Rangers Free Agency Preview 2.0: Outfield Options Beyond Seiya Suzuki

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Major League Baseball’s ninth work stoppage is over 10 weeks old, and a new CBA must be agreed upon in the next few weeks to salvage a punctual start to the 2022 season. Once the lockout is over, all Major League business can resume as usual.

There are well more than 100 big-league free agents that will need to find jobs before the season begins, and every single one of them must wait until the work stoppage is over. The Rangers, even after committing more than half a billion dollars on free agents prior to the lockout, will look to add a couple finishing touches to their revamped big league roster. Starting pitching is a priority, and Clayton Kershaw may be the first phone call made by either president of baseball operations Jon Daniels or general manager Chris Young.

However, adding another outfielder will likely be near the top of the shopping list. Japanese free agent Seiya Suzuki is the outfielder most often tied to the Rangers in free agency rumors. Despite the mutual interest, the Rangers are not considered one of the favorites to land the 27-year-old slugger. In all likelihood, the Rangers will get their chance to make their sales pitch to Suzuki’s camp, but there are no guarantees.

If the Rangers miss out on Suzuki, there are still plenty of remaining options for the outfield—everything from a fourth-outfielder, veteran-type to a big-money guy.

Nick Castellanos

2021 Stats: 3.2 bWAR, 138 games, .309/.362/.576/.939, 34 HR, 100 RBI
2022 Seasonal Age: 30
Projected Contract: Five years, $115 million

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers had interest in Nick Castellanos when he was a free agent two winters ago. The Cincinnati Reds outbid everyone and Castellanos capitalized on a contract laden with opt-outs. After his first All-Star season as one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League, Castellanos is testing the market again and will likely get a significant pay raise.

While the Rangers may like Castellanos, it may not be an avenue the Rangers seriously entertain. Castellanos rejected a qualifying offer from the Reds, and under the terms of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs that sign these players must forfeit a draft pick and possibly some money from its international bonus pool.

As previously mentioned, $500 million have already gone to signing Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. In turn, Texas is subject to forfeiting its second- and third-round picks since both players rejected qualifying offers. Signing Castellanos would require the surrender of a third draft pick, which would be peculiar at best for a club on the tail end of a rebuild.

However, there is still a chance for the Rangers to pursue Castellanos. During his press conference on Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the league has agreed with the MLBPA to remove draft pick compensation from free agents in the next CBA. Naturally, the first question to be asked in that regard is what happens to these free agents when the lockout is over? Does the new CBA void that compensation? Or, since that business took place under the old agreement, it remains in effect?

If it’s the former, it would be surprising if Castellanos did not become the Rangers’ No. 1 outfield target. However, the latter is the safest bet with the likelihood that elimination of draft pick compensation goes into effect next winter.

Kris Bryant

2021 Stats: 3.3 bWAR, 144 games, .265/.353/.481/.835, 25 HR, 73 RBI
2022 Seasonal Age: 30
Projected Contract: Five years, $130 million

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Kris Bryant bounced back from a lackluster 2020 campaign with his fourth All-Star nod last season. The Chicago Cubs traded him to the San Francisco Giants at the July 30 deadline, and despite putting up lesser numbers after the trade, Bryant reportedly loved his time as a Giant.

The 2016 NL MVP has mostly been a third baseman throughout his career, but slowly transitioned to the outfield in recent years. Last year, Bryant made more appearances in the outfield than the hot corner for the first time in his career. If the Rangers pursued him, it would likely address left field, though his ability to play any of the four corner positions could prove to be very valuable.

Bryant’s bounce-back campaign puts him in line for a decent payday, given his track record and versatility. Since he was traded midseason, Bryant wasn’t eligible to receive a qualifying offer, which increases his market.

Michael Conforto

2021 Stats: 0.8 bWAR, 125 games, .232/.344/.384/.729, 14 HR, 55 RBI
2022 Seasonal Age: 29
Projected Contract: Four years, $72 million

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Michael Conforto is an intriguing option. Prior to 2021, Conforto averaged a 129 OPS+ and hit 88 home runs from 2017-2019. He also posted huge numbers during the truncated 2020 season, slashing .322/.412/.515/.927 with nine home runs and 31 RBI in 54 games.

