Texas Spending Frenzy Hits Crescendo in Monster Corey Seager Deal

Few people probably anticipated the kind of spending frenzy we’ve seen this offseason leading up to a likely lockout. Nobody assumed the Rangers would be leading the way. They’ve now committed over $500 million in salary in the last 48 hours, with the biggest chunk of that coming on Monday afternoon in the form of a 10-year, $325 million deal for shortstop Corey Seager, who finished second in our top 50 free agent rankings. The deal includes a $5 million bonus and no opt-outs.

(A quick note before we move on: When you get into these numbers, state taxes make a difference. Playing in Texas and the AL West, Seager will play nearly two-thirds of his games in tax-free states. The Dodgers, who play nearly two-thirds of their games in the state with the highest tax rate in the country, could have offered $350 million and still not matched the Rangers in overall money.)

In Seager, the Rangers get a face-of-the-franchise–level talent — when he’s healthy, which has been depressingly rare of late. He missed more than a third of the 2021 season due to an errant pitch breaking a bone in his hand, lost nearly three weeks of the ’19 season to a hamstring strain, and was absent for the majority of of the ’18 season due to Tommy John and hip surgeries.

That said, the healthy version of Seager (and to be far, the broken hand was an accident) has shown that he’s capable of seasons worthy of MVP votes and is the best offensive shortstop on the market, and yes, that includes Carlos Correa, No. 1 in our top 50. Seager’s power is a seemingly underrated aspect of his game that every bit matches Correa’s in terms of exit velocities, and the former’s pure hit tool exceeds the latter’s, who is ultimately the better overall player thanks to his incredible defensive prowess.

Beyond that praise, ZIPS certainly likes Seager, but it isn’t as optimistic about his future as the Rangers seem to be.

ZiPS Projection – Corey Seager
2022 .291 .358 .513 522 92 152 34 2 26 92 53 5 130 -1 4.5
2023 .290 .358 .518 496 88 144 34 2 25 89 51 4 131 -2 4.2
2024 .289 .357 .525 484 85 140 32 2 26 88 49 4 132 -2 4.1
2025 .288 .355 .517 466 81 134 31 2 24 83 47 4 130 -3 3.7
2026 .283 .350 .502 448 75 127 28 2 22 77 44 3 125 -4 3.1
2027 .278 .341 .480 425 68 118 25 2 19 69 40 3 117 -5 2.4
2028 .271 .331 .455 402 61 109 22 2 16 61 35 3 108 -7 1.6
2029 .266 .323 .426 376 54 100 19 1 13 53 30 2 99 -8 0.9
2030 .258 .311 .404 349 47 90 16 1 11 45 25 2 90 -9 0.2
2031 .249 .297 .371 321 40 80 13 1 8 37 20 1 78 -11 -0.6

Models are a tool that helps to evaluate the future of a player, but they’re not sacrosanct, and in this case, I feel good about presenting a cogent argument for why he could exceed these projections (offensively, at least).

Not 28 until next April, Seager is either entering or in the midst of his prime, and a change in approach has already yielded positive results and could lead to greater offensive improvements in Arlington. He posted a career-high walk rate last year, and as illogical as it sounds, a good portion of that came from taking fewer pitches, as he became more aggressive on pitches in the zone, especially on the first pitch. First pitches are often establishing fastballs; Seager destroys fastballs but is merely good against everything else. That has led to far fewer fastballs and thus fewer strikes. But that reduction in early called strikes leads to better early counts, which lead to better late counts, which lead to the much-desired combination of both more walks and more pitches to drive, and that feels like a sustainable trend.

In addition, Seager’s power continues to grow, as it often does in a player’s late 20s. The hardest-hit ball of his career came in 2021, and his two highest barrel rates came in the last two seasons. This is a very good hitter who is getting better, and it’s not hard to see him putting up six- and seven-WAR seasons in his early years in Texas.

But when talking about Seager, all of the positive praise comes from what happens when he has a bat in his hands; everything beyond that is a bit on the fringy side. He’s a tick below-average at shortstop, overall. He has good hands and instincts but lacks the speed and twitch normally associated with baseball’s most demanding position, and his once plus arm is now average after elbow surgery. They’re not major flaws as much as they are not positives, but a slide to third base by the mid-point of this deal should be anticipated.

As for the deal itself, 10 years might feel like too long on the surface, and $32 million per annum might feel like too much at first glance, but that’s how the free-agent system works both in general and specifically to the Rangers. Seager’s average offer (with some adjustments for reason) is probably a better barometer of his market value, but at the end of the day, free agents don’t have to settle for the average offer, nor should they. This is an auction, and players get to take the top deal. Even at these rates, the Rangers are likely to profit greatly from the deal for quite some time and then pay for it a bit on the back end. A deal that makes perfect sense from a team perspective is never going to do the same for a player.

Then there is simply what the Rangers are doing philosophically. Coming off a 60-win season and without a whole lot of optimism heading into 2022, they are letting the industry — and more importantly to them, other free agents both this year and in the future — know that they’re not messing around and expect to be major players and major payers. That kind of earned status could help prevent them from over-extending in the future, and the deals for Seager and to a lesser extent for Marcus Semien were part of their entrance fee to the big spenders club, as it were.

The Rangers have gone from a combination of Nick Solak and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to arguably the best offensive middle infield in the game, but that doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly compete in what is rapidly becoming a very interesting division — one the Astros have won four out of the last five years. The Jon Gray signing certainly helps, but the pitching staff as a whole remains a mess, and even the big-budget additions to the offense produce a top-heavy lineup that is still loaded with holes in the bottom half.

Hoping for an immediate return to relevance in the standings will still require significant work, but if nothing else, Texas’ two-day spending spree, capped by Seager, certainly accelerates the possibility of the team being a factor into October down the road.

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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CC AFCmember
2 years ago

Texas Rangers front office just out here shouting LEEEERROOYYYYYY JEENNNNKKINNNSSS right now. I love it and I am here for all of it

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Chris Young: Nimrod.
Jon Daniels: At least I have chicken.

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

God damn it Leroy.