Many teams effectively sat out the free-agent market prior to the lockout, and the Rangers took full advantage of the lack of activity from some of the sport’s top spenders. Led by longtime president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, second-year GM Chris Young and an ownership group that clearly isn’t interested in a protracted rebuild, the Rangers doled out more than half a billion dollars to sign Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun. For most clubs, spending more than $500MM in free agency would seem a defensible point at which to call it a day, but if the Rangers are serious about returning to contention sooner than later, they’re not likely to be satisfied with, ahem, “just” Seager, Semien, Gray, etc.
The 2021 Rangers, to put things charitably, were a disaster. Texas lost 102 games and batted a combined .232/.294/.375. The resulting 84 wRC+ (indicating that their collective offense was 16 percent below league average) tied for the third-worst mark in MLB. Rangers hitters ranked 28th in total runs scored, 26th in home runs, 29th in walk percentage and dead last in on-base percentage.
If the Rangers boasted a deep and talented pitching staff, perhaps the additions of Seager and Semien alone would be enough to foster hope, but we know that’s not the case. Texas starters ranked 28th in the Majors in ERA (5.33) and FIP (5.19) alike — and that’s including the contributions of the since-traded Kyle Gibson, who provided 113 innings of 2.87 ERA/3.76 FIP ball.
The signing of Gray gives the Rangers a big arm on which they can dream, but Gray, Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn are the only pitchers on the roster who reached 100 innings and posted even passable results. It’s questionable to even include Hearn in that trio, as nearly all of his success came out of the bullpen (5.82 ERA in the rotation versus 3.54 out of the ’pen in near-identical samples of innings). The only pitcher currently on the roster who posted an ERA better than Dunning’s 4.55 out of the rotation last season is right-hander A.J. Alexy, who logged a 2.79 ERA in 19 1/3 innings but also walked nearly as many hitters as he struck out (13 walks, 14 punchouts).
Things are a bit rosier in the bullpen, where Texas will welcome back injured closer Jose Leclerc, who missed 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. Impressive young righty Jonathan Hernandez is likely to return at some point in 2022 as well after missing this past season following his own Tommy John procedure. The Rangers can also look forward to full seasons from standout rookie Joe Barlow and NPB returnee Spencer Patton, who began the 2021 season in Triple-A but pitched effectively following his June call to the bigs.