ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers 2021 season is now over. While the baseball world carries on with 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.
After Wednesday's end-of-season press conference, we now know the Rangers have every intention of spending "market dollars" on "top players" in free agency. Therefore, I am making these predictions regarding the pitching staff with the additions of Carlos Correa, Nick Castellanos and Chris Taylor from our position player projection already in mind.
Even so, 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. And it's very likely the Rangers won't land all of these free agents. It will be a very competitive market. 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, Jon Daniels said the Rangers' 2022 budget would be "consistent with the market and fan base of this size." So, I'm spending money that a club in a top-five market like Dallas-Fort Worth would spend.
Starter No. 1: LHP Clayton Kershaw
Projection 1.0: Clayton Kershaw
Same as with Carlos Correa and Nick Castellanos, I have the Rangers utilizing free agency with a splashy move in the offseason to add a valuable arm to the starting rotation.
Now, Kershaw missed considerable time with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, and then went down for the entire postseason after re-aggravating his left forearm. It's pretty clear that the 33-year-old is on the back-nine of his career, and it may be too risky to bring him in if the medical reports don't come back with positive news.
That being said, he still posted a 3.55 ERA, 3.00 FIP and 1.02 WHIP in 121 2/3 innings over 22 starts this year. If healthy, even a watered-down Kershaw can still get the job done on the mound. And the injury risk may scare off enough suitors where the Rangers can make an offer attractive enough for the DFW native.
In addition, the Rangers may have home field advantage, not in terms of price or discounts, but in comfort. Prior to the season, Kershaw expressed a desire to spend more time with family. He and his family reside in Dallas during the offseason, and his children are getting closer to school age. With the World Series monkey off his back, the Rangers could offer Kershaw a three-year deal that compensates him well enough while adding a valuable leader with a strong clubhouse presence to help lead a young rotation into years of contention.
Starter No. 2: RHP Dane Dunning
Projection 1.0: Dane Dunning
Being the main piece acquired in the Lance Lynn trade, there were going to be sizable expectations for Dane Dunning. All in all, the Rangers got everything they needed from him this season. Until a trip to the COVID-19 Injured List derailed his season, he was arguably the most consistent starter the Rangers had this year, despite the innings limit put in place to protect his health after barely pitching in two years.
While the 4.51 ERA and 1.44 WHIP don't jump off the page, a 3.94 FIP might better reflect the value Dunning brings to the table. There's definitely room for growth, but with the ability to pitch more innings next year, the Rangers Pitcher of the Year showed more than enough to earn a spot in the 2022 rotation.
Starter No. 3: LHP Taylor Hearn
Projection 1.0: Spencer Howard
This is the story of a guy who straight up seized a job this year. Taylor Hearn came into 2021 with one role and pitched his way into being a full-time starter. Manager Chris Woodward has even called Hearn one of the " biggest bright spots" of the season. In addition, the DFW BBWAA named Hearn the winner of the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man award.
Hearn's growth included changes on the mound, like pitching exclusively out of the stretch. He also added a sinker this year that gave him more confidence to attack the strike zone. The 4.82 FIP might scare off some fans, but the drastic improvement in issuing walks was a huge step in the right direction for Hearn.
Hearn still has to win a starting job in spring training next year, but he'll go into Surprise as one of the favorites.
Starter No. 4: RHP Spencer Howard
Projection 1.0: Taylor Hearn
Fans didn't get the look at Spencer Howard that they wanted this season. The Rangers had to handle him with kid gloves after acquiring him from Philadelphia, and the changes they want to make in his mechanics and delivery may not truly take shape until next year.
However, the Rangers had sought after Howard for quite some time. He was once the No. 1 prospect in the Phillies organization, and Howard flashed the stuff he is capable of in the short time he was able to pitch in a Rangers uniform. But next season will be Howard's first true audition for a permanent spot in the rotation. He'll be able to go through the right offseason program and head into spring training ready to take on a full starter's role.
Howard might have an innings limit of some kind next season due to the lack of innings this year. But like they did with Dane Dunning this season, there is no doubt the Rangers want to get a long look at Howard in the 2022 rotation.
Starter No. 5: RHP Jordan Lyles
Projection 1.0: Kohei Arihara
Don't be surprised if the Rangers look to add multiple starters for the 2022 rotation. The chances of multiple "big splash" signings are unlikely since the Rangers need to utilize free agency and trades to supplement the lineup as well. So while an arm like Marcus Stroman or a risky signing like Noah Syndergaard may sound much more appealing to go along with Kershaw, this is where the Rangers may end up being much more conservative.
Bringing back Jordan Lyles — even on a cheap, one-year deal — won't excite fans. He gave up more home runs than anyone else in Major League Baseball and allowed the second-most runs in the American League. However, he was also one of only 20 pitchers that logged at least 180 innings in 2021. With such a young pitching staff, and more young pitchers on the way, the Rangers need innings. And if they sign Kershaw, which could be risky in and of itself, they need someone who can take the ball every fifth day.
If you're looking for a silver lining with Lyles, he was strong down the stretch, posting a 3.08 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in his final six outings of the season. He also earned the respect of the clubhouse in 2021. Again, this wouldn't be a sexy signing, but it would help lengthen the rotation and help protect valuable young arms. A means to an end, if you will.
Long Reliever: LHP Kolby Allard
Projection 1.0: Kolby Allard
Instead of having A.J. Alexy or Glenn Otto pitch out of the bullpen, the Rangers could have them start the season at Triple-A Round Rock to put some finishing touches in their development. That being said, a lot can happen between now and next April.
