Much has been written about the complete turnaround of the Texas Rangers, who won 60 games in 2021 and only 68 just last season in 2022 before rallying to the World Series in 2023. The big free agent deals bestowed upon the double play combination of SS Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and 2B Marcus Semien (7 years, $175 million) obviously get plenty of attention. Seager is an MVP-caliber player and Semien, thanks to top-of-the-scale durability and solid production for his position, isn’t terribly far behind.
The Rangers have been panned in many circles for going long on aging starting pitchers Jacob deGrom (5 years, $185 million, prior to the 2023 season) and Max Scherzer (1 year, $22.5 million for 2024, remainder paid by New York Mets), surrendering top shortstop prospect SS Luisangel Acuna in exchange for financial considerations in the latter deal. And at least on some level the criticism is warranted – they only got 75 1/3 innings combined from the 35 and 38-year-olds this season. As we speak, Scherzer’s World Series is over thanks to the back stiffness that shortened his outing on Monday night.
But this has not been the sum total of the club’s total investment in their starting rotation. They sent a sizeable prospect package featuring pitcher Tekoah Roby and infielder Thomas Saggese to the Cardinals at the trading deadline for lefty Jordan Montgomery, a free agent-t0-be who has emerged as their ace. That cost them the prorated portion of his $10 million 2023 salary. Before the 2022 season they signed free agent Jon Gray to a four-year, $56 million deal.
Prior to the 2023 season, they inked Nathan Eovaldi to a a two-year, $34 million deal that includes a $20 million vesting option for 2025. They also added Andrew Heaney to a two-year, $25 million deal, including a player option for next season. They also extended a $19.65 million qualifying offer for the 2023 season to lefty Martin Perez, who accepted it instead of entering free agency.
That’s over a third of a billion dollars guaranteed (and a handful of top prospects surrendered) to starting pitchers within a two-year time frame. And while criticism of the largest of those deals is clearly warranted, one thing is certain. The Texas Rangers would not still be playing baseball in 2023 without this investment.
The Rangers were 5th in the AL in starting pitchers’ ERA at 3.96, but we have to nudge them ahead of #4 Tampa Bay, as Ranger starters logged 88 more innings pitched. Only one Texas starter threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this season, and we haven’t even mentioned him yet. Dane Dunning was that guy, and he earned only $743,000 this season as a pre-arbitration player.
Each and every one of the Rangers’ starting pitchers mentioned above was a league average or better starter. They started 153 of the club’s 162 games, with openers starting the other nine. And they needed each and every bit of the performance they provided.
The Rangers finished two games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the final American League playoff spot. While the Rangers were hurling every last dollar at starting pitching, the Mariners were trading their closer, Paul Sewald, to the Arizona Diamondbacks – the Rangers’ World Series opponent – for spare major league parts Josh Rojas and Dominic Canzone and prospect Ryan Bliss. The final report on the Mariners-D’Backs trade won’t be able to be written for a while yet, but it clearly didn’t do the M’s any favors in the 2023 pennant race.
Thanks to the potential cataclysmic outcome on the deGrom deal, the Rangers’ overall investment on these pitching deals might be underwater. In the short term, however, it can be argued that the Rangers don’t make the playoffs without their starting pitching depth. They probably don’t survive a 2 2/3 inning outing from Scherzer in Game 7 of the ALCS. They probably don’t come back and win Game 1 of the World Series after a short outing from Eovaldi. They certainly don’t win Game 3 after another early Scherzer exit (and Gray entrance). And while the D’backs bullpen game last night blew up in their faces, the Rangers took control of the series behind a typically credible effort from Heaney.
While every other team in the playoffs was seemingly scared to use their fourth (and sometimes third) starter, the Rangers have seven guys they can turn to in a pinch. To be kind to them, I’ll avoid dwelling on the fact that Cole Ragans, whom they traded to the Royals late in the season, might be better than all of them. All in all, if the Rangers do wind up hoisting the World Series trophy shortly, they will in large part have their extended starting rotation to thank.