Winter Meetings Preview: It has been a long time since it was like this for Texas


SAN DIEGO — It hasn’t been like this in a while. Maybe not ever.

Set aside for a moment the fact that there haven’t even been Winter Meetings the last two seasons. The last time the baseball world descended on one locale (coincidentally, it was also San Diego in 2019), the Rangers were four months away from debuting a brand-new stadium. As a result, they weren’t leaning into a full tear-down rebuild, but trying to patch together a passably-good team to give fans a reason to darken the doors. Texas made just one move during those meetings — a trade of Nomar Mazara to the White Sox for Steele Walker.

Oh, that wasn’t their only move of the offseason. Much like this year, they signed a starting pitcher just a couple days before. But — no disrespect intended to top-tier human being Kyle Gibson — it wasn’t quite to the same degree as this year’s acquisition of Jacob deGrom. The day after the meetings that year, they signed another starting pitcher: Jordan Lyles. A few days later, they made the fateful trade for Corey Kluber, which was exciting at the time, even if Kluber did only pitch one regular-season inning in a Rangers uniform.

But by and large, those meetings were defined for the Rangers as much by the moves they didn’t make — they were rumored to be interested in third baseman Anthony Rendon, and Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees — as by the ones they did.

Take it back a year to the 2018 meetings in Las Vegas, and it was another week of relative inactivity: their only relatively-major acquisition was to draft Jordan Romano in the Rule 5 draft (he was eventually returned to the Blue Jays). Meanwhile, Drew Robinson and Alex Claudio were jettisoned in trades.

2017 in Orlando? After signing Mike Minor before the meetings, Texas made a couple of minor acquisitions: Carlos Tocci and Kevin Jepsen.

2016 in Washington D.C.? Luke Jackson was traded to the Braves, and Mike Hauschild was a Rule 5 pick.

2015. Nashville. Minor-league deals only.

2014. San Diego. Delino DeShields was acquired in the Rule 5 draft.

2013: Orlando. The Rangers signed J.P. Arencibia (though they would later sign Shin-Soo Choo).

2012: Nashville. This was the last time the Rangers made a big splash at the Winter Meetings, and it was by trading Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies.

I’m not going any further back. A decade is long enough.

The point is that for the first time in a long time, the Rangers are right there in the conversation when it comes to the most interesting storylines of the Winter Meetings. Sure, it’s going to be Aaron Judge Watch first and foremost, but even after the deGrom signing, the rumor mill seems to indicate that the Rangers aren’t done. Before last offseason, the word from the front office was that they planned on embarking on a multi-year addition process that would bulk up their payroll to a level commensurate with their market size.

DFW is the fifth-biggest media market in the country, and even after the deGrom signing, the Rangers currently have just $138 million committed for 2023 — though that amount accounts for just eight players, since all the arbitration and pre-arb salaries haven’t officially been decided. Per Spotrac, their projected 2023 payroll is $164,576,747. The 2023 luxury tax threshold is $233 million, meaning — assuming Ray Davis is as willing to spend as he has made it seem — they still have some wiggle room.

So what are we looking for this week in San Diego? Nothing we haven’t talked about before, but here’s a quick refresher:

More starting pitching

The Rangers may have set the market with the deGrom signing. The traditional thinking was that three years would be the most sensible contract for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, but that someone would probably give him four. The Rangers gave him five, and with the exception of 2023 ($30 million), none of them are at a particularly discounted rate ($40m, $40m, $38m, $37m). The general sense on Carlos Rodón is that a five-year deal worth somewhere in the $135 million range (AAV of $27 million per year) makes the most sense. Does that mean the Rangers will have to go six or seven years now?

The Rangers could go a bit cheaper with Kodai Senga, but — while advanced metrics and Statcast data have closed a bit of the information gap on scouting foreign players — there’s always going to be the question with any expat: how will he fare against MLB hitters?

