ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers 2021 season is now over. While the baseball world prepares for postseason play, Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, general manager Chris Young, manager Chris Woodward, and the rest of club leadership are putting the finishing touches on their game plan for attacking the offseason.
Changes are sure to be made to the coaching staff (Woodward hinted at it as much as he could behind the mic in a formal Zoom call), but even more changes are expected to made regarding the roster. Decisions regarding the 40-man roster will be a burden in and of itself, with the 40 players currently on it, the eight players that have to come off the 60-day Injured List, then comes the decisions regarding the plethora of Rule 5 eligible prospects that will either be protected with a 40-man spot or be exposed to a potential plucking by another organization.
After all of that comes free agency and trades (all of which hinges on the league and players agreeing to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in a timely fashion). Daniels, Young and Woodward have all been forthright in the club's intention to be "very active" in free agency. We'll get further clarification later this week when the trio wraps up the 2021 season with the media. But for now, we're going to take a very early look at what the 2022 Opening Day roster will look like.
We started with this nearly a month ago. This projection series will likely get a few makeovers during the winter, but we're taking a stab at it anyway.
You may scoff at the free agent additions. But remember, the Rangers have only $28 million on the books for next season. Even adding $100 million in payroll would rank 14th in MLB and sit only $9 million over league average, according to 2021's Opening Day payrolls.
Also, it's not my money. So I'm spending it until I know whether or not these targets are realistic.
Catcher: Jose Trevino
1.0 Prediction: Jose Trevino
There was a time during the season where Jonah Heim supplanted Jose Trevino as the primary catcher. But Trevino began the 2021 season as the No. 1 guy, and he finished as the No. 1 guy. This will be a battle in spring training, especially if the Rangers opt to add a free agent catcher. But for now, all signs point to Trevino being the go-to guy to start 2022.
While Heim's bat is a bit more dangerous (hitting 10 home runs in 82 games), Trevino edged Heim in just about every major offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+, hits, doubles and total bases — all while appearing in only nine more games than Heim.
Trevino and Heim are also neck-and-neck in terms of stealing strikes, with Heim edging Trevino in pitch framing. However, Trevino has a leadership quality that is highly valued by the coaching staff. His rapport with the pitching staff can't go unnoticed either.
That all being said, Chris Woodward was very blunt about the lack of offensive output. There has to be more next season. It's why a free agent or trading for a controllable catcher is not entirely out of the question, though the free agent class is significantly older. Any addition would be a short-term fix, which seems counterproductive.
For now, Trevino is the guy. We'll see where we are come early December.
First Base: Nathaniel Lowe
1.0 Prediction: Nathaniel Lowe
All in all, it wasn't a bad year at all for Nathaniel Lowe. It was his first full season as an everyday first baseman in the big leagues, and he finished with a 2.3 bWAR, which was good enough for third-highest by players who ended the season on the roster.
When he was taking the league by storm in April, Lowe earned Mark Teixeira comparisons. Now, he's not anywhere close to that level or reputation yet, especially with the glove. However, Lowe's first full season in the Major Leagues and Teixeira's rookie year aren't all that different.
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Lowe obviously didn't slug nearly as much as Teixeira did as a rookie, but Lowe's discipline at the plate is a wonderful trait for a young player. And with the bat, Lowe can spray the ball to all fields. His biggest issue at the plate is hitting the ball on the ground at a high level. He improved over the final month by hitting the ball in the air more, and it showed in the box score, registering a .873 OPS and .493 slugging percentage in his final 42 games of the season.
The defense is still a bit of a worry, especially if Lowe ends up not being a true threat at the plate. But if he takes off with the bat, he could also earn at-bats as a DH in 2022 and beyond.
Lowe has definitely done enough this season to earn another crack at playing everyday at first base. However, as the Rangers are gearing up for improvement in the win-loss column next year, there has to be tangible improvement in order for him to keep his job.