Since I currently have Alexy and Otto in Round Rock to start 2022, I have Kolby Allard pitching in a long relief role. It was a bit of an up-and-down year for Allard. There were times when he looked like he had everything figured out. Then there were times we looked like the guy that got rocked in 2020. Even so, he can give the Rangers length and innings next season, which makes him a candidate for an Opening Day spot in 2022.
It will be a critical year for Allard. With more pitching from the pipeline on the way, Allard will need to separate himself and pitch his way into a full-time starting role, much like Taylor Hearn has done this season. If not, he could be left behind.
Rangers History Today: One Strike Away ... Twice
The day started with promise, but by the end of the night, the Texas Rangers felt the pain of failing to clinch a world title.
Report: MLB 'Almost Certain' To Have First Lockout in 26 Years
The Texas Rangers are committed to spend money this offseason, but the expiring CBA may impact their plans.
MLB Free Agency Tracker: Shortstops
Keep up with the latest news, rumors and signings of this winter's class of free agent shortstops.
Middle Relief 1: RHP Josh Sborz
Projection 1.0: Josh Sborz
2021 was an inconsistent season for Josh Sborz. He pitched his way into high-leverage situations early in the season, but couldn't execute as well in those spots. The eventual return of Jonathan Hernández and José Leclerc in the bullpen by June will help deepen the bullpen, giving Sborz an opportunity to pitch in less stressful situations.
The 3.97 ERA and 1.42 WHIP aren't great for a reliever, but he misses a good amount of bats with a 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). Sborz has a lively fastball that the Rangers like. If they can get Sborz to attack hitters more consistently, he could pitch his way into a bigger role in 2022.
Middle Relief 2: LHP John King
Projection 1.0: John King
Injuries derailed John King's 2021 season. But before a shoulder injury shortened his campaign, he was pitching his way into a starter's role before Taylor Hearn got his opportunity.
King has nasty stuff and generates a lot of swings and misses and gets hitters to chase his devastating changeup out of the zone. He could get a chance at a do-over in 2022, starting the season in a relief role. However, the Rangers showed during the trade deadline that they are willing to part with him, as he was initially part of the trade that sent Joey Gallo to New York.
Taking that into account, it's very possible that King could be used as an asset in a trade to address another area of the roster.
Middle Relief 3: RHP Dennis Santana
Projection 1.0: Dennis Santana
Along with DJ Peters, Dennis Santana is another former Dodger that the Rangers swiped during the 2021 season.
Santana has had more big league exposure while wearing a Rangers uniform than he had with the Dodgers. After posting a 6.00 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and 4.8 K/9 in 16 appearances with Los Angeles, Santana earned the trust of manager Chris Woodward as the season went along. In his 39 appearances with the Rangers, Santana posted a 3.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 — all drastic improvements from before the June 17 trade.
Santana was especially strong in the final month of the season, posting a 0.69 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 14 appearances. There is more than enough intrigue coupled with tangible results for first dibs at a spot in the 2022 bullpen.
Middle Relief 4: RHP Demarcus Evans
Projection 1.0: Demarcus Evans
2022 didn't go exactly as expected for Demarcus Evans. It was a season of ups and downs, in more ways that one. He had successes and failures at the big league level, and bounced back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A Round Rock.
Even so, Chris Woodward said he was proud of the growth that Demarcus had shown this season, though it didn't show up in the numbers. The Rangers skipper also said he believes Evans is still part of the Rangers' future. This prediction is based on the expectation that Evans can win a spot during spring training next season. However, he might be the most vulnerable name on this list.
Setup 1: LHP Brett Martin
Projection 1.0: Brett Martin
No surprise here. From April to October, Brett Martin was the most consistent reliever for the Rangers in 2021. Martin led the pitching staff with 66 appearances and posted a 3.18 ERA in 62 1/3 innings of work.
If the Rangers miss out on big free agents this winter and are big time sellers come next July, Martin could be a valuable piece. He's just now about to become arbitration eligible, and he's under club control through 2025. Established, controllable assets have never been more valuable.
If the Rangers are successful in adding a couple of big names and are more competitive in 2022, they have a valuable, homegrown left-handed reliever that can pitch in a number of roles.
Setup 2: RHP Spencer Patton
Projection 1.0: Spencer Patton
After coming over from Japan, Spencer Patton came in and did a stand up job after joining the team in June. He pitched in a variety of roles out of the bullpen, and even recorded two saves after the Rangers parted with closer Ian Kennedy at the trade deadline. In 42 1/3 innings, he posted a respectable 3.83 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.
Unless the Rangers break tradition and sign a free agent reliever to pitch in a late-inning role, and with Jonathan Hernández and José Leclerc not being able to return from Tommy John surgery until May or June, Patton could be in line for high-leverage innings to start the 2022 season.
Closer: RHP Joe Barlow
Projection 1.0: Joe Barlow
Without a doubt, Joe Barlow was the biggest development out of the bullpen for the Rangers this season. He went on an absolute tear from July 7 through August 15, pitching 12 2/3 straight scoreless innings. He pitched his way into the closer's role after Kennedy was traded, and succeeded greatly.
Overall, Barlow posted a 1.55 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 29 innings this season, while displaying an "ice in his veins" mentality on the mound. High-leverage innings didn't rattle Barlow this season, which puts him in line to be the team's closer to start 2022.
After that, we'll have to wait and see what happens when Jonathan Hernández and his 98-mph "turbo sinkers" make their return.
More From SI's Inside The Rangers:
- Rangers Instructional League Sets Schedule for Texas Trip
- Inside Rangers Coaching Changes: "We Needed a New Voice"
- Rangers Promise: Will Pay 'Market Dollars' For Big Free Agents
Make Sure To Like 'Inside The Rangers' on Facebook