How do Seager, Semien deals shift infield?
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers had an active Thanksgiving weekend, coming to deals with shortstop Corey Seager, second baseman Marcus Semien, outfielder Kole Calhoun and right-hander Jon Gray, according to sources.
All four deals are pending physicals, but with Texas' 40-man roster almost full at 39 players, a lot of roster maneuvering will be needed once the deals become official.
The two biggest of those agreements -- 10 years and $325 million for Seager and seven years, $175 million for Semien -- also create a number of questions for the Rangers' infield entering 2022. The only definite should be first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, who slashed .264/.357/.415 (a .771 OPS) in his first full MLB season in 2021.
Semien and Seager starting up the middle would displace Isiah Kiner-Falefa from shortstop, the position he manned all of 2021. Third base, where Kiner-Falefa won an American League Gold Glove in 2020, is expected to be filled by Josh Jung, the Rangers’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who would have made his MLB debut in ‘21 if not for injuries delaying his start to the Minor League season.
Jung, who had a .326/.398/.592 slash line (a .990 OPS) between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock in 2021, is one of the most advanced hitters the Rangers have in the farm system, and is a serviceable third baseman defensively. Alternatively, Kiner-Falefa is an elite defensive infielder at both middle-infield positions and at third, but not as advanced of a hitter. He finished the season with a .271 average but only hit eight homers with an 85 OPS+. Kiner-Falefa’s 3.7 bWAR was the second best among Rangers who spent the entire season with the team.
It’s always possible that Jung, a first-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, won’t be ready for Opening Day, or that Kiner-Falefa purely beats him out for the job. But there’s a long way to go until April.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward has often called Kiner-Falefa the “heart and soul” of the team, and he is currently the longest-tenured player on the big league club. While he may or may not earn a starting position come Opening Day, Kiner-Falefa more than has the ability to be a super utility infielder with a solid clubhouse presence.
While the infield is set for the foreseeable future, the Rangers still have holes to fill elsewhere, with the most notable ones in the outfield and the rotation.
Texas addressed one of those with the Gray deal, but the rotation still needs more after posting the third-worst ERA (5.33) in MLB in 2021. The starting pitching market has been hot this offseason, but a few names are still up for grabs: Most notably DFW-area native Clayton Kershaw.
The front office’s focus will likely pivot to Kershaw after this week’s flurry of moves.
The Rangers are also full of outfield depth, but none of it can be called quality at this point. The newly acquired Calhoun is the only outfielder with more than three years of service time, and the rest struggled down the stretch in limited time at the big league level.
Outside of Calhoun, the Rangers have seven outfielders on the 40-man roster: recent acquisitions Billy McKinney and Zach Reks, 2021 All-Star Adolis García, Willie Calhoun, Eli White, Leody Taveras and DJ Peters.
Here are the 2021 slash lines for each of the Rangers' five outfielders:
• García (149 games): .243/.286/.454
• W. Calhoun (75 games): .250/.310/.381
• Taveras (49 games): .161/.207/.270
• White (64 games): .177/.259/.308
• Peters: (70 games): .197/.242/.422
• McKinney (116 games): .192/.280/.358
• Reks (Triple-A): .280/.382/.539
Some may end up being roster casualties, but one thing is clear: the Rangers need reinforcements in the outfield. García makes up for his struggles with outstanding defense and the ability to hit 30-plus homers in a full season. The rest will have to prove they can stick.
Texas has been reported to be interested in Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who was posted on Nov. 22, and would be the perfect way to cap off an active winter in Arlington if the Rangers don’t have more to spend on the likes of Nick Castellanos.