Second Base: Isiah Kiner-Falefa
1.0 Prediction: Isiah Kiner-Falefa
For the majority of the season, Isiah Kiner-Falefa looked like the favorite to win the Gold Glove at shortstop. However, he slipped a bit over the final month and a half of the season and Houston's Carlos Correa surpassed him in a number of defensive categories. Kiner-Falefa will still likely be a finalist, but he's no longer the favorite to take home the award.
But that's not the reason I have Kiner-Falefa at second base. He's a versatile defender capable of playing shortstop, second base and obviously third base, where he won a Gold Glove in 2020.
Despite the severe struggle in the middle of the season, Kiner-Falefa had a decent season at the plate. He's never going to be a high-OPS guy, but he's a potential .280-to-.295 hitter who can spray the ball to all fields. That can play in today's era, but as a bottom-third-of-the-order hitter.
As for his defensive positioning, well...
Third Base: Josh Jung
1.0 Prediction: Josh Jung
I'm buying in to the Josh Jung hype. After he displayed the ability to pull the ball with power at the alternate training site in 2020, we all waited to see how it would translate to games in 2021.
The foot injury set him back, and probably delayed his call to The Show by a season. But Jung did nothing but hit along the line at the two top levels of the minor leagues this season.
In 78 games between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, Jung slashed .326/.398/.592/.990 with 19 home runs and 61 RBI. He's as ready as he'll ever be for the big leagues.
Finally, with a full season of professional baseball under his belt, Jung will go into big league camp next year with a spot on the Opening Day roster within his grasp. I'm predicting he wins an starting spot outright. With the Rangers looking to add free agent pieces this winter, he'll be coming into a much better situation than the rookies did in 2021. And in all honesty, the Rangers need to do that to fully aid in his development. Jung can't be out on an island like Adolis García was this season.
Shortstop: Carlos Correa
1.0 Prediction: Carlos Correa
Many of you Rangers fans may not like it, but I've been saying it for a couple months now and I'm sticking with it. I've already said Correa should be the Rangers' top priority this winter. His age fits the Rangers timeline. He would not only add a great bat to the lineup, but can slot in at shortstop, giving the Rangers two Gold Glove-caliber shortstops on the roster.
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In addition, he can give the Rangers a much needed boost in attitude and swagger. If the Rangers are truly going to compete in two or three years, they need a guy like Correa.
For those refusing the idea because he's an Astro or because of the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, I challenge you to boo the man the moment he hits a game-winning home run at Globe Life Field in Rangers red, white and blue.
As for the money, it would take likely at least eight years and $250 million to get Correa to think about Arlington. He will only be entering his age 27 season in 2022, so eight years is not a bad place to start at all.
One little footnote on shortstop: Do not be surprised if the Rangers prioritize Corey Seager over the rest of the shortstop class in free agency. The Rangers lineup is increasingly becoming more and more right-handed, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the ties to Chris Woodward's days in the Dodger organization play a role in pursuing Seager. He may be the best hitter in the class, and he's only one year older than Correa.
Left Field: Willie Calhoun
1.0 Prediction: DJ Peters
Willie Calhoun has had the worst luck of any player I've covered. Granted, this is only my second year covering the Rangers, but I can't imagine another player having a worse two-year stretch than Calhoun.
Fair or unfair, 2022 might be Calhoun's last chance. The Rangers have very intriguing hitters coming through the farm that can start vying for big league at-bats as early as next season. Calhoun has to not only stay healthy, but perform while in the lineup. I believe he'll get one more crack at it next spring.
Center Field: DJ Peters
1.0 Prediction: Leody Taveras
DJ Peters was already intriguing to Rangers management before claiming him off waivers in August. And while the consistency is still lacking, he flashed his potential several times over the final two months of the season.
The .197/.242/.422/.633 slash line needs improvement in order to stick. If the Rangers succeed in bringing in a bat or two, Peters will find himself in a better situation at the plate. However, with Leody Taveras potentially nipping at his heels, along with prospects like Bubba Thompson or Steele Walker, the leash won't be very long for Peters.
Center field isn't his ideal spot, but his defensive ability allows him to play any of the three outfield positions. Don't be surprised if the Rangers make a play for a veteran who can take at-bats in center field as well.
