What will the Texas Rangers look like in 2023?
The Rangers’ 2022 season is over, and while there were memorable moments and important progress for some young players, it was largely disappointing. So what’s next?
When Texas committed almost $600 million to two free agent middle infielders last winter, it was a signal to fans that the Rangers’ management was ready to accelerate their improvement after one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
There were holes in the rotation and the outfield and questions about who would finish games, but I think even the least optimistic Rangers fan expected them to finish better than 68–94, higher in the AL West than only the comically bad Oakland A’s.
That performance cost manager Chris Woodward and president Jon Daniels their jobs and, for good or ill, places Texas’ immediate future in the hands of general manager and president Chris Young. Where do the Rangers need to improve this offseason? I’ll go position by position and offer my thoughts on what smart moves Young and Texas could make to be more competitive in 2023 and beyond.
Best 2022 player: In his second season with the Rangers, the towering Jonah Heim established himself as a starting MLB catcher, taking over for the departed Jose Trevino and hitting 16 home runs to go with a .227/.298/.399 slash line.
Projected 2023 starter: Heim should get the majority of plate appearances, although he’ll likely share time with the only catcher taller than he is: the Rangers’ 2021 №5 prospect Sam Huff. Mitch Garver started a few games at catcher, but he’s a free agent and got most of his at bats at DH.
Best 2022 player: Nathaniel Lowe improved on an impressive 2021 campaign to lead the Rangers in batting average (.302) and showed some good pop, hitting 27 homers.
Projected 2023 starter: Next to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, no other player is as much of a lock as Lowe at first. Huff might get a few at bats there, as might Mark Mathias, but expect another strong season from Lowe.
Best 2022 player: The casual fan might not realize that Marcus Semien ended up leading the Rangers in WAR (5.7), considering the terrible start to the season he had. He wasn’t as good as he was in 2021 (and he probably never will be again), but Semien should continue to provide 25 HR, 25 SB, 100 runs and .250 average for the foreseeable future.
Projected 2023 starter: Semien. Ezequiel Durán and Josh Smith could get a start or two there. Top prospect Justin Foscue had a great season in the minors and could be called up before the end of the season to play a utility role.
Best 2022 player: It wasn’t the most prolific season of Corey Seager’s career, but the Rangers’ highest paid player proved he can knock it out of the park, more than doubling his 2021 home run total with 33. He was healthy and played okay defense.
Projected 2023 starter: Seager. Semien got a few starts here, and Smith is an option for when Seager needs a day off or DHs.
Best 2022 player: Texas got very little from this position in 2022. Andy Ibáñez was hurt and then finished the season at Round Rock. Josh Jung was called up late and, although he flashed some potential, this by default goes to Ezequiel Duran, who the Rangers acquired in the Joey Gallo trade. Duran had the most starts, plate appearances and WAR at the position and is young enough to get some more chances to impress in the coming years.
Projected 2023 starter: If he hadn’t been injured, Josh Jung probably would have been called up in July. As it stands, he’s in line to get the lion’s share of the 3B starts next season, which should make Rangers’ fans very happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas picks up some veteran depth here.
Best 2022 player: Adolis García also started about 60 games in center field, but he spent most of his time in right in one of the most athletic outfields in the game. El Bombi proved his breakout 2021 season was no fluke, hitting 27 home runs, driving in 101 RBI and stealing 25 bases.
Projected 2023 starter: The only question is where in the outfield García will get most of his starts next season. Kole Calhoun didn’t work out. Neither did Zach Reks, Steele Walker or Brad Miller (although the Rangers are paying Miller $4M in 2023). My assumption is the Rangers role the dice with an outfield combination of García, Leody Taveras, Bubba Thompson and Eli White. Talk about an outfield that can cover some ground.
Keep an eye on prospect Dustin Harris, a left hander who tore up minor league pitching.
Best 2022 player: Eli White only started 22 games here and hit .200 in his 117 plate appearances, but he still finished the season with a positive WAR thanks to his stellar defense. While his on-base percentage is abysmal, I would be interested to see what the speedy White could do in a full season.
Projected 2023 starter: White and Taveras will both get a chance here. I think Taveras earned the nod, slashing .260/.307/.367 in his third season with the Rangers and adding 11 steals. If Texas signs a less athletic outfielder, García or Thompson could move here to open up RF or LF.
Best 2022 player: Bubba Thompson finally got to the majors, and he showed off blazing speed — he could be the fastest player in the MLB. He doesn’t have much power and finished batting .257, but he has 50-steal, 100-run potential.
Projected 2023 starter: Thompson; although, again OF, is very fluid and if the Rangers are going to spend some money on the offense, OF is likely where it will be.
Best 2022 player: The DH was a black hole for the Rangers in 2022. Mitch Garver got the most starts there, hitting 10 home runs before an injury ended his season.
