We call baseball’s offseason the “hot stove,” and the metaphor has never been more apt. Most years, the business of revamping and replenishing rosters between the end of one season and the start of the next is a four-month chess game: an exercise in stealth, leverage and courage and patience. The teams negotiate with the players. Teams negotiate with teams. Agents navigate. Fans find the nearest heater to gather, daydreaming with like-minded trades enthusiasts and free agent deals – franchise changes – that are sure to make things better for their teams. .
But this offseason, we haven’t been treated to the typical progression of GM meetings/no-tender deadline/winter meetings/Rule 5 draft/free agent musical chairs/ “Ratio of Pitchers and Catchers”. We’ve been deprived of the familiar, dramatic World Series build-up to spring training that promises another Opening Day is just around the corner.
Things started quite well. The Rangers rocked the baseball world with an electric Corey Seager-Marcus Semien flashbang just after Thanksgiving, giving Texas fans a moment of excitement and optimism unlike any they had experienced in five years. They also added Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun to bring their total spend to over half a billion dollars.
Then the void.
For 99 days, manager Chris Woodward was unable to speak with Semien about his vision for the veteran’s place in the roster and in the clubhouse. He and Seager couldn’t remember their days together in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Coaching and coaching staff were unable to supervise and monitor Jonathan Hernandez, Eli White or Ricky Vanasco in their injury returns. Jon Daniels and Chris Young were unable to hire other crews to continue executing the build.
Then the mess.
Once the lockout was lifted, Rangers were among the first teams to move, agreeing to terms on Friday with left-hander Martin Perez to provide a boost at the back of the rotation. The next day, they traded Isiah Kiner-Falefa — who was to be the starting third baseman after prospect Josh Jung suffered a shoulder injury — to the Twins, along with pitching prospect Ronny Henriquez, for catcher. Mitch Garver. On Sunday, the Rangers rested (while the Twins returned Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees). They were back on Monday, announcing non-roster deals with veteran pitchers Brandon Workman and Matt Moore and outfielder Jake Marisnick.
They aren’t finished either. And with three weeks until the club opens its season in Toronto, there is little room to breathe. Players need time to get in shape and assimilate to a new environment, and it stands to reason that much of what the organization feels it needs to do to prepare for this year’s 162 games will will produce within a week to 10 days.
So what are we talking about? What could still cook on the local hot stove?
For now, if Rangers made no more changes, the 26-man roster could look like this:
C: Mitch Garver
1B: Nathaniel Lowe
2B: Marcus Semien
SS: Corey Seager
3B: Andy Ibanez
LF: Nick Solak
CF: Adolis Garcia
RF: Kole Calhoun
DH: Willie Calhoun
Bench: one by Jonah Heim/Jose Trevino; Yonny Hernández; one by Zach Reks/Joe McCarthy; one of Leody Taveras/Eli White/Jake Marisnick
Rotation: Jon Gray, Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn, Martin Perez, Glenn Otto
Bullpen: Joe Barlow, Jonathan Hernandez, Jose Leclerc, Brett Martin, John King, Kolby Allard, Josh Sborz, Nick Tropeano
Realistically, 2023 is likely when the front office privately expects the club’s first real pennant race since 2016. So while Texas will likely add several more unlisted candidates and perhaps even a stopgap a year or two away, there are still opportunities (both in the market and on the roster) to target another player or two who will be here in 2023 and beyond.
Let’s start at third base and get rid of this one. Jung’s injury was to his non-throwing shoulder and shouldn’t be a long-term concern. It’s probably fair to put it in the hot corner for most of 2023 and long after. But for 2022? We all assumed this would be Kiner-Falefa’s place. I was very wrong (and yet, strangely, law?) two weeks ago when I wrote “don’t expect Kiner-Falefa to be traded next month for the Yankees, A’s or Twins”, although I qualified it by adding “to unless a trade happens with just too much long-term upside to pass up. Rangers estimate this happened once Garver, among the best offensive receivers in the gamewas on the table.
Now there is an open at third base, if (probably) only a finished open. Hernandez doesn’t hit like a third baseman and Solak doesn’t play like one; each is best suited in a different role. Whether Ibanez can hold the position defensively is an open question, but perhaps less so after the 28-year-old was pleasantly surprised both at home plate and with his glove last year on his debut in 76 games in the major league.
