The Rangers Add Some Much Needed Depth to Their Roster

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers have had a busy offseason. They’ve guaranteed more than half a billion dollars in new free agent contracts — by far the largest outlay in baseball — and made a major trade for a new starting catcher. Yet despite adding Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to vastly improve the top end of their lineup, and Jon Gray to anchor their rotation, the Rangers lacked for depth. So to address some of the lingering holes on their roster, they signed a handful of additional players over the last week. They inked Brad Miller to a two-year, $10 million contract on Thursday, and Garrett Richards to a one-year, $4.5 million deal on Sunday with a $9 million club option for 2023 and a $1 million buyout. They also signed Greg Holland, Charlie Culberson, Matt Carpenter to minor league contracts over the last week. Those five players add some much needed depth to their roster.

Miller, Carpenter, and Culberson all seem like additions to address the loss of top prospect Josh Jung, who was expected to challenge for the starting third base role in camp. He tore the labrum in his left shoulder in late February and underwent surgery to repair the injury, sidelining him for most if not all of the season. After trading Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the in-house options to replace Jung were Andy Ibáñez and Nick Solak, both of whom have shown at least some promise in the recent past. Bringing in some additional spring competition for the position provides the Rangers an opportunity to find the right fit in 2022.

Texas Rangers 3B/LF Options
Player Age Options PA ISO K% BB% wRC+ Fld WAR
Brad Miller 32 n/a 448 0.220 30.2% 11.1% 110 1.5 2.2
Nick Solak 27 2 399 0.136 21.0% 7.1% 100 -4.4 0.7
Andy Ibáñez 29 2 343 0.156 15.0% 6.3% 102 5.5 1.2
Charlie Culberson 33 n/a 168 0.150 24.4% 5.7% 89 -0.6 0.3
Matt Carpenter 36 n/a 112 0.142 29.0% 13.1% 86 -0.4 0.0
Yonny Hernandez 24 3 105 0.061 18.3% 11.5% 87 1.1 0.4
ZiPS Projections

Each of the players above can play multiple positions, giving the Rangers plenty of options to fill out their lineup. There isn’t room for all six of those players on the Opening Day roster, so the competition for those few spots will be fierce during the compressed spring.

Miller’s two-year deal is the longest commitment he’s earned from a team in his career. Over the last four years, he’s bounced between seven different teams, including two separate stints with the Phillies. Despite his journeyman status, he’s actually been quite productive at the plate. Way back in 2016, he blasted 30 home runs and posted a 111 wRC+ for the Rays, though his performance dipped significantly the year after. That seems to have largely been a one-year blip, though, as he’s posted a 110 wRC+ over the last four years, with just his 2018 season (98) falling below league average.

His batted ball data has been outstanding during that stretch, joining the best in the league in nearly every significant underlying batted ball metric.

Brad Miller, Batted Ball Peripherals
Years Hard Hit% Barrel% Avg LD+FB EV xwOBAcon
2018-2021 46.9% 12.3% 95.3 0.447
Percentile 90 88 83 90

He’s simply crushed the ball over the last four years, leading to a .223 ISO and 47 home runs in part-time duty. He’s shown no signs of slowing down, either. Last year, he hit the hardest ball of his career at 113.9 mph and his hard hit rate was at a three-year high of 47.9%.

Miller’s limitations are clear, however. All of that high quality contact is held back somewhat by the number of times he goes down swinging; his strikeout rate has been just a hair below 30% since 2018. His contact rate isn’t as poor as someone like Joey Gallo, but at 70.1%, he really needs to make the most of every time he puts the ball in play. His approach at the plate isn’t the issue, though; he does a pretty good job of laying off pitches thrown out of the zone. He simply swings through too many pitches, leading to high strikeout rates (albeit paired with high walk rates). Miller also really struggled against left-handed pitching. He owns a 67 point wOBA platoon split for his career, and teams have largely hid him against same-handed pitching. He’s done considerable damage when holding the platoon advantage, but it’s pretty clear at this point he’s not an everyday player.

Defensively, Miller has played all over the diamond during his career. He accumulated most of his innings at first base in 2021, but also saw time at second and third, and in left and right field. He was a shortstop when he first broke into the majors and has more than 3,000 innings at that position, too. The problem is that no matter where he plays, his defensive value is pretty limited. The only position where he’s been rated above average by any of the advanced defensive metrics is left field (1.2 UZR); everywhere else, he’s been a net negative. According to manager Chris Woodward, Miller will likely spend most of his time in left, but he has the ability to fill-in anywhere on the field in a pinch.

The Rangers have a number of options to pair with Miller in left. Solak saw some limited time in the outfield back in 2020 and has hit left-handed pitching extremely well in his short career. The team also re-signed Culberson to a minor league deal. He capably filled the role of a right-handed utilityman last year and will see if he can earn that spot on the roster again. Between Miller, Ibáñez, Solak, and Culberson, the Rangers have four players to fill two spots in their lineup and the flexibility to deploy them around the field to give other players days off if needed. That kind of depth just wasn’t present on the roster a week ago.