Projected 2023 starter: Ostensibly, Garver will be back here (he’s arbitration eligible this offseason). But he’ll be 32 coming off of a right forearm injury. I suspect the Rangers will use the DH as a grab bag position to give guys like Seager and Garcia a day off in the field and give young players like Huff and Jung some more plate appearances. Brad Miller probably spend some time here as well.
Best 2022 player: Pitching is where everyone knew the Rangers were going to struggle, and they did. Free agent signee Jon Gray was decent when he was healthy (24 starts, 3.96 ERA, 135 Ks, 39 walks). But Martín Pérez was Texas’ best pitcher in 2022, and it wasn’t close. In his second stint with the team, Perez was one of the most effective pitchers in baseball in the first half and finished with a 2.89 ERA in almost 200 innings.
Perez led the league in batters faced and home runs allowed per nine innings. The only problem is, he’s a free agent and will make a lot more than the $4 million the Rangers paid him this season.
Projected 2023 starters: Gray will hold down one spot, as will Perez if the Rangers are able to re-sign him. Dane Dunning and Glenn Otto ate some innings for Texas and probably will do so again in 2023. Everyone else the Rangers threw out there — Cole Ragans, Taylor Hearn, Spencer Howard — were terrible and won’t get more than a spot start here or here, although Ragans is worth another look.
That means the Rangers will need to sign at least one (in addition to Perez) if not two or three starting pitchers, which we be difficult and expensive to do. Top prospects Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker are at least one more season away, although we could Cole Winn next season.
Best 2022 player: The Rangers’ two best relievers were a surprise. Both lefties, neither Matt Moore (a converted starter) or Brock Burke (who had only pitched 26.2 innings before this season) were really on anyone’s radar before the season began. But they were dominant.
Moore had a 1.97 ERA in 73 innings with 82 Ks and a 1.18 WHIP.
Burke also had a 1.97 ERA in 82.1 innings with 90 strikeouts and a 1.06 WHIP.
Projected 2023 starters… er, relievers: Moore is a free agent, and the Rangers aren’t really in the position to spend a lot on their bullpen, so it’s likely he’s gone. José Leclerc (who has a one-year team option in 2023) was okay after missing all of 2021.
Burke, Dennis Santana, Brett Martin and Joe Barlow will probably all have a role. But who is going to close games? Barlow was a revelation as a rookie, but lost the job this season. Jesús Tinoco, who gave up Aaron Judge’s 62nd homer, and Johnathan Hernandez will also be in the mix.
As bad as the Rangers were under Chris Woodward (51–63 in 2022, 211–287 overall), they were worse under Tony Beasley (17–31). That’s in large part because Texas was in “let the kids play” mode. Beasley has managed in the minors and is well-respected in the Rangers clubhouse.
Could Ron Washington return? He coached the most successful Rangers teams and was beloved, but his scandal-ridden departure in 2014 might have closed he door permanently.
There are plenty of managers with experience not currently in an MLB clubhouse, from Joe Maddon to Joe Girardi to Bruce Bochy.
What about a former player? Michael Young would be an interesting candidate, but he doesn’t appear to be interested in becoming a manager.
You don’t open up your wallet for players like Seager, Semien and Gray and then close it again the next offseason. Firing Woodward and Daniels demonstrated that continuing to lose isn’t acceptable.
But the Rangers are in a tricky position. They have some very talented pitching prospects, but those prospects won’t likely be in Arlington for until 2024 at the earliest.
The Rangers only have about $110M dedicated in pre-arbitration payroll next season, and some of that are team options I think they’ll decline (Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards). The soft cap will be about $230M in 2023, so there’s plenty of room for Texas to pay starting pitchers, if ownership is willing to splurge again.
Carlos Rodón and Jacob deGrom can opt out of their deals. If they do, they’ll be the most sought-after free agents. I don’t think Texas goes for them. But I could see the Rangers paying Justin Verlander $40M a year for the next two seasons to drive up I-45. Finally convincing Clayton Kershaw to return home to DFW is a possibility. Getting one of these aging superstars is a risk, but they could be the bridge the Rangers need to Leiter, Winn and Rocker.
I’d like to see the Rangers go for some depth with guys like Mike Clevinger, Noah Syndergaard or Michael Wacha as well.
Outfield is a position Texas could strengthen. Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Haniger bring different skill sets to the table and the Rangers could use either one. I’d prefer for Texas to really give Taveras, White and Thompson some serious plate appearances so they can truly evaluate what they have. I could see the Rangers sign a veteran like Chad Pinder for depth.
If someone like Evan Longoria is available, signing them to provide 3B depth and anchor the DH would be nice.
The Rangers have more answers than they did at the start of the 2022 season. If they sign some quality starting pitching and young players like Josh Jung, Bubba Thompson and Eli White cement themselves as everyday players, then Texas could be a .500 ball club in 2023.
Or, the Rangers could battle injuries in the rotation, Martin Perez, Nathanial Lowe and Adolis Garcia could regress and all those young outfielders could be playing in the minors come August.
But that’s the beautiful thing about baseball: there’s always next year.