However, Conforto’s value might have taken a hit after a mediocre year in 2021. He slashed .232/.344/.384/.729 with 14 homers and 55 RBI, though a hamstring injury limited him to only 125 games. A case of COVID-19 prior to spring training could have hampered his start to the season as well.

Even so, Conforto is still a candidate for a multiyear offer, but could potentially sign a one-year deal to prove his value and reenter free agency next winter. However, agent Scott Boras said he expects a long-term deal for his client.

Like Castellanos, Conforto rejected a qualifying offer. Unless the new CBA retroactively eliminates draft pick compensation, the Rangers might not seriously entertain another forfeited draft pick for Conforto.

Jorge Soler

2021 Stats: -0.3 bWAR, 149 games, .223/.316/.432/.749, 27 HR, 70 RBI
2022 Season Age: 30
Projected Contract: Three years, $36 million

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers above don’t leap out at you, but some recency bias could make a strong argument for Jorge Soler. 

After he was traded from the Kansas City Royals to the Atlanta Braves, Soler put up significantly better numbers (.658 OPS in 94 games with Kansas City, .882 OPS in 55 games with Atlanta). He then capped off the year with a torrid performance on baseball’s largest stage. Soler posted a 1.191 OPS with three home runs and six RBI in the World Series, and was subsequently named the Series’ Most Valuable Player.

Soler has also previously proved his ability to be a dangerous bat in the regular season. In 2019, he led the American League with 48 home runs, posting a .922 OPS in the process. Soler could potentially give the Rangers another right-handed power bat for the middle of the lineup, though his best role would likely come as a designated hitter. Soler’s defensive metrics are quite lacking, ranking in the fourth percentile in Outs Above Average and the second percentile in Outfielder Jump.

Kyle Schwarber

2021 Stats: 3.2 bWAR, 113 games, .266/.374/.554/.928, 32 HR, 71 RBI
2022 Seasonal Age: 29
Projected Contract: Three years, $54 million

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Schwarber enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2021, despite a rough April and missing more than a month in the summer with a hamstring strain. Even so, Schwarber would give the Rangers a left-handed bat with power for the middle of the lineup. He also has valuable postseason experience, including a World Series championship with the Cubs in 2016.

The largest concern with Schwarber is his defense. Though he could fill the immediate need in left field, he ranks in the lowest percentile in Outs Above Average, giving him the very definition of a bat-first outfielder. He could primarily fill in at DH, paving the way for Willie Calhoun or Nick Solak to earn at-bats in left field. Adolis García could also play there if Leody Taveras finally figures out the jump from Triple A to the Majors.

Schwarber’s liability in the field prevents him from earning a contract comparable to former Cubs teammate Kris Bryant, but he could still end up with a respectable pay out.

Andrew McCutchen

2021 Stats: 1.4 bWAR, 144 games, .222/.334/.444/.778, 27 HR, 80 RBI
2022 Seasonal Age: 35
Projected Contract: One year, $10 million

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew McCutchen has had a very nice career, highlighted by his time in Pittsburgh where he won four straight Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove and was named the 2013 NL MVP.

Like his dreadlocks, those days are gone. However, McCutchen is still a player that can provide value, especially to a team full of younger players. His bat isn’t as quick as it used to be, but he is as disciplined as he ever has been, ranking in the 97th percentile in walk percentage and the 94th percentile in chase rate. 27 homers at 34 years old is worth noting as well, though his most attractive quality to the Rangers might be his presence in the clubhouse.

McCutchen is limited to the corner outfield at this point in his career, but he has been very durable throughout his career. McCutchen played 108 games after he was a June call-up with the Pirates in 2009, has played at least 144 games in 10 of his 13 years in the big leagues and appeared in 57 of 60 games in the truncated 2020 campaign. The only outlier: an ACL tear ended his 2019 season after 59 games.

The Phillies declined McCutchen’s $15 million option, which could give a bit of insight into what the market will be for the five-time All-Star. An AAV of at least $10 million is a pretty safe bet given his track record.

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