The one-third mark of the MLB season has passed, enough time that buyer’s remorse already is, at minimum, a concept for the Phillies with Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million), the Twins with Carlos Correa (six years, $200 million) and the Yankees with Carlos Rodon (six years, $162 million).
The Cardinals ignored industry-wide concerns that Willson Contreras should not be playing catcher and the White Sox ignored warnings that Andrew Benintendi lacked power. They each received a five-year pact, Contreras’ for $87.5 million and Benintendi’s for $75 million. St. Louis temporarily has removed Contreras from catching. Benintendi entered the weekend with the most plate appearances in MLB without a homer, 222.
Want to go back a year to when the Red Sox (Trevor Story) and Tigers (Javier Baez) each made a six-year, $140 million commitment to a shortstop both organizations have been lamenting ever since?
This is offered not just as a reminder that big-time free agency comes with a significant miss rate — hey look, Kris Bryant is on the Rockies’ injured list again — but that one reason the Rangers began the weekend with the best 55-game record in their history (35-20) and the majors’ second-best mark in 2023 was due to a high hit rate on nearly $850 million spent in free agency the past two offseasons.
The Rangers invested big in Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray after the 2021 season, and in Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney after the 2022 season, with Martin Perez also accepting their $19.65 million qualifying offer.
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At this moment, a case can be made for Semien as the AL MVP and for Eovaldi as the Cy Young winner. And the contributions from the others have been strong or, in the case of deGrom, deGrom-like — in that he pitched very well until he hurt his arm. So now the Rangers will try to nurse their $185 million investment so that deGrom can be peaking in August and September and, the organization hopes, in its first postseason appearance since 2016.
Among the most vital free-agent signings was three-time champion Bruce Bochy to manage. His hiring by second-year general manager Chris Young after six straight losing seasons screamed as loudly as the free-agent budget that this was not a subtle rebuilding process.
Bochy was essentially forestalling an eventual Hall of Fame selection, and he wasn’t going to do that for just any team. He believed what Young was selling, that the Rangers could win. So he entered this weekend at 2,038 wins, two shy of Walter Alston to move into the top 10 all-time, and with a 2 ¹/₂-game lead in the AL West.
“Their starting pitching is very good, and I don’t know if that is getting a lot of recognition,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, whose club lost two of three to Texas last month. “And their offense is elite. Their offense leads the league in a lot of categories. They can beat you in a ton of ways, and when you are playing them, it can happen really fast because they can really impact the ball.”
Texas was averaging 6.3 runs per game heading into Friday. If that holds, it would be the most since the 1950 Red Sox, who averaged 6.7. It is not just the under-the-radar Semien and now-healthy Seager. Third baseman Josh Jung, the eighth-overall draft pick in 2019, lost development time to a torn labrum last year, but is now the AL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. He regularly hits fifth in front of productive first baseman Nathaniel Lowe and right fielder Adolis Garcia.
Shortstop Ezequiel Duran, a key player Texas received from the Yankees in the Joey Gallo trade, was emerging (.301, seven homers, .855 OPS in 40 games) before he incurred an oblique injury. The Rangers intend to play him regularly when he returns.
“I think the strengths of the Rangers are sustainable and really good,” said an executive from another recent opponent, who asked not to be named. “The lineup is diverse. You can’t pitch it one way. You can’t think you are getting through the really strong top six and you are good. Leody Taveras is emerging. So was Duran. It is the best offense we have seen this year.”
And the Rangers’ 3.68 ERA was sixth in the majors, with a 3.28 rotation ERA that was second only to the Rays (3.13). Eovaldi has been performing like a two-year, $34 million bargain. The veteran righty has increased the usage and effectiveness of his cutter to give him a greater weapon, especially against lefties. He had a 2.54 ERA — just 1.38 in his past eight starts. Dane Dunning has stepped in well for deGrom, who is a wild card.
DeGrom was striking out 39.1 percent of batters faced when he was placed on the injured list April 29 with an inflamed right elbow. He had been throwing bullpens. But the Rangers understood deGrom was a five-year, $185 million risk when they signed him, and that the quest was to have him healthy and pitching well late in seasons.
Like the Mets early last season, the Rangers are enduring well without deGrom. But they know their bullpen will have to be addressed. Bochy’s strengths as a manager include his presence, calmness and reputation for manipulating his relief corps. And Will Smith has rebounded nicely as a low-cost veteran closer.
But there is not enough swing-and-miss in the pen. Young, who took over baseball operations in full after last season, will have to find strikeout stuff if the Rangers are going to outdo the Astros (who have won the past five AL West titles in 162-game seasons) and hold off the Angels and Mariners. Since they took three of four from the Yankees on April 27-30, the Rangers (21-10) had the majors’ best record.
“There is no way they do not go out and severely upgrade the bullpen,” the second executive said. “They are good. I think they think they are good. And once you bring in [Bochy] and spend like they spent, you go for it.”