Unless Texas spends big on Kris Bryant — with the idea that he’ll play third this year and then walk off the field for the next four or five — or trade for the Mets’ JD Davis and his three-year of control, chances are that Ibanez will be asked to fend off some type of journeyman who isn’t there yet (I mentioned Charlie Culberson, Jake Lamb, who just signed with the Dodgers, and Travis Shaw as candidates in this Kiner-Falefa play, and Kyle Seager apparently intends to stay retired). Such a scenario would leave Rangers hopeful that Ibanez would win the job and keep him warm until Jung returns towards the end of the season or (much more likely) in 2023.
We now step back 150 feet and consider the Rangers situation in left field. With draft pick netting rules in place for one last winter, I just can’t imagine Texas signing Nick Castellanos or Michael Conforto and giving up a fourth-round pick (plus associated bonus pool money ) after already returning their second-round picks and three with additions Seager and Semien. Japanese star Seiya Suzuki signs with the Cubs and Kyle Schwarber with the Phillies. Jorge Soler would add a big offense (and a potential trade), but isn’t an ideal defender.
Marisnick is not the answer (even though I tried to get him to wear the Rangers uniform once before so what again so what again so what again); he’s a late-inning defender with a bit of pop who would be overexposed in a bigger role than that. Conceptually, a trade like the one Seattle made on Monday to get Jesse Winker from the Reds would have worked well as the cost of bringing him in from Cincinnati was greatly reduced by the Mariners’ willingness to take third baseman Eugenio Suarez. and the roughly $35 million he is owed through 2024. But Suarez’s money would have been problematic after 2022 without a place to play him, and the idea makes even less sense if Rangers were asked to part ways with, say, Hearn, Taveras, Cole Winn and a fourth player. (a package roughly equivalent to what Seattle paid).
Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds and Arizona’s Ketel Marte would be even more prohibitive in terms of prospects. The Padres would like someone to take Wil Myers, but unless they’re willing to put a premium prospect like outfielder Robert Hassell in the deal, you’d think they’d have to pay nearly the full 23.5 million dollars that Myers is guaranteed with a buyout in 2023 to get the attention of another team, especially one that doesn’t expect to win this year.
How about the undressed A’s Ramon Laureano, now that Cristian Pache (part of the Braves’ package to get first baseman Matt Olson on Monday) is set to settle in as the new center back? Yes, he has 27 days left on Laureano’s league suspension for PED, and, yes, he’s returning from season-ending hernia surgery. All things considered, the cost shouldn’t be terribly high, and I’ve proven with my dumb Marisnick spitballs over the years that I have an unhealthy cult of outfield defense. Laureano is only 27 and can do some things offensively as well.
There will surely be one or two more veteran relievers, like last year’s addition of Ian Kennedy (he’s already signed with Arizona) who can add stability and leadership (and business value) to the bullpen. But Texas isn’t going to pay millions for anyone in that role.
Rotation, however, is another story. Perez was the first addition but probably not the last. With Clayton Kershaw no longer an option for 2022, the ideal situation would be to target and land an undervalued starter on a multi-year contract, giving the pitcher the opportunity to redefine himself in Texas in the style of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. all of them did (and they hope Gray does soon). Could Tyler Anderson be that guy? The 32-year-old pitched in relative obscurity during a six-year career in the Colorado, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Seattle rotations, delivering league-average results.
What if we get creative and greedy, and bounce a bigger idea out of Oakland, offering right-hander Owen White, one of infielders Justin Foscue and Ezequiel Duran, and older pitching prospect like Kyle Cody or Jake Latz for right-hander Frankie Montas (controllable for two seasons) and Laureano?
The alternative to finding a veteran starter for the top half of the rotation is to go with a younger group, mixing up pitchers like Allard, Latz, AJ Alexy, Spencer Howard, Yerry Rodriguez, Cody Bradford, Zak Kent and, s healthy, Cody and Brock Burke. (Not Jack Leiter, and probably not Winn either, at least until the second half.)
Or – and I’m going to file this story with my editor before I think too much about it, because I’m likely to cut the first 90 percent of my draft and make it the lede if I’m not careful – the Les Rangers could offer two years and a sizable amount of money to Zack Greinke, whom I once coveted in a way (and in a volume) that Jake Marisnick can only dream of.
Ending this month of mayhem with, say, Charlie Culberson, Ramon Laureano and Zack Greinke wouldn’t be among the contenders for Rangers in 2022. That’s beside the point. The goal is not to overexpose the young players they have in place and perhaps extract some production from a few veterans who can help mentor their young teammates, and maybe even give Rangers a business opportunity on the road. Not the hottest plot I’m aware of. But after enduring a long cold winter with the stove off, I’m just happy to see it working again.
Jamey Newberg covers Rangers for StrongSide. He’s lived in Dallas all his life, with the exception of a…