ARLINGTON, Texas — The 2021 regular season is wrapping up. For the Texas Rangers, it's been a year dedicated to evaluation, growth and development. In some ways, it's gone very well. The vast improvement in the farm system highlights that sentiment. The big league record, on the other hand, shows the lack of established talent in Arlington.
Though the Rangers are admittedly in the middle of a rebuild, and are flirting with the prospect of the franchise's first 100-loss season since 1973, the club has plans to be "very active" in free agency this winter.
Even so, given the current circumstances, some fans are skeptical that the Rangers can land any big-money free agents, or if they will even hold true to chasing them altogether. Believe it or not, Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels understands — and even accepts — the fans' perspective.
"We do anticipate being active," Daniels said in an exclusive interview with InsideTheRangers.com. "Listen, I don't blame fans for taking a 'we'll believe it when we see it' type of approach. That's totally fair. We've gotta get it done now."
So, what exactly should fans expect this winter? Will the Rangers seriously go after the big fish? And how does spending this offseason help the team in one or two seasons when competing for the postseason is a bit more realistic?
"We've started the process, but we haven't fully gotten into how exactly we're going to attack this offseason's free agency," Daniels explained. "And this is not just a one-year thing. We're looking to build for an extended period of time. We expect to add to the roster this offseason. By design, we're not looking to do all of it at once either."
The moves made by the Rangers this year has given the club a valuable asset: financial flexibility. Currently, the Rangers only have $28 million dedicated in 2022, and only José Leclerc's $6 million club option is on the books in 2023.
In other words, the Rangers have money to play with.
While Daniels can't yet go into detail on who the Rangers may target this winter, or what the budget will be for next season, he did confirm that just about any spot on the roster could be upgraded. Yes, that even means shortstop considering some of the best free agents this offseason play the position.
"I feel like we have some real flexibility as far as where we can add," Daniels said. "That's a good thing and a bad thing. I say a good thing because we really can consider just about anybody that can help us. We have a lot of flexibility as far as how to get guys on the roster."
Coincidentally, the Rangers most established veteran is Isiah Kiner-Falefa. And all in all, his first full season as an everyday shortstop has been a success. Kiner-Falefa admittedly went through a very rough struggle after a solid start at the plate, but his defense has been right up there with anyone else in the American League.
At the same time, the deepest position in free agency is at shortstop. Multiple reports have already tied the Rangers to DFW native Trevor Story. Meanwhile, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Javier Báez all beckon a look given their level of talent.
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Earlier this season, Kiner-Falefa said he would be willing to change positions, but with the caveat that the move should be what's best for the team. And it's very possible — and Daniels believes he will — that Kiner-Falefa wins the Gold Glove for American League shortstops this year. His biggest competition right now is pending free agent Carlos Correa, who leads AL shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved, Defensive bWAR. Through August 22, Kiner-Falefa led Correa and the rest of the AL in SABR Defensive Index, a stat that aided him in securing his Gold Glove at third base in 2020.
Of course, even if Kiner-Falefa wins the Gold Glove this winter, it wouldn't be the first time the Rangers asked someone to change positions after winning the award. After Michael Young won the Gold Glove at shortstop in 2008, the club asked him to move to third base to make room for upcoming rookie Elvis Andrus.
Could a similar situation happen this winter?
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Daniels said. "Ultimately, we want to do what is best for the club. It depends on what our opportunities are this offseason. We're always going to be very up front and transparent with our players and let them know what our plans are. We haven't crystalized those yet."
Another position you could see the Rangers attack this winter is the starting rotation. The Rangers have several young arms that could compete for starting spots next season. Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn seem to be leading the way in that department, while Spencer Howard, Kolby Allard, Glenn Otto, A.J. Alexy, John King, Kyle Cody and Yerry Rodriguez will all go into spring training with competition in mind. In addition, the Rangers could see highly-touted pitching prospect Cole Winn make his big league debut at some point in 2022.
However, the Rangers will still need at least one or two veterans to come in and provide innings for a very young pitching staff.
"We feel good that we have depth with some quality arms, but most of them are unproven at this point," Daniels said. "We'd like to be in a situation where we have probably a couple of guys at the top of the rotation that can perform at high level, but also take some of the pressure off the rest of that group and allow them to compete for a few spots rather than five."
Adding multiple position players and multiple starting pitchers sounds like a pretty long checklist for a club that's on the cusp of one of the worst seasons since the franchise moved to Texas in 1972. But as Daniels alluded to, when multiple figures of the club's leadership vows to be active in free agency, empty promises can alienate the fan base.
This winter, they'll literally need to put their money where their mouth is.
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