Free agents are officially on the market, qualifying offers have been extended (and rejected), contract options exercised and/or declined and 40-man rosters whittled down. Welcome to the MLB offseason.
Flags fly forever, but now that the champagne has dried and the confetti has been cleared, the Texas Rangers are already on to how they might repeat as World Series champions in 2024. Their core ensures that they’ll enter next season on everyone’s short list of contenders, but that doesn’t mean GM Chris Young doesn’t have work to do to keep up with the AL’s other elites. Where might Young devote most of his resources? Let’s break down Texas’ offseason plan.
Rangers offseason preview
Season in review
Texas got off to a scorching start to 2023 thanks in large part to one of the game’s deepest and most dangerous offenses. But a late-summer swoon and a truly ridiculous rash of pitching injuries nearly waylaid everything, and a loss on the season’s final day left the Rangers limping into the playoffs not as AL West champions but as the second Wild Card team. Of course, you know what happened next: Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi put the rotation on their backs, Corey Seager and Adolis Garcia crushed everything in sight and the Rangers blasted the Rays and Orioles and outlasted the Astros in a classic seven-game ALCS before topping the D-backs in the Fall Classic.
Pending free agents
Texas is set to bring back a ton of talent in 2024, but there are some notable names set to enter free agency — notably Montgomery, who’ll hope to cash in on his October heroics (and a very good season overall). The lefty is by far the headliner, but catcher/DH Mitch Garver, relievers Aroldis Chapman and Will Smith and outfielders Robbie Grossman and Travis Jankowski will also be hitting the market.
With Montgomery a free agent, Max Scherzer pushing 40 and Jacob deGrom set to miss at least the first half of 2024, filling out the starting rotation is item No. 1 on Young’s offseason to-do list. The bullpen could also use some work; Jose Leclerc and Josh Sborz were dynamite during the team’s postseason run, but it was among the league’s worst units during the regular season and now has to replace Chapman and Smith.
Pitching will be the focus, and lord knows the Rangers don’t need much help on offense with Seager, Garcia, Marcus Semien and Josh Jung all coming back and Evan Carter set for his first full season in the Majors. But the departure of Garver and Grossman will also have the team in the market for both a backup catcher and someone who can handle DH duties a few times a week.
Best free-agent fits
Let’s start with the biggest name of all: Shohei Ohtani. There’s been an increasing amount of smoke around the Rangers’ pursuit of the newly-crowned AL MVP, and it’s not hard to see why given their history of big spending, need at DH (and, later on, in the rotation) and Ohtani’s reported desire to play for a contender. Texas should and likely will prioritize making a run at Ohtani before anything else, and landing him would almost certainly affect how much they have to spend elsewhere. If they miss out on the two-way phenom, however, then what?
This isn’t the strongest free-agent market ever, but it is a bit better for pitching than it is for hitting, which is good news for Texas. Bringing back Montgomery would make a ton of sense, as he’s exactly the kind of innings-eating workhorse that a team with so many health question marks needs. If the lefty opts to go elsewhere — he’s reportedly focused on the Rangers, Cardinals and Yankees, the three teams he’s played with during his MLB career — Young could turn his attention to someone like Aaron Nola or even Japanese phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto. (North Texas native Clayton Kershaw is a free agent as well, but luring him away from the Dodgers feels like a pipe dream for now.)
Texas has also been linked to hard-throwing lefty Josh Hader, far and away the highest-profile reliever available and one heck of a potential Chapman replacement. Righties Hector Neris and Robert Stephenson are also bullpen names to monitor. There are also plenty of DH candidates who would likely jump at the chance to play for the defending champs, including Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez.
Texas thinned its farm system considerably in deals for Montgomery, Scherzer and others at this past trade deadline, so the Rangers figure to be more aggressive in free agency than on the trade market. With Carter now a mainstay after his sensational October and fellow top outfield prospect Wyatt Langford waiting in the wings, Young might look to see what the market is for center fielder Leody Taveras in hopes of putting together a package for a starter like, say, Corbin Burnes or Tyler Glasnow