Sean Bass, Michael Tepid, and I recorded a new one last week. Signings, farm effects, lockout, and more. Link in signature.
20 days ago
“I am cautiously optimistic that the Rangers will land some players. It’s very easy to say ‘no one will come here because the team’s so bad,’ but if that were universally true, bad teams would stay bad forever, and they don’t. Players like money!”
That they do. Entering free agency, the Rangers had a paltry $5.25 million in 2022 salaries committed to players on the 40-man roster (excluding arbitration-eligibles and pre-arbs). Well, not “players,” just player: reliever Jose Leclerc. Texas has another $3.6 million committed to outrighted righty Kohei Arihara and $19 million to Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor.
To their 2022 payroll, the Rangers have added $77.7 million. So far.
Here’s some info on each player you might find interesting.
Balls hit 95+ MPH have a .522 average and 1.083 slugging percentage during the past three years. Production below 95 drops precipitously; anything below 92 is an out nearly 80% of the time and nearly always a single at best. So, among 2021 Rangers and incoming free agents, who had the highest percentage of plate appearance resulting in a walk/HBP (guaranteed base) or contact at 95+ MPH (high likelihood of serious damage)?
C. Seager, 48%
W. Calhoun, 42%
N. Lowe, 41%
J. Gallo, 41%
M. Semien, 39%
A. Ibanez, 38%
K. Calhoun, 35%
A. Garcia, 35%
J. Heim, 34%
N. Solak, 33%
J. Trevino, 32%
D. Dahl, 30%
I. Kiner-Falefa, 29%
D. Peters, 28%
L. Taveras, 28%
C. Culberson, 28%
E. White, 24%
Y. Hernandez, 23%
Seager stands alone. Among current Rangers, he had the highest hard-hit rate (35%) and the highest walk rate (13%) in 2021. Incidentally, the name that stands out to me in this exercise is Willie Calhoun. Calhoun walked at an acceptable rate in 2021 and hit the ball hard. How did he bat only .250/.310/.381? The answer, best as I can tell, is a higher proportion of grounders and low liners than the average hitter, resulting in a relatively poor .705 slugging percentage on hard-hit balls, second lowest among Rangers with at least 20 in play. Seemingly, if Calhoun could elevate that contact a little, he’d be a force.
On the podcast, Michael Tepid asked how many more years Seager would last at short, and I casually threw out five. After some research, I’d stick to that guess. Since 2011, there have been 234 player-seasons in which someone has manned shortstop for at least 81 of his team’s games. Only 18 (8%) have been by players aged 33 or more, and three were from the very generously handled Derek Jeter. Seager’s Year 33 season will be his sixth as a Ranger.
Semien clubbed a career-high 45 homers last year. Not to cast aspersions on his signing, but a repeat is unlikely.
The Baseball Savant site has a fun feature: it takes every player’s homer and uses exit velocity, launch angle and direction to estimate whether it would have escaped any other park. Savant claims that only 32 of his 45 homers would have counted at Globe Life. Only Kansas City (27) ranked lower.
Globe Life does favor pitchers, and Semien’s former home in Toronto favors hitters, but neither is extreme. So why such a huge drop?
Two reasons. One: Because of pandemic restrictions, Semien actually played over half of his games in Dunedin or Buffalo, both of which were more hitter-friendly. Two: Semien hit many homers between the pole and alley in left, which is deeper in Arlington than where he usually played.
Of course, Semien will play only half of his games in Arlington, not all. And, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Halicke pointed out, he’ll add several games in Houston, where even his most ungainly swings might plate a few runs.
Gray threw the fourth-most sliders in baseball last year, and for good reason. Opponents batted a meager .156 with a .300 slugging percentage, and it was worth 13 runs more than average. Conversely, his four-seamer was among the worst in baseball: 16 runs below average with an opposing slugging percentage of .518.
