What MLB Teams Can Learn From the World Series Champion Texas Rangers

From a Washington Post analysis by Chelsea Janes headlined “What MLB teams can learn from the World Series champion Rangers”:

Lost in the storylines that wound their way into the Texas Rangers’ World Series triumph was the remarkable season and showing of Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien. After what was, by his standards, a quiet October, Semien went 4 for 10 with a triple, two homers and seven RBI in the final two games of his season. His resuscitation was particularly remarkable because no one had ever played as much as he had.

Semien’s fourth plate appearance in the decisive Game 5 was his 834th of the 2023 regular season and postseason, most by a single player in a single year in baseball history. He passed Lenny Dykstra, who took 833 in 1983. Juan Pierre, who took 830 as the Marlins charged to their 2003 World Series title, was the most recent man to make a run. Semien finished with 835 plate appearances total and hit a home run in his last one, after which, he answered the obvious question: Aren’t you tired?

“It’s baseball. We’re not playing football or basketball!” Semien said through a stream of champagne running down his face. “It’s baseball. You have a chance to go out there and do something special every single day.”

When the Texas Rangers signed Semien to a seven-year deal worth $175 million ahead of the 2022 season, they locked up a long-term second baseman known for his humility and steady clubhouse influence. There were other elite infielders available at the time, and the Rangers signed another of them in Corey Seager. Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant and others were also available. But in Semien they got something no one, not even Seager, could offer them. They got relentless durability.

Semien is a wonder in this baseball age. He has missed one regular season game in the last three years, one regular season game since signing the kind of contract that might entice some 30-something stars to stop pushing, having concluded they have proven what they needed to prove. And certainly, playing all 162 is not always best for everyone. Some players fare better with a little more rest, and organizations are far more willing to give it to them now, when playing every single day is considered as much a badge of insanity as of honor.

But Semien’s track record of reliability — he has played at least 159 games in six of his last eight seasons — means Texas is getting the absolute most out of their money through the first two years of his deal. Much like Seager’s history of October success suggested he would be able to rise to the occasion when it came, Semien’s résumé suggested he could be counted on more regularly than almost any infielder of his era.

The Rangers committed half a billion dollars to bring both of them to Texas. Yet they became the centerpieces of a World Series team, superstars at the heart of a turnaround, everything Texas could have wanted. Maybe both will fall apart in the later years of their deals. But so far, they look like two of the best, most impact-wielding position player signings in recent memory, at least when it comes to October results.

Still, when free agency officially opens Monday, the Semien and Seager deals, and in particular the way the Rangers approached their two-year spending spree around them, should be instructive. They splurged on premier players with few red flags in their track records and got exactly what they paid for. Then they kept spending on pitching.

No one, including the Rangers, seems to be able to figure out how to mitigate the risks inherent in massive free agent deals for starting pitchers. Their biggest pitching signing of the last decade, Jacob deGrom, made all of six starts for Texas before needing Tommy John surgery. His track record suggested the Rangers would be paying for upside, not durability. And that is exactly what they have received so far.

Yet they did not approach last offseason like a team crossing its fingers deGrom would suddenly buck the injury trend. They stockpiled pitching, signing Nate Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney and eventually injured Jake Odorizzi, then traded for Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery at the deadline, adding those starters to a group that already included Jon Gray and Martín Pérez. Many of those starters broke down for short or long stretches at times this season. The Rangers had people to replace them.

Not every team will be able to spend quite like the Rangers, whose payroll was 6th-highest in baseball and topped $200 million. But even teams that spent more could not replicate Texas’s success, in large part because they ran out of pitching. Injuries picked apart the New York Mets and New York Yankees starting rotations, as well as their rosters. The San Diego Padres seemed, at times, to run out of starting pitching, too — though they are an example of why signing even top position player talent just because it is the best available does not necessarily yield the best fits, either.

Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, who seem able to sign every pitching castoff looking to jump-start his career, ran out of pitching in the end. The Rangers spent first on a few key position players, then have continued their spending on a half dozen starters ever since. Sure, they did not plan to have Gray pitching three of their biggest innings of the season after Scherzer left Game 3 with an injury. But they had committed $56 million to him ahead of the 2022 season, which meant that when they needed depth, theirs was proven.

This year’s free agent pitching market contains a few elite options at the top and several options that fit into the depth category behind them. Shohei Ohtani cannot pitch until 2025, so leave him out of this for now. Blake Snell and Aaron Nola will be the two biggest names available, and both are potential Cy Young contenders when healthy. But those behind them fall more into the hit-or-miss category, guys like Montgomery, who emerged as a force this year but had not been one prior, or Sonny Gray, who was elite for the Twins with a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts this season but will therefore be coming off one of his best seasons at age 33. Marcus Stroman has high upside, but sometimes runs into injury issues. Michael Wacha, Alex Wood and Kyle Gibson never exactly dominate but always seem able to eat innings.

Any one of those options would make a contender’s rotation better. But if the Rangers are any blueprint, teams need to emphasize depth — endless, playoff-ready depth — to turn spending in the winter into winning in October.

Chelsea Janes is the national baseball writer in sports. She was The Washington Post’s beat writer for the Washington Nationals from 2014 to 2018 and was a sports intern for The Post in 2013. She also previously covered the 2020 presidential campaign.

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