst 6.06 ERA. Bundy may be looking for a 1-year deal to recover some of the lost value and his bad luck. To make good on that though, he’ll have to reduce his home runs allowed. Something the ’21 Rangers rotation also struggled with.
Steven Matz rounds out the shortlist here. Matz hasn’t necessarily been a workhorse or an Ace before, but he does have his upside. Since making the move to the AL he’s posted a 3.82 ERA, his best since his rookie year. His numbers this year are strikingly similar to his career averages though. His career numbers being a WHIP of 1.323, K/9 of 8.6, and homers per 9 at 1.4. This season he had a WHIP of 1.334, K/9 of 8.6, and HR/9 at 1.1. Looking at more advanced stats you can also see hit-hard hit ball rate drop from 45% to 37% while maintaining his ground ball rate around d 46%. His ability to keep the ball in the park should play well with this defense.
The Top 5
The Free agent bats may get the glamor this year but the rotation will arguably be the most complicated to figure out. The option is seemingly endless within the organization and free agency but at the end of the day the top 5 will be
- Clayton Kershaw
- Marcus Stroman
- Dane Dunning
- Steven Matz
- Taylor Hearn
The Rangers need leadership and experience on the mound and Kershaw would be the Opening day starter for his “hometown”, something he wouldn’t be if he stayed in LA. Stroman would be a workhorse and that bulldog presence that they frequently mention Lynn brought. Dunning in his second year with the Rangers would be in the perfect scenario to grow and develop with reduced pressure and improved guidance. Taylor Hearn would be in a more conducive environment to grow and learn. Matz could see the largest improvement of the group, playing with a great defense and in a more pitcher-friendly park.
Spencer Howard is first in line for starting duties and could even continue a tandem with Dunning or Hearn. Otto and Alexy follow shortly behind, then just about everyone else on the Free agent list. This rotation may not jump to the top of many lists but would be competitive and vastly improved. There is leadership, hope, strength, and durability here, and for 2022 that’s what the Rangers need. Signing 3 rotation pieces may be unlikely but it’s doable and just about anything can happen this offseason.
Change is on the horizon and winter is coming. Winter meetings that is.