Why the Texas Rangers spent $300 million on a new rotation

Last winter, the Texas Rangers committed more than $500 million in free agency, mostly to outfielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. For a franchise that had spent the last half-decade laboring away from irrelevance, its half-billion-dollar outlay was a statement of intent.

The Rangers wanted to fight immediately and were willing to fork over the money needed to make it happen.

It showed that there was a big problem with this strategy: hitting is only half of baseball. Texas’ big hitters flourished in Year 1, but an abysmal performance by the pitching staff meant the 2022 Rangers won just 68 games. That wasn’t what ownership had in mind when they opened the pocket, and so longtime president of baseball operations Jon Daniels stepped in in August.

This offseason, new Texas boss Chris Young has done his best to rectify his team’s swiss cheese rotation. When the ’22 season ended, the projected ’23 starting five was: (1) Jon Gray, (2) Dane Dunning, (3) Glenn Otto, (4) Cole Ragans, and (5) Spencer Howard. Not exactly a group you make shirts for.

Now, five trades and nearly $300 million committed later, that doesn’t include signing Gray last offseason for $56 million, the pitching staff is (1) Jacob deGrom, (2) Nathan Eovaldi, ( 3) Martin Perez, (4) Andrew. Heaney, (5) Gray and (6) Jake Odorizzi. It’s a fascinating and risky strategy, relying entirely on older, expensive free agent arms, but when you delve into Texas’ recent history of pitching development, this was their only path to potential immediate contention.

How the Rangers got here

From 2013 to 2020, the Rangers selected 22 pitchers in the first five rounds of the MLB draft. They gave those pitchers a combined $27 million in bonus money. Only five of those 22 pitchers — Ragans, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Wes Benjamin, Brett Martin and Jake Latz — have appeared in the big leagues for the Rangers. Collectively, they have been worth exactly 1.0 bWAR.

Many of those who didn’t make the majors suffered arm injuries, enough to raise questions about Texas’ pitching development program. So while the 22 pitchers selected are presumably nice people who call their grandmothers on a weekly basis, it’s surprising that none made an impact with the Rangers.

To be fair, the MLB Draft is a crapshoot, with an even bigger fan throw. But over an eight-year stretch, the Rangers couldn’t uncover anything resembling a valuable MLB pitcher. This is a problem, a problem that the club seems to have identified. Over the past two drafts, Texas has invested heavily in pitching, using three first-round picks on three highly touted arms: Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker and Brock Porter.

But the club’s inability to draft and develop impact starting pitching for the better part of a decade left the roster in limbo heading into this offseason. Even with Perez’s stellar 2.89 ERA all-star campaign, Texas posted the sixth-worst starting ERA (4.63) in all of baseball last season. And when you consider that Globe Life Field is a cavernous savannah, that number looks even worse.

So they opened the ATM and went to work.

First they acquired a right-handed starter named Jake. They then retained Perez through the qualifying offer of $19.65 million, which the veteran lefty accepted. Then, they acquired another right-handed starter named Jake.

Jake’s first name is Odorizzi and he is the epitome of underwhelming consistency. Second Jake’s last name is deGrom and he’s the best pitcher in the world whenever he pitches, which isn’t as often as you’d like. To lure deGrom away from the Mets and 28 other teams, they simply offered him more money ($185 million) and years ($5) than anyone was willing to take. It’s an outrageous gamble to spend that amount of dough on a guy who has only made 26 starts since Opening Day in 2021, but the Rangers needed an ace. If #2 Jake stays healthy, they’ll have one.

Heaney, guaranteed two years and $25 million by Texas, pitched just 70 innings last season for the Dodgers, but after eight years of mind-blowing mediocrity, that showing was enough to earn the lefty a multi-year contract.

Eovaldi, who finished fourth in the AL Cy Young in 2021, could prove the business of the entire offseason. An injury-plagued 2022 zipped his fastball, and his stats suffered as a result. But the Texas native has battled a mountain of bumps, bruises, tears and muscle soreness throughout his career, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he regained his form in Arlington.

Boston’s decision to extend him the qualifying offer certainly cleared his market, with teams unwilling to give up a draft pick. For Texas, the future is now, so they trashed the third-round pick and gave Eovaldi the money he was looking for.

All in all, it’s a comically volatile group of pitchers. If everyone stays healthy, deGrom-Eovaldi-PĂ©rez-Heaney is a legitimate postseason rotation. But the IL gods could make this team forget just as easily.

will it work Probably not. The Astros and Mariners are still better, and there likely isn’t enough depth on new manager Bruce Bochy’s roster to get over the hump. But for the Rangers, this unprecedented strategy of basically going to the store and buying a whole new rotation is a risk worth taking if they want October baseball for the first time since 2016.

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Jake Mintz, the stronger half @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan who lives in New York City and thus leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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