First, the bad news. Diamond Sports Group, parent company of Bally Sports Southwest, the television rights partner of the Rangers, Mavericks, and Stars, is bankrupt. Not the “we’re gonna file some paperwork and move some stuff around and kinda just do what we’ve been doing in perpetuity” sort of bankruptcy, either. Actual “we really have no money and we need to divest assets sooner than later” bankruptcy.
And in the Rangers’ case, it’s looking especially soon: last month, The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov and Evan Drellich reported Diamond might terminate its agreement with the team prior to the 2024 season. The good news for Ranger fans is whatever arrangement comes next almost certainly will make it easier to watch their favorite baseball team. The less-good news is the current rights arrangement reportedly pays Texas around $111 million annually, which is a lot of revenue to lose out on at least in the interim of finding a new agreement. (We’ll have more about this on StrongSide next week.)
Now, I could give you a whole spiel about how Ray Davis and the rest of the Rangers’ ownership group carry billions of dollars in combined net worth regardless, which ought to make it something of an obligation to keep splashing cash in a top-five media market, especially as the Rangers prepare to defend the first World Series championship in franchise history. But neither you nor I is naïve enough to believe that’s how it actually works, particularly when Davis and Co. ran four years of middle-of-the-pack payrolls prior to splurging on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jacob deGrom, and more over the past two offseasons.
In other words, prepare for belt-tightening at least until a new TV deal is secured. What that means, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, is the Rangers “seem unlikely to bring back left-hander Jordan Montgomery,” which is Not Ideal considering the 30-year-old’s integral role in the World Series run as well as the gaping hole his departure would leave in a rotation that already will be down deGrom for most of the season and should not depend on a full season of starts from Max Scherzer, either, given that he turns 40 in July and has already weathered two injuries with the Rangers despite only arriving at the trade deadline.
What it might also mean, Rosenthal posits, is long-awaited arrival of Clayton Kershaw.
You’ve heard these rumors before, and have for some time. The logic this go-around is threefold. One, when healthy, Kershaw remains one of the game’s best on a per-start basis: his 2.43 ERA would have ranked second in baseball had he pitched enough innings to qualify—he still made 24 starts—while his xFIP (the results he turned in independent of the fielders behind him, along with a normalized home-run rate) would have ranked 12th. A massive caveat: “when healthy” is doing Incredible Hulk-levels of lifting because Kershaw underwent shoulder surgery last month and is no guarantee to pitch again next year, saying in an Instagram statement only that “I am hopeful to return to play at some point next summer.”
But if he can, that leads to the second point. Texas became awfully adept at using bridge starters like Dane Dunning, Jon Gray, and Andrew Heaney to buy innings both in the regular season and the postseason so that the team’s best impact arms could be fresh. Those three, plus Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi, and whoever the team can scare up from the farm system, theoretically can buy Kershaw all kinds of time to be at his best in the stretch run.
Finally, there’s the stuff we’ve told you before. When I sat down with Kershaw for our April cover story, he went into depth about his plan for the remainder of his pitching career. Namely, he’s only pitching for the Rangers or the Dodgers, where he’s spent his entire career to date; he’s only signing one-year deals, which certainly can’t hurt any of Texas’ plans for fiscal austerity; and he’s only pitching if he’s pretty sure he still has it. There is no downside here, in other words. If Kershaw is Kershaw, he’s an upgrade on Montgomery for however many starts he does make. If time has finally taken too much of a toll on his body, there’s no commitment past 2024.
All of which presumes, of course, that he actually wants to come to Arlington instead of retire in Los Angeles. To that end, I’ll refer you to the following:
“The only reason that’s even a consideration is because of the respect I have for the people within that group, especially now that Chris Young is there,” he says of the Rangers’ general manager, a fellow Highland Park alum. “I have a lot of respect for Corey and Marcus, and they just signed deGrom. I love all those guys. … I don’t want to go to a team that’s not going to be good. And I think the Rangers are on that path.”
The Rangers were coming off a 94-loss season when he told me that. Now they’re the best team in baseball, and they figure to remain a damn good one in 2024 even with tighter financial margins. Add in the considerable personal benefits to being home year-round with his wife and four children, which carry more weight with him than the typical athlete of his stature, and, hey, maybe it finally happens this time.
We could be a ways from an answer—there’s no guaranteeing Kershaw even signs in the offseason versus inking a deal midyear when he knows for certain that he wants to pitch. But the circumstances and this being a perpetual two-horse race ensures we’ll be watching for reasons far bigger than sentiment.