The Mariners, as usual, are doing Jerry Dipoto things, finding rival GMs to play fantasy baseball with. The Astros are reliably waiting out the clock, probably biding their time before paying a desperate free agent or flipping overhyped prospects for an aged, win-now veteran. The Angels seem poised, as is their wont, to emerge from their perch as finalists for all sorts of players and pay one of them too much for the injured-list time he will swallow up over the next however-many seasons. The A’s are earning offseason F’s.
Yet as their AL West foes continue to operate on script, the Rangers—coming off a season like no other in franchise history—have been far quieter this winter than the last two, which were loudly instrumental in putting a five-year team-building process over the top. That, of course, could change in an instant, with more than a month still to go before spring training and plenty of impact free agents and rebuilding teams with attractive trade pieces out there. But for now the Rangers have gone from setting the market and the tone the past two offseasons to a team that, at best, appears to be laying in wait to fill at least one significant void: someone to plug into the front end of the rotation.
The easiest scenario to draw up for such a move would be a reunion with Jordan Montgomery, the July pickup who helped lead the Rangers to the title while boosting his own market value in the process. Though the Rangers have signed Tyler Mahle, who has proven to be a playoff starter when healthy, he is recovering from Tommy John surgery and joins Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer as pitchers who won’t be available for most, if not, all of the first half. Even if Scherzer didn’t need mid-December back surgery, the rotation seemed short one dependable starter; now, there’s no “seem” about it. Taking Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning, and Cody Bradford to camp gives Texas an acceptable starting five. But with very little immediate depth behind those five, the Rangers are surely in the market for a new face to start one of the three season-opening games against the Cubs at the end of March.
Scherzer and Heaney have only 2024 left on their contracts. Eovaldi might, too: if he pitches 156 innings in 2024, his 2025 club option converts to a player option. Not that the Rangers need any extra incentive beyond defending their title and chasing another one this year—but the possibility of having just one more season with Eovaldi and Scherzer probably adds a level of urgency.
The Diamond Sports Group bankruptcy could be to blame for putting restraints on whatever blueprint the Rangers took into the winter. A mid-December hearing between the company and MLB provided no resolution in terms of the Rangers’ broadcasting deal for 2024—a contract that was worth $111 million annually before regional sports network entered Chapter 11—but the two sides are expected to reconvene in court on Wednesday. The New York Post reports that the Rangers “may get a one-time payment of about $90 million” as part of a settlement agreement. Perhaps the Rangers—if not Montgomery and his agent Scott Boras themselves—are waiting for that to firm up and, afterward, there is a deal to be done.
A “person with knowledge of the Yankees’ thinking” tells NJ.com that New York expects Montgomery to return to the Rangers and not the Yankees, his original team. If that’s the belief, maybe it’s because such a deal is teed up, pending resolution of the bankruptcy proceeding and the 2024 revenue certainty for the Rangers that would come with it.
And if not? It seems unlikely the Rangers would decline to meet Montgomery’s price and opt instead to pay more for Blake Snell, not to mention forfeit their second- and fifth-round picks in this summer’s amateur draft plus another $1 million from their international bonus pool for signing another team’s free agent (who was tendered a qualifying offer). A trade for Dylan Cease? Possible, but the White Sox should have enough suitors that it will probably take an overpay in prospects. The Marlins are in a similar position if they’re listening on Jesus Luzardo or Edward Cabrera.
Corbin Burnes or Shane Bieber? Both are one-year commodities, and it seems that ponying up a significant package of prospects for Burnes in particular only makes sense if you can extend him long-term immediately, as the Dodgers did with Tyler Glasnow last month. The risk with Bieber is different but no less significant. The 28-year-old’s stuff has backed up considerably the last couple of seasons, and parting with a lot to get him would seem less dependent on getting a contract extension than on adding another starting pitcher along with him, to minimize the risk that paying in prospects for one year of Bieber wasn’t enough to get the Rangers to the second half in good win-loss shape.
Though he figures in as a potential DH option, Justin Foscue—who will be 25 when the season starts—may be on the trading block, if not now then in July. If a team believes in Jack Leiter’s final-month surge in 2023 or is willing to overlook the step back Owen White took in his development, there could be opportunities to move one or both pitchers for more immediate help that makes sense.
But the challenge is you can only trade those players once. Maybe that means moving Foscue and Leiter—if not Leody Taveras or Nathaniel Lowe—to address the rotation, and if it helps lead to another playoff run, there won’t be any regrets. No matter what becomes of Tekoah Roby, Thomas Saggese, and Luisangel Acuna, using them to acquire Montgomery and Scherzer resulted in history of the best kind. But if the Rangers had traded Saggese a year earlier for, say, Noah Syndergaard? Then maybe someone else beats them on the Montgomery trade with St. Louis, or they have to part with another frontline prospect at a position of less depth.
Last year the Rangers went into the season hoping to be major players at the trade deadline. This year they probably hope not to be. If they’re still in the race by time the All-Star Game rolls into Arlington, they should have deGrom, Scherzer, and Mahle back in action or on the verge of it. No team will have a stronger rotation infusion at that point, no matter how aggressive it is on the trade market. The Rangers, if they’re in the race, will probably look to add bullpen help in July, and maybe a bench bat. That’s what contenders do. As long as they’re reasonably healthy, though, they may not need to swing big.
But they have to get there.
And maybe, like their division bunkmates, the Rangers are conducting business as usual this winter after all—just in another way. They haven’t yet grabbed headlines like they did before the 2022 and ’23 seasons, but the Rangers always operated in stealth under Jon Daniels, and Chris Young has given us no reason to believe that has changed. Maybe they’re firmly in on Montgomery, just waiting for some TV deal clarity. Maybe they have a competitive trade offer on the table for Cease, and the White Sox are holding out until Snell and Montgomery are off the market and they believe they can maximize Cease’s value.
Eovaldi signed in the final days of December a year ago. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli arrived in January the first time Texas was coming off a World Series. It’s too early to put a grade on the Rangers’ offseason. Unless you want to slap an “incomplete” on it.