Carpenter is a longer shot to make the Opening Day roster but his late career resurgence would make for a fantastic storyline. Once a potent member of the Cardinals, his production fell off steeply in 2019, the year after he finished in the top 10 in the National League MVP voting. He was essentially relegated to the bench last season while putting up a career-worst 70 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR, as his power completely dried up and his strikeout rate climbed above 30% for the first time in his career.

In mid-February, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic detailed the extensive process Carpenter went through this offseason to revamp his swing and approach at the plate. The entire piece is well worth a read, but Carpenter first turned to Joey Votto to inquire about his late-career resurgence, and finally “bought into” advanced hitting analytics and focused on a data-driven approach to fixing his mechanics. Carpenter apparently turned down major league offers from other teams to sign with the Rangers on a minor league deal, and even if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he’ll likely be on standby in Triple-A in case all his offseason work starts to pay off or there are injuries in Arlington.

With the holes in the lineup and bench filled, the Rangers also addressed their lagging pitching staff by adding Richards and Holland to their bullpen. A long-time Statcast darling, Richards’ results have never really risen to the level of his raw stuff. A lengthy injury history is likely to blame for much of that underperformance; last season was the first time since 2015 that Richards had taken the mound more than 20 times in a season, making 22 starts for the Red Sox and an additional 18 appearances out of the bullpen.

Despite getting through the season with his health intact, Richards wasn’t all that effective on the mound. He started the season in Boston’s starting rotation, but struggled to post a 5.22 ERA and a 5.15 FIP through mid-August; his performance took a nose-dive after MLB began more strictly enforcing its ban on foreign substances, forcing him to retool his approach to pitching on the fly. He was bumped from the rotation and worked the rest of the season in a multi-inning relief role. That suited him a bit better, and he dropped his ERA to 3.42 in 26.1 innings out of the bullpen while increasing his strikeout rate by more than seven points, from 17.3% as a starter to 24.8%. The Rangers are likely to utilize Richards in that same role in 2022.

As a reliever, Richards saw the expected bump in his average fastball velocity, though it maybe wasn’t as pronounced as someone working in shorter outings would have seen; it went from 94.2 mph to 94.9 mph. His pitch mix also looked a little different:

Out of the bullpen, Richards leaned on his slider a bit more often. Normally, that would be a good thing; his slider had a career 40.5% whiff rate prior to last year. Unfortunately, all those swings and misses with his breaking ball dried up in 2021. The whiff rate on the pitch dropped to 26.6% and it was even lower once he moved to the ‘pen. Some of that might be related to where he located the pitch:

Richards located his slider inside the zone far more often last year. Indeed, the zone rate for the pitch was the second highest of his career, just a hair below 50%. Opposing batters took advantage of all those hung breaking balls, accidental or not; he allowed a career-high .340 wOBA off the pitch. The ineffectiveness of his primary breaking ball was likely the main reason his strikeout rate fell to its lowest point since 2013. It’s a big red flag, but assuming his slider returns to its usual deadly quality in 2022, Richards should be a fine addition to the Rangers bullpen.

Holland, meanwhile, is looking to latch on with Texas after a rough season in 2021 with the Royals. The late stages of his career have been up-and-down since he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016. He led the NL in saves in his first year back from that procedure, but struggled to replicate his early career success afterward. He had a short resurgence in his second stint with Kansas City in 2020, posting a 1.91 ERA and a 2.52 FIP during the shortened season, but everything fell apart last season. His strikeout rate fell to a career low and his FIP rose to a career high. The Rangers have very few quality options to deploy in high leverage situations and Holland’s lengthy career as an elite closer likely gives him an opportunity to make the club’s Opening Day roster depending on how he performs this spring. His recent struggles will likely limit him to middle relief duty, but if he somehow rekindles the excellence of his youth, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him used in increasingly higher leverage situations in the regular season.

The Rangers still face an uphill climb in the AL West; our playoff odds give them just a 6% chance of playing October baseball. But these depth moves are a necessary complement to their higher profile signings. They don’t guarantee a postseason appearance, but they sure help.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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1 year ago

I really like what the Rangers have been doing since Chris Young came into the picture. Ideally they would have gotten the two big name FAs next offseason after one more year of rebuilding, but there was no guarantee players of that caliber would be there for them.

1 year ago
Reply to  ericpalmer4

Ya I never got the unwavering commitment to Jon Daniels

Carson Kahlamember
1 year ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Neither did I, however in recent years a good portion of the online fanbase has become quite vitriolic in the way they speak about him, which I also don’t understand.

1 year ago
Reply to  Carson Kahla

Yeah I think Daniels wasn’t as good as people hailed him to be in the early 2010s (Thad Levine and AJ Preller, among others helped a lot) but I don’t think he was near as bad as people are claiming the last few years.
He had some reallllllyyyy bad injury luck, and a couple rough trades/signings, but so does everyone

1 year ago
Reply to  ericpalmer4

While I applauded the team for thinking outside the box, pitcher de-load program was an unmitigated disaster. Several generations of top prospects fizzled at the major league level.