The Rangers’ rebuild is certain to be the center of conversation this offseason, especially coming off the club's first 100-loss season in 50 years.
The front office has noted its desire to spend in free agency and to develop from within as the organization hopes to return to contention, but what are the biggest questions facing the Rangers this offseason?
Will top prospect Josh Jung be the Opening Day third baseman? If not him, who else?
That’s the million dollar question right now. The Rangers' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and top position player prospect is knocking on the door. But is he ready for the big leagues? And do the Rangers want to start his service time clock already?
The 2019 first-rounder missed the first month of the Minor League season following foot surgery, but he went on to slash .326/.398/.592 (.990 OPS) between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. Jung was phenomenal down the stretch, hitting nine homers in 35 Triple-A games to help the Express to a 67-62 record.
But in recent years, the Rangers have grown more cognizant of not rushing top prospects and want to be sure Jung is fully prepared for big league pitching before a promotion to The Show. There are a few options if he’s not the Opening Day third baseball though. Either Charlie Culberson or Brock Holt could stick around as a utility infielder until the time comes for Jung’s promotion. Or Andy Ibáñez, who was a solid contributor in the second half of 2021, could slot into third base for as long as necessary.
There’s a long way to go until April 1, but Jung almost seems primed for big league action.
What will Texas do about its hitting coach vacancy?
The Rangers didn’t take very long to make some coaching staff changes following the conclusion of the 2021 season, most notably releasing hitting coach Luis Ortiz. Manager Chris Woodward said he has a specific set of expectations for whoever replaces Ortiz, but considering where the Rangers were at the end of 2021, it’s clear that a change in philosophy was needed.
Texas struggled in nearly every offensive category this season. It was last in MLB in OPS (.670) and OBP (.294), 29th in batting average (.232) and 28th in slugging (.375).
The overall expectations won’t change, but Woodward said he wants a mix of mechanical- and approach-based guys on the hitting staff to complement each other. There are no clear candidates at the forefront, but the Rangers seem to be stepping away from Ortiz’s more philosophical way of teaching.
Are there enough quality starting pitchers?
In short, probably not just yet, and one would assume that starters will be a target for the club in free agency. But the Rangers' plethora of young arms will likely still have some growing pains to go through.
Dane Dunning and Spencer Howard both just completed their first full seasons in the big leagues, with Dunning posting a 4.51 ERA as the Rangers' Pitcher of the Year and Howard struggling through a 7.43 ERA between Texas and Philadelphia. Prospects A.J. Alexy and Glenn Otto both put in a solid month of work following their debuts, and Taylor Hearn thrived after a post-Deadline move into the rotation.
But beyond that group, the Rangers aren't deep in the rotation, and few arms have much experience starting. Jordan Lyles could return as a length option to eat innings if he returns to the club in a similar role.
But there aren't many other options internally. In recent years, the Rangers have revived the careers of Kyle Gibson, Ian Kennedy and Lance Lynn as they all thrived on the Texas pitching staff before being dealt for prospects. That’s the Rangers’ best bet for 2022 -- adding a mid-level pitcher or two in free agency to eat some innings, and letting pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara work to develop them alongside the younger pieces of the staff throughout the season.
What will they do with an abundance of big league-ready outfielders?
Adolis García can practically be sharpied into the 2022 Opening Day lineup in right field, maybe the only player on the current active roster whose position next season is definite. The remaining outfielders on the 40-man roster include DJ Peters, Leody Taveras, Eli White, Willie Calhoun and Jason Martin. Prospects like Bubba Thompson (No. 28 per MLB Pipeline) and Steele Walker (No. 21) could also be added to the 40-man roster soon.
As with almost every position, the Rangers could also add an outfielder in free agency. Calhoun could be headed to arbitration this winter, and while it’s likely the Rangers will add Walker and Thompson to the 40-man, it isn't guaranteed. White and Taveras are on an even more slippery slope, as both struggled mightily in the big leagues and White missed the last two months of the season with a right elbow strain.
Texas hasn’t given up on any of its young outfielders at this point, but it will likely come down to a roster crunch in the offseason for who stays and who goes.
Where can they most improve?
To be blunt: everywhere. The coaching staff and front office have not been shy about saying that. General manager Chris Young said exactly that in his end-of-season press conference.
“I think that we have needs everywhere,” Young said. “I don't think we're limiting ourselves in terms of ways to upgrade our roster. We're focused and committed to exploring every possible way to improve our big league club and do it in a manner that is still disciplined and consistent with our long-term vision here of creating a long-term championship window.”
There are players who have been serviceable, and even great this season (García, Hearn and Isiah Kiner-Falefa), but there’s not a position that can’t get better. Whether that happens solely through free agency or via internal development remains to be seen, but everything from hitting to defense to rotation depth and bullpen organization can get better in 2022.