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2021 Record: 60-102
Last Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.79 (23rd in MLB)
Team OPS: .670 (30th in MLB)
What Went Right
Adolis Garcia, who was held in little enough regard that he cleared waivers in February, built a Rookie of the Year case while hitting .243/.286/.454 with 31 homers and 16 steals. Isiah Kiner-Falefa made a smooth transition to shortstop and seems poised to last as a regular for a few years. The young pitching stayed relatively healthy, giving some hope for a step forward in that area next year.
What Went Wrong
Just the offense, the rotation and the bullpen. Plus, all of that tanking only got them the third pick in the draft. Leody Taveras, Nick Solak, Willie Calhoun and Anderson Tejada have all seen their progress stall out, leaving the Rangers with seemingly little hope of putting a quality lineup on the field anytime soon unless they want to dedicate a lot of money there. It also really doesn’t help matters that top position prospects Josh Jung, Sam Huff, Justin Foscue and Davis Wendzel all missed big chunks of the season.
** Garcia was an excellent fantasy outfielder with all of his homers and steals, but that he wound up striking out 194 times and finishing with a .286 OBP leaves some skepticism about his future. Garcia also had issues with plate discipline in the minors, coming in at .253/.301/.517 with a 159/22 K/BB ratio in 529 plate appearances for the Cardinals’ Triple-A club in 2019. On the plus side, Garcia was quite good defensively in both center and right, which made him a fine regular in spite of his OBP. As long as he continues to play regularly, he should make another run at 30 homers and 15 steals next year, and that he is an asset defensively should help him stay in the lineup through his slumps.
** Other than Joey Gallo, Solak was widely viewed as the Rangers’ most interesting player for fantasy purposes going into the season, and he got off to a great start, hitting .293/.375/.535 with seven homers in April. Unfortunately, he hit just two more homers over the next three months before getting demoted to Triple-A for a spell. He was terrific there and he played well initially after returning, but he didn’t show much in September, coming in at .258/.340/.303 in 101 PA. The Rangers have to be through handing Solak jobs at this point, though since he’s still making the minimum, it’s doubtful they’ll simply give up on him. He still intrigues for fantasy purposes with his potential for 15-20 homers and a similar amount of steals, but the Rangers ought to be looking at him as a bench player.
** Unlike most of the youngish hitters the Rangers employed this year, Taveras truly is young, having just turned 23 in September, and it’s not fair to be overly down on him at the moment, even if he hit a hideous .167/.207/.270 in 185 MLB plate appearances. His .245 average in Triple-A wasn’t any good, either, but at least he drew 49 walks and hit 17 homers in 87 games there, giving him a fine .818 OPS. Taveras has Gold Glove potential in center field, so he’s not going to need to be a stud offensively in order to enjoy a career in the majors. He also remains of a great deal of interest in fantasy leagues with his 18 steals in 19 attempts over 82 games in the majors the last two seasons. He’s probably going to need to open 2022 back in Triple-A, but he’ll be a sleeper anyway.
** Jung, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot during spring training and didn’t play until mid-July, seems ready for the majors after hitting .326/.398/.592 in 78 games between Double- and Triple-A. Power was something of a question mark going into the year, but he homered 19 times in 342 plate appearances. He’s also a fine defender at third base. He probably won’t be a fantasy stud right away -- that the Rangers’ new ballpark isn’t as homer friendly as the last one has made the team’s hitters less interesting on the whole -- but he could begin to prove useful in shallow leagues as the season goes on.
** The Rangers have high hopes for Dane Dunning, who was acquired in exchange for Lance Lynn after last season, but the primary goal for year one was just for him to have a healthy season. That was largely accomplished, though he did go on the COVID IL in late August and he was limited to 13 1/3 innings over three starts and two relief appearances after returning. Dunning was modestly successful, too, finishing with an ERA around the league average. What was concerning, however, was that his velocity was down throughout. After averaging 91.9 mph with his fastball in his seven starts with the White Sox in 2020, he came in at 90.4 mph this year. He missed fewer bats and posted a middling strikeout rate. Dunning has a plus slider and he gets quite a few grounders, so he could be solid in spite of below average velocity. Still, he’s not as interesting of a pick for 2022 as he would have been had his velocity held up.
Team Needs: After taking a year off, the Rangers appear prepared to spend again. Their only significant commitments at the moment are the nearly $20 million still on the books for the traded Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus, $5 million for rehabbing reliever Jose LcClerc and the $4 million or so they’ll pay Kiner-Falefa in arbitration. The Rangers are perfectly capable of maintaining a $150 million payroll -- they entered 2020 slightly above that -- so they have as much flexibility as any team in the majors this winter. That said, there’s little enough talent here right now that it might be wise to wait until 2023 to max out the payroll. They’ll also have a better idea then which of their young hitters are keepers and which will need to be replaced. In the meantime, it’d be nice if they make one big splash and then maybe pounce again if quality names slip through the cracks and remain unsigned into February or March.