Gray threw his slider most frequently on counts of 1-2, 0-2, 3-2, and 2-2. Aside from 3-1 and 3-0 counts, it’s always prominent in the mix. Gray didn’t throw many curves and spun them most often on first pitches. He also offered few changes and didn’t feature them on two-strike counts, instead leaning on that slider.
Texas isn’t done with pitching, I hope. Past Gray and Dunning, the 3-4-5 spots are currently manned by some combination of A.J. Alexy, Kolby Allard, Taylor Hearn, Spencer Howard, Glenn Otto. Nothing against any of these guys of course, all of whom could contribute positively in 2022, and several others may join this crowd during 2022. Still, at the least, Texas could use another body to chew up 150 innings, even if at replacement-level.
Knee and hamstring injuries wrecked Calhoun’s 2021. His career line against lefties isn’t atrocious (.232/.314/.387), but his 2021 line sure was (.122/.163/.171). Calhoun was terrible against sliders last year. Not coincidentally, he faced Jon Gray twice and struck out both times on sliders.
Calhoun’s combined walk/HBP/hard-hit rate in 2020 was 47%, just a tic below Corey Seager in 2021. Calhoun batted .226/.338/.526 overall that year, including a formidable 1.527 slugging percentage on hard-hit balls. Obviously, Texas is hoping a healthy Calhoun is closer to the 2020 version.
Presumably, Calhoun mans right field while Adolis Garcia shifts back to center. That leaves the gaping hole in left, which generated negative 0.7 wins above replacement last year. Current 40 members to fill the spot are Eli White, Leody Taveras, and Willie Calhoun. If Willie is the primary LF, that leaves DH to… I don’t know. Perhaps a rotation, a means of getting the regulars partial days off.
Generally, teams shouldn't avoid signing a particular free agent simply because the farm is strong at his position, unless the prospect-in-waiting is of an elite level. While on the surface it might seem a misallocation of funds, there’s no guarantee that prospects pan out. That definitely applies to Texas’ surfeit of middle-infield youngsters. Nevertheless, I thought Texas might try to get by with some combination of Ibanez, Solak, Hernandez, or a stopgap until Justin Foscue or someone else was ready.
Per Baseball America’s midseason 2021 rankings, Texas’s 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 14th, 22nd, and 25th-best prospects are middle infielders. Indeed, three of them (Josh Smith, Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver) arrived just four months ago in the Joey Gallo trade. What becomes of all these players?
Honestly, the situation doesn’t change quite as much as it would seem. Yes, these players are obviously blocked. But the likelihood of ever having, say, Foscue, Duran and Smith in the same lineup was already remote. Trades become more likely. One or more in this group will likely top out as a decent utility player, and they'll still have a role despite the presence of Semien and Seager.
What might change for some is position. Defense isn’t Foscue’s specialty. Could he hit enough to carry left field? What about Duran? Hauver is arguably best considered a left fielder or purely a bat.
OF DJ Peters, just outrighted to make room for others, is apparently headed to Korea’s Lotte Giants.
Texas re-signed catchers Yohel Pozo and David Garcia to minor league deals. OF Billy McKinney, also non-tendered last week, remains a free agent to my knowledge. Players can still sign minor deals despite the lockout.
The Rangers signed righty Jesus Tinoco and catcher Meibrys Viloria to minor deals. Tinoco has a walk-heavy 4.89 ERA in 46 MLB innings, mostly in Colorado. Viloria has a .215/.266/.287 line in 201 plate appearances with the Royals.
Minnesota signed 1B Curtis Terry to a minor league deal.
San Francisco didn’t offer LHP Joe Palumbo a Major League contract after claiming him on waivers. He became a free agent.
Arizona designated RHP Brett de Geus for assignment. The Dbacks claimed him the former Rule 5 pick off waivers from Texas last summer.
The Phils re-signed RHP Tyler Phillips.
The Dodgers signed OF Jason Martin.
26-year-old OF Nomar Mazara has been out of contract since July.
The minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft will occur on Wednesday. The Major League portion is postponed indefinitely.