As far as things go with Leody Taveras, it's probably best that he go back to Triple A. He's only 22 years old and clearly still has some things to figure out at the plate. No need to rush him. 2023 may be more realistic for when he can become a real contributor to the big league squad.
Right Field: Adolis García
1.0 Prediction: Adolis García
Adolis García is the closest thing to a lock for next season. He could very well win the American League Rookie of the Year. However, he still has a bit of proving to do. After a very strong start to the season, García was up and down the rest of the way.
In his first 64 games, García slashed .276/.308/.552/.860 with 20 home runs and 52 RBI. In the 62 games thereafter, he's slashed .214/.280/.399/.679 with nine home runs and 26 RBI. He bounced back a bit over the final month of the season, capturing several Rangers rookie single-season records, but didn't even finish with the highest OPS on the team.
Even so, his overall body of work has earned him another look next season, especially in right field, where he could very well win a Gold Glove. Will he improve upon an All-Star season as a 28-year-old rookie? That's a question to which the Rangers must find the answer.
Designated Hitter: Nick Castellanos
1.0 Prediction: Willie Calhoun
Here's the second splash of the winter (for now). Although, in order to lure a Correa or Seager to Texas, the Rangers might have to lure Nick Castellanos here first.
It's not a sure thing that Castellanos will be a free agent, but he can opt out of his four-year, $64 million contract this winter after putting up career numbers (.309/.362/.576/.939, 34 home runs, 100 RBI) in his age 28 season with the Cincinnati Reds.
The Rangers could throw $25 million per year at Castellanos and offer him a guaranteed spot as a DH or corner outfielder (though the new CBA will likely usher in the DH in the National League). Castellanos has a lot to be desired as a defender, so his long-term future may be as a full-time DH.
The situation with Castellanos reminds me of J.D. Martinez, a guy who really broke through after a few years in the big leagues and became a regular threat in the lineup as a DH.
The Rangers, especially Chris Woodward, coveted Castellanos in the 2019-20 offseason, and sources indicate the pair hit it off during negotiations, but the Reds came in and overmatched the Rangers on the price. If the Rangers can match any suitor on the price tag, Castellanos could very well become a Ranger next season if the interest is still there.
Opening Day Lineup
- 2B Isiah Kiner-Falefa (R)
- 1B Nathaniel Lowe (L)
- SS Carlos Correa (R)
- DH Nick Castellanos (R)
- RF Adolis García (R)
- 3B Josh Jung (R)
- LF Willie Calhoun (L)
- CF DJ Peters (R)
- C Jose Trevino (R)
Bench: C Jonah Heim, INF Nick Solak, INF Andy Ibáñez, INF-OF Chris Taylor
1.0 Prediction: Jonah Heim, Nick Solak, Eli White
Jonah Heim nearly matches Trevino in ability to receive behind the plate and steal strikes for the pitching staff. He may also have the better arm, and has more potential to impact games with the bat. But until that really comes through, Trevino's game-calling and leadership may take precedence.
If the Rangers land Correa, that gives them two shortstops who can play the position at a high level defensively. That allows guys like Nick Solak and Andy Ibáñez — who are both versatile in their own ways — the opportunity to earn at-bats off the bench. Ibáñez is especially intriguing after posting a .756 OPS and 1.8 bWAR in only 76 games.
Here come the Chris Woodward-Dodger ties again. Chris Taylor is someone who the Rangers skipper has spoken highly of when comparing Eli White (who won't be able to play until the latter stages on spring training) to him earlier this season. Taylor could be an affordable and versatile veteran that would bring a ton of value to the Rangers.
However, if the price of Correa/Seager, Castellanos and whatever external pieces are brought in for the pitching staff prove to be too expensive, I could see a situation where Charlie Culberson, Brock Holt or a similar player are brought in on a cheap deal as a nice character guy in the clubhouse.
Rangers roster projection 2.0.2 will come out later this week to predict the 2022 pitching staff...
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