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The Rangers aren’t there yet, but they’re on the way

After signing Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray, and Kole Calhoun, the Rangers aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot, and that’s okay.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Last week, the Texas Rangers didn’t have a single player with a guaranteed contract for 2023. Now, they have over $500 million committed to three players over the next 10 years. The Rangers kicked off their shopping spree Rangers signed Jon Gray for four years and $56 million. They followed that up by signing Marcus Semien for seven years and $175 million. On Monday, they topped it off by inking Corey Seager to a 10-year deal worth $325 million.

By 2021 rWAR, the Rangers added 12.3 wins to the roster. Even with that influx of talent, the Rangers could still only win 75 games next year.

It’s jarring for a team that was so far out of contention to make big signings like this, but that’s not an indictment of the Rangers. It’s an indictment of the competitive environment that has inured us to teams saying “Trust the process” while they hoard draft picks or scope out plots of land in Las Vegas. What the Rangers have done in the past few days is exactly what teams with no financial commitments should do. That’s especially true considering the talent on its way from the farm.

If Texas does nothing else this winter, they likely won’t contend in 2022.* That’s okay. They’re already in a much better spot for contention in 2023 and beyond. It’s only November, though. The big names may be coming off the board before the lockout, but there will be a veritable smorgasbord of role-players available on one-year deals when this all blows over.

*This assumes the playoff format won’t expand to 14 teams. If it does, anyone can contend and nothing anyone does matters anymore.

Nothing is stopping Texas from saying “Eff everything, we’re doing five blockbusters” and signing Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Correa. Per Roster Resource, the estimated 2022 payroll is only $125 million, so they could go buck wild with the checkbook. Realistically, these are likely the biggest deals Texas will sign this winter, the Rangers can still accelerate the rebuild if it’s Kole Calhouns all the way down.

Let’s start with the rotation as it’s still the area in need of the most work. Even with Gray, the Rangers don’t have a bonafide frontline starter until Jack Leiter shows up. Gray is still something of a reclamation project, and when Leiter debuts is anyone’s guess as the timing is contingent on any service time changes in the new collective bargaining agreement. Leiter was probably a major league starter before he was drafted, but he hasn’t thrown a professional inning yet.

That leaves the Rangers with Dane Dunning, Taylor Hearn, AJ Alexy, and Spencer Howard filling out a prospective Opening Day rotation. Dunning leads the pack with 151 23 major league innings thrown, so there’s plenty of room for veterans. Kershaw is the most obvious splashy sign, but perhaps the Dodgers are less inclined to let him walk after seeing Max Scherzer and Corey Seager go in the same day.

The Rangers don’t have to dole out long-term deals to the likes of Kershaw or Carlos Rodón or Marcus Stroman, though that would speed things along. Getting cromulent innings at the back (and middle) of the rotation is underrated. Tyler Anderson isn’t the first name one thinks of when it comes to impact starter, but he’s good for 25-30 league average starts and that’s better than any incumbent Rangers starters have proven.

The state of the outfield depends on how much you believe in Adolis García and Kole Calhoun. The newly-acquired Calhoun is coming off a career-worst, injury-plagued year, but he was a competent hitter in each of the previous two seasons. The late-blooming Garcia finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting while amassing 3.8 rWAR. His offense took a nosedive in the second half, though. García managed a 126 wRC+ before the All-Star break but mustered only a 69 wRC+ the rest of the way. Steamer doesn’t believe in his bat, projecting him for just a .294 wOBA next season.

Texas could do with another corner outfielder unless they’re content with Billy McKinney taking the field on Opening Day. Seiya Suzuki is perhaps the best remaining option outside of Nick Castellanos or Kris Bryant, and multiple sources have linked him to the Rangers already. MLB Trade Rumors predicts a five-year, $55 million deal for Suzuki, and the Rangers only have $71 million committed in 2023. The Seager signing doesn’t preclude Suzuki, but if the Rangers don’t want to commit that many years in one offseason, outfielders like Michael Conforto, Tommy Pham, and Eddie Rosario can likely be had for one or two years.

The Rangers don’t have to go all out now that they have Seager and Semien, but they could. The hard part is over. They had to convince two superstars at the height of their careers that they could win in Texas. Now they just have to put the final pieces together, and they don’t have to do it all at once.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.