Monday, February 6, 2023 Feb 6, 2023
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The Rangers Just Spent a Bunch of Money. Now They Should Spend Even More of It.

It’s time to put “no half measures” to the test.
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John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Give the Rangers this, if nothing else: however things play out, there can be no more accusing them of financial austerity. Not when they blow past expectations and hand 31-year-old Marcus Semien a seven-year deal worth $175 million—a full year and $37 million over the highest projection. Not when they pay low-end starting outfield money to 34-year-old Kole Calhoun, whose last good season outside of the shortened 2020 pandemic year was 2016. And not when they end the day with a four-year, $56 million commitment to Colorado Rockies righthander Jon Gray. The total damage is $236.2 million, a staggering number for a franchise that has been scrimping on the open market since their last playoff appearance, in 2016.

Now they should go even further. Much further.

Since late July, I’ve heard Jon Daniels’ voice whenever the Texas Rangers flutter to mind. Three words, in particular: “No half measures.” Daniels said them the morning after he traded Joey Gallo to the Yankees, and he meant them in regards to whatever shape this rebuild ultimately takes. It’s an appropriate battle cry for a team with a threadbare major league roster and a deep farm system—the Gallo trade helped that along—but shy on ceiling, especially when it comes to bats. Of course the rebuild should be comprehensive. What else would do for a team that lost 100 games for the first time since the 1973?

That speech came to mind once again Sunday as news of the moves trickled in because, right now, the Rangers have engaged in half measures. The Gray deal is an excellent piece of business no matter where a team is in its development cycle: $14 million annually for a proven mid-rotation starter with age (he turned 30 earlier this month) and durability (at least 25 starts in all but one of his full major league seasons since 2016) is money well spent, and that’s before considering whether Texas could coax another gear out of him to become a souped-up version of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor. But Calhoun is little more than a stopgap at a position where Texas desperately needs to unearth some long-term contributors. At one year with a club option for a second, the financial commitment is negligible, but the opportunity cost lies in soaking up plate appearances that could go to a younger free agent or to better gauge the long-term potential of a fringe name on the roster—an Eli White, perhaps—or a midseason call-up.

Then there’s Semien, an objectively great player—back-to-back third-place finishes in AL MVP voting—with the intangibles a young clubhouse sorely needs, but whose best seasons on this contract almost certainly will arrive before the Rangers themselves peak. Fangraphs’ Dan Szymborski estimates the decline to set in as soon as 2024 before truly hitting in 2025, after which point Texas will be chained to Semien’s decline years at $25 million a pop. It’s a curious move for a team barely a calendar year removed from seeing the last of Shin Soo-Choo, another high-end import who arrived in his early 30s only to see his waning production eventually hamstring Texas’ self-imposed budget. The calculus was more understandable then, at least; the Rangers were racing against time to win a World Series before their aging core hit irrelevance. In the current context, the move comes off as a now player for a later roster, a baseball get-rich-quick scheme for a team devoid of the on-field talent to see it through. Why the urgency?

Again, a curious move—unless the plan is to go even further. Multiple reports circulated Sunday night that Texas was prepared to double up in the big-money shortstop pool, shelling out for Colorado’s Trevor Story or, even better, the Dodgers’ Corey Seager (then bouncing Semien to second base). It would be dramatic, seismic, a statement market unlike anything the Rangers have undertaken since the winter of A-Rod in 2000. It would kill any talk of an Astros- or Cubs-esque rebuild, the patient stockpiling of a young, age-aligned, cost-controlled core.

Yet with nearly a quarter of a billion already on the felt, it is precisely what Texas should do. The Rangers have to give the baseball ecosystem an even greater jolt, and Seager or Story would achieve that better than any signing since Adrian Beltre. And Texas shouldn’t stop there, either. Take Jamey Newberg up on one of his trade suggestions and flip some of the newly superfluous prospect depth in the middle infield to Oakland for Matt Olson, the big bopping first baseman Nathaniel Lowe aspires to be but no longer would have time to mature into. Bring home native son Clayton Kershaw while they’re at it, for the short-term boost atop the rotation and, even more, the cultural cachet of the greatest baseball player Dallas as ever produced finishing his career at home. Maybe shell out for Seiya Suzuki, too, because fiscal irresponsibility in sports goes hand in hand with fun and vibes.

All of that still wouldn’t be enough to make the Rangers contenders overnight. The rotation would remain too patchy, the bullpen too suspect, the holes in the outfield and behind the plate too glaring. So they’d need to do even more spending next summer, at which point the jewels of the minor league pitching crop—Jack Leiter, Cole Winn, Ricky Vanasco—will be knocking on Globe Life Field’s door.

Even then, there are no guarantees. If Semien bottoms out sooner than expected, or Josh Jung isn’t the plug-and-play third base prospect he’s widely presumed to be, or they can’t find anything close to a capable outfield mix, or Gray/Kershaw/whoever don’t become veteran ballast in the rotation, or if a half dozen other things don’t slide into place, Texas could wind up on the misaligned path that dooms teams to mediocrity: paying for aging big names without enough young talent to supplement the production. That’s how the Angels have floundered while possessing the two best hitters in the sport.

But in seven hours’ time, the Rangers made their bed. They have chosen boldness, and there can be no turning back now. Spending lavishly isn’t enough; they only need to look 21 years in the rearview mirror to confirm as much. Spending comprehensively might be. At this point, anything less would be a half measure. And the most powerful executive in their building knows better than anyone how little that will get them.

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