2023 record: 90-72 (.556)
First place, AL West (lost tiebreaker to Astros)
Team ERA: 4.28 (18th in MLB)
Team OPS: .790 (3rd in MLB)
What Went Right
Well, they won the World Series. The offense was the AL’s best, with Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Adolis García, Josh Jung and Jonah Heim all making the All-Star team. Seager had an absurd 75 extra-base hits in just 119 games played and finished second in the majors in OPS. Semien collected 122 runs scored and 100 RBI while starting all 162 games. Mitch Garver had a 134 OPS+ in 344 plate appearances. 21-year-old Evan Carter came up late and was ridiculous in hitting .306/.413/.645. In all, 88 percent of the Rangers’ plate appearances were taken by someone who wound up with at least a .730 OPS and a 97 OPS+.
The pitching staff wasn’t the Jacob deGrom-led group the Rangers were planning on, but Nathan Eovaldi was very good, Dane Dunning was a first-half savior and Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Martin Pérez was all decent enough to give the offense a chance to do its thing. Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery entered at the trade deadline and solidified things, though Scherzer missed the final two weeks of the regular season.
What Went Wrong
DeGrom needed Tommy John and will miss at least the first four months of next season. The bullpen was an issue all season long. 2022 standout Brock Burke saw his ERA jump from 1.97 to 4.37, and fellow holdovers Joe Barlow and Jonathan Hernandez failed to contribute. Nathaniel Lowe was the biggest disappointment on offense, finishing with a .414 slugging percentage after coming in at .492 in 2022.
** The 2024 Rangers will have two Rookie of the Year favorites in Carter and 2023 first-round pick Wyatt Langford... perhaps even the two favorites, if Yoshinobu Yamamoto lands in the NL. Power expectations may be too high for Carter in the short-term, but he has a fantastic approach at the plate and he could be good for 20 steals as a rookie. The Rangers aren’t going to be afraid to bat him third or fourth, either, and they’ll surely give him a chance to be a full-timer before maybe later returning him to a platoon role if he struggles against lefties. Even if he’s just a 15-homer guy in 2024, he should be pretty valuable and warrant a sixth- or seventh-round pick in mixed leagues.
** Langford will go even earlier if it looks like he’ll open the season in the majors. The former Florida Gator hit .260/.480/.677 with 10 homers and 12 steals in 44 games after being selected fourth overall in the 2023 draft. He offers more homer and steal potential than Carter, and as a right-handed bat, there’s no worry about a platoon situation developing. As solid as Leody Taveras was last season, the Rangers’ best outfield on Opening Day figures to include Langford in left and Carter in center. The Rangers will have plenty of flexibility, though, particularly if they don’t re-sign Garver.
** Rangers hitters are going to be quite costly on the whole next season, but Lowe should be an exception. The team’s No. 3 hitter for almost the entire season, he had an MLB-high 367 plate appearances with runners on base and might have led the AL in RBI had he matched his .302/.358/.492 line from 2022. Instead, he came in at .262/.360/.414 and was worse with runners on than with the bases empty. Lowe’s top-end power left him; his barrel rate came in at 6.5%, down from 10% previously in his career, and he didn’t pull the ball as often as usual. Lowe had a similarly bad year in 2021, but the big problem then was that he hit the ball on the ground too often. That wasn’t the issue last season; it just seems like he lost some strength. Only 28, he seems like a prime candidate for a bounce back. Still, his fantasy upside won’t be the same unless he returns to a top-four spot in the lineup, and he’ll probably have to get hot for a spell before that happens.
** Scherzer definitely wasn’t quite the same pitcher as usual last season, posting his worst ERA (3.77) and strikeout rate (28%) since 2011 and his highest ever home run rate (4.5%). Still, he was better after being acquired from the Mets, with his velocity climbing closer to 2022 levels before he suffered a shoulder strain in September. Next year will be the first since 2014 that we won’t have him ranked as a top-10 SP, but let’s not write him off just yet. Even if his status is more precarious than ever before, his peripherals still suggest that he’s a top-25 starter, and he’ll probably go a fair amount later than that in fantasy leagues.
** Considering the way that Bruce Bochy used him in the postseason, one would never guess that José Leclerc was rarely trusted in close games for much of the season; he had just one save and one hold during the first half and four saves and eight holds on the year. Leclerc showed his mettle in October and got his contract option for 2024 picked up as a result, but it’s possible the Rangers could supplant him in the closer’s role this winter. The good news for Leclerc is that Josh Hader is really the only big-time closer out there, and most of the other top free agents -- a group that includes Jordan Hicks, Robert Stephenson and Reynaldo López -- are going to be pursued as setup men by contenders.
Key Free Agents
Jordan Montgomery, Mitch Garver, Aroldis Chapman, Martin Pérez, Will Smith, Chris Stratton, Robbie Grossman, Travis Jankowski
In spite of the long free agent list, the Rangers still have a fine 26-man roster under control. The bullpen will be a priority; they’ll definitely add at least one reliable righty and lefty to join Leclerc and company. They could make an effort to retain Montgomery, but if that doesn’t work out, they don’t necessarily need to bring in a comparable starter with Scherzer joining Eovaldi, Gray, Heaney and Dunning as returnees, deGrom eventually due back, Cody Bradford capable of stepping in and Jack Leiter perhaps joining the mix later. Someone like Michael Wacha, James Paxton or Hyun Jin Ryu would be helpful.
The lineup situation is similar; it’d be great to have Garver back, but it isn’t entirely necessary. Sam Huff might actually do a bit of a Garver impression if finally given the chance. Even beyond Langford, the Rangers have a fine crop of polished prospects capable of helping out when the need arises. They’ll probably sign a Grossman-type for a bench spot, and they could retain Hedges if they don’t think Huff is strong enough defensively to serve as the backup catcher. Otherwise, they should probably leave well enough alone. It’s a world champion core, after all.