The Texas Rangers spent big money in free agency the past two offseasons in hopes of returning to relevance.
In addition to all the spending on players, the Rangers also tried to enhance their chances of winning by coaxing manager Bruce Bochy out of retirement.
The plan is coming together.
The Rangers are 31-18 and lead the American League West by three games over the Houston Astros. That follow six straight losing seasons since the Rangers’ last postseason appearance in 2016.
“We’ve really got a great team,” left fielder Robbie Grossman said. “We’ve got good hitters in the lineup all the way from one through nine and we’ve got good pitching. I don’t think anyone in this clubhouse is surprised by what we’ve been doing this season.”
However, the Rangers have had to be a little patient to get to this point.
In the 2021-22 season, they spent $500 million combined to revamp their middle infield by signing shortstop Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and second baseman Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million) as free agent.
Yet the Rangers finished with a 68