The Rangers dipped into the free agent market yesterday. Three times. With varying degrees of success.
Marcus Semien, seven years for $175 million.
Former Rangers manager Ron Washington’s fingerprints are all over the 31-year-old Semien. When Semien came up with the Chicago White Sox in 2103, he was mostly a third baseman not known for his glove. His bat never developed either. So in 2015 the White Sox shipped him off to Oakland, who made him a shortstop. His first season with Oakland, Semien committed 35 errors with just an average bat. He looked like a disaster. That’s when the infield guru got ahold of him. Washington helped turn the defensive liability that was Marcus Semien into a bona fide major league shortstop.
It all clicked in 2019. Semien had a surprising breakout season, both in the field and at the plate, slugging 33 home runs, driving in 92, with an OPS of .892 and an OPS+ of 139. He finished third in A.L. MVP voting. He went into 2020 with a full head of steam and hit a brick wall, falling off in every offensive category, his OPS plummeting to .679. Oakland decided to let him walk. Semien signed with Toronto, who moved him to second, and he flourished again.
In a loaded Toronto offense in 2021, Semien cracked 45 home runs, drove in 102, was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, all three career firsts, and finished third in MVP voting once again. He played all 162 games of the season.
Where Semien plays for the Rangers remains to be seen. He is instantly the best shortstop or second baseman they have, by far. But with the dearth of elite shortstops in the league and on the market, his skillset plays better at second. He is among of the elite second basemen in baseball.
This move frees the Rangers to go after one of those shortstops and play Semien at second. That would move Isiah Kiner-Falefa to his more natural position as utility backup infielder.
In Semien, the Rangers get a bat they desperately need. They get a team leader, a guy who worked hard to make himself into an All-Star, and who is one of the more respected players in the league.
By all indications, though, the Rangers had to overpay for the right-handed hitting Semien, going that extra, seventh season in order to land him. That’s what you get when you let your franchise hit rock bottom with no talent ready in the pipeline. There’s only one way to get better, and that’s to pay dearly for it.
Jon Gray, five years for $56 million.
Maybe in Jon Gray the Rangers catch lightning in a bottle again like they did last season with Kyle Gibson. Gray comes from Colorado where he’s spent his entire career, putting up unspectacular numbers: a 4.59 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and a 53-49 record. But he is an innings eater and the Rangers didn’t have a major league-caliber starter in their rotation. The 4.59 ERA might seem high and could be blamed on the Coors Field factor. But the reality is Gray’s career splits were better at Coors than on the road.
The thirty-year-old righty isn’t the top-of-the-rotation starter that a playoff team would need but he is a solid number three starter on a team that lacked a number one, number two, number three, number four and number five.
Kole Calhoun, one year for $5.2 million.
It’s not immediately apparent what the Rangers see in Kole Calhoun, who was a platoon right fielder with the Diamonbacks. They already have a logjam in the outfield and already have a mediocre hitting Calhoun in Willie. The 34-year-old Kole Calhoun bats left and has a better than average glove. In his career, he has a slightly above average OPS+ of 105. He did have a very good 2020 with Arizona but spend last season either struggling at the plate or injured, having surgery on his right knee and his left hamstring. He came back in late 2021 only to re-injure the hamstring. In fairness, what Kole Calhoun does give the Rangers is a better alternative, both at the plate and in the field, to anything they currently have in their overabundance of outfield mediocrity.