If Rodón ends up pricing himself out of the ahem Rangers’ range, perhaps the next-most attractive option would be one of deGrom’s former teammates: Chris Bassitt has gone 42-20 with a 3.31 ERA and a 3.75 FIP over the last four years, the first three of which were as a member of the Oakland A’s before a trade to the Mets in March. He’s said to be seeking a deal over three years, which isn’t insignificant since he’s 33 years old.

Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon, Noah Syndergaard and Taijuan Walker are all lurking a bit lower on the free-agent lists, but there’s a sense the Rangers are looking for another splashy move here.

Just forget about Verlander. Just about every rumor has him going to the Mets or Dodgers. That’s fine, as long as he’s out of the AL West, that’s good news for the Rangers.

There’s also the trade market, but everything has been pretty quiet on that front after some rumblings during the GM meetings that Texas might be a good fit with the Brewers or Marlins. They still would be, but if they have the budget to address this in free agency, it would look pretty nifty to hold on to all their top prospects and make this window of contention a bit more sustainable (something president of baseball operations and general manager Chris Young has emphasized in just about every interview over the last few months).

Left field

While I maintain that Bubba Thompson has the potential to be an everyday left fielder, the rumor mill won’t stop connecting them to free-agent outfielders, so there’s likely something there.

Bryan Reynolds recently requested a trade from the Pirates, and at 27 years old, he would make a lot of sense for the Rangers. He has a career slash line of .281/.361/.481 (.842 OPS) and has hit a combined 51 home runs over the last two seasons. The Pirates released a statement that amounted to “nah.” but that might have been nothing more than posturing to help salvage their leverage in trade talks. Reynolds wouldn’t be cheap, but he’d be a great fit in Texas: a good defender with excellent production, and a switch-hitter, to boot.

That part is important. It wasn’t so long ago that the Rangers had a glut of left-handed hitters: Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzmán, Rougned Odor, Willie Calhoun… all of them are gone now. Currently, the Rangers have just two left-handed bats in their projected lineup (Nathaniel Lowe, Corey Seager) and a switch-hitter in Leody Taveras — two if you count Jonah Heim, who should get a lot of reps as Mitch Garver’s backup. As a result, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rangers go get one of Seager’s former teammates Cody Bellinger on a one-year pillow deal. If that’s what happens, it would make deGrom’s $30 million salary in 2023 make a whole lot more sense.

If Bellinger is too much of a risk, they could take a safer option in Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo doesn’t have the upside of Bellinger or Reynolds, but he did reach base at a .367 clip last year, which looks very tantalizing ahead of Seager, Marcus Semien, Lowe and RBI machine Adolis García.

Mitch Haniger is available as well, and he hit 39 home runs as recently as 2021. A high ankle sprain limited him to 57 games last year, though that isn’t expected to be a lingering injury. One potential red flag: Haniger hasn’t had an on-base percentage over .318 since 2018. He’s also a right-handed hitter. My guess is the Rangers will exhaust their negotiating powers with Bellinger and the Pirates before they turn to Haniger.


There’s always a surprise move or two, especially when a team is jockeying for a playoff spot. Trade markets are only stagnant until they’re not, and sometimes — especially at the Winter Meetings, when everyone is in the same building — they come together quickly. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rangers address their bullpen, which currently projects to be: José Leclerc, Jonathan Hernández, Brock Burke, Taylor Hearn, Joe Barlow, Brett Martin, John King, and a spot that could be any one of Yerry Rodriguez, Josh Sborz, Spencer Howard, Chase Lee, or a number of others. That’s a lot of left-handers, so a right-handed reliever would make a lot of sense.

And of course, while the draft won’t happen until the All-Star break, the lottery to determine the draft order also happens on Tuesday — that’s a new thing this year. Texas had the seventh-worst record in baseball last year, giving them a 5.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick.

Buckle in, it should be a busy week.

(Photo of Carlos Rodón: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)


Related posts

Leave a Comment