SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Are big-spending Rangers ready to compete with the Mariners?

Feb 8, 2023, 9:21 AM

Mariners Rangers...

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, center, shakes hands with new manger Bruce Bochy after trying on his new jersey during a press conference at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. General Manager Chris Young, left, introduced the star pitcher who signed a five-year contract until the year 2027. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

With MLB spring training set to begin next week, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer is taking a look around the division this week with the help of conversations from Seattle Sports’ Hot Stove with insiders that cover the Mariners rivals in the AL West. In this installment, it’s all about the Texas Rangers.

Rangers

2022 record: 68-94 (fourth AL West)
Additions: Jacob deGrom, Andrew Heaney, Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Odorizzi
Subtractions: Kole Calhoun, Kolby Allard, Nick Solak, Dennis Santana, Kohei Arihara, Kevin Plawecki, Matt Moore, Charlie Culberson
2023 ZiPS projection excerpt: “Wild Card contenders, but until they patch up their last few holes, they’re going to worry the Mariners more than they worry the Astros.”

Mariners

• 2022 record: 90-72 (second AL West, third wild card)
• Additions: Teoscar Hernández, Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock, Trevor Gott, Tommy La Stella, Justin Topa, Cooper Hummel
• Subtractions: Mitch Haniger, Erik Swanson, Jesse Winker, Abraham Toro, Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier, Kyle Lewis, Luis Torrens, Matthew Boyd, Curt Casali
• 2023 ZiPS projection excerpt: “The Mariners look like an 85-90 win team, with a tighter range of outcomes than most clubs. That’s fun and makes the M’s a serious contender.”

One of the more enjoyable methods of pregame prep work before each Mariners series is catching up with opposing broadcasters when they come to town. Most will drop by the home broadcast booth before the first game to catch up, sometimes get a pronunciation of a player’s name, and almost always to get the inside scoop on their opponent.

Quite often, we will take some of these conversations to the airwaves, talking one of the broadcasters into coming on the Roundtable segment of the pregame show to get their stories and what to look for with their teams. A question that we have asked the Rangers broadcasters multiple times in recent years is just what is the plan was for the organization? With sporadic big spending and heading into last season a farm system that had ranked no better than 20th the past five years, it has been hard to see what the plan was. Today, it is much clearer.

The Rangers have now had back-to-back big dollar spending offseasons and don’t look now, but the farm system that ranked 24th heading into 2022 came out of the year ranked sixth. They have hired three-time World Series winner Bruce Bochy to manage the team and moved on from president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, who took the club to the World Series in 2010 and 2011, fully handing the reins of the front office over to general manager Chris Young.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Young, a former pitcher who played for the Mariners in 2014, appears to be leading with pitching. Could Young be the next to turn this organization around sending them to their first post season since 2016?

“It’s his show now and he talked a lot about how he was tired of this team losing,” said team broadcaster Jared Sandler on a recent Hot Stove Show. “He said he wanted to spend and he said they needed to upgrade the pitching staff. They didn’t waste time getting Jacob deGrom.”

It’s one thing to want to spend and another to be allowed to spend, and in Young’s case, spend big. For a second straight year, the Rangers have added a player with an annual salary over $30 million with deGrom inking a five-year, $185 million contract. Adding an ace to a rotation whose WAR ranked 26th in 2022 is a considerable boost, but the Rangers kept going, adding Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and Jake Odorizzi as well.

“They’re not quite the San Diego Padres or anything, but certainly they were not afraid to write some big checks again,” said Sandler. “They went from having a rotation of guys who had very little major league experience and kind of trying to push themselves to now a full rotation of guys with big league experience. This is right now, while everyone is still healthy, the best rotation the Rangers franchise has ever had going into a season.”

As strong a rotation has been built, if making the postseason is a goal, Sandler acknowledges the starters cannot get them there on their own.

“They’re going to have to figure things out with the bullpen,” he said. “I think if you want to talk about them through the lens of a World Series contender, their lineup needs to improve. Now, their lineup’s good enough to be a playoff lineup right now. It’s not outstanding, but it is good and it should be getting better with a lot of youth infused here in the next maybe season, season and a half. But it’s still I think goes back to the pitching and then the health.”

That is no small question mark with the brilliant but oft-injured deGrom at the top.

“Is Jacob deGrom going to give you 25 starts or 15 starts?” Sandler asked. “Is Andrew Heaney going to be able to pick up where he left off second half of last year with the Dodgers? Nathan Eovaldi, can he stay healthy? Because when these guys are healthy, they’re really good. And they all they all have questions. It’s not unfair to side-eye some of the moves because of that. But if even 60 % of their rotation can stay really healthy and they can make some of the right bargain type moves with the bullpen, then they’re a playoff contender. But it’s not easy. Even with all this, the Rangers are still probably the third-best team in the division right now behind the Mariners and the Astros unless the Astros finally just kind of collapse like we’ve all been hoping they would have done already.”

A move that could push them one step closer is a move many fans would like to see the Mariners make. There is room in the Rangers outfield for an upgrade and some in the industry have suggested they could be in the mix to acquire Bryan Reynolds. With a now healthy farm system Sandler believes that move would not be out of the question.

“I don’t think they have to make a move, but they’re definitely in a position where if they want to upgrade their lineup -and I think they definitely need to, their lineup took a big step forward last year but they still have have room to grow there-that whether it’s now or maybe before the trade deadline, they’ve got the prospect capital to make not just the mid-level move but a big time move and still have some depth,” he said.

With the dollars that have been available and a healthy farm system the Rangers seem to be in a good spot moving forward. It’s worth keeping an eye on those dollars however as a large amount comes from their TV deal. The provider, Bally Sports Southwest’s parent company Diamond Sports, is in the news this week as they are in danger of declaring bankruptcy, a move that could tie up broadcasting payments to a number of teams.

For now, the Rangers enter the season improved on paper. What that looks like on the field and if it’s enough to challenge the Mariners remains to be seen.

“It’s really tough to make the playoffs when you’re the third-best team in your division. That’s going to be an incredibly big challenge,” Sandler acknowledged. “The Rangers are competing to not be the third-best team in the division, and that’s not going to be a downhill battle by any means.”

Listen to Sandler on the Hot Stove at this link or in the player below.

Last installment: Do Mariners need to keep close eye on Angels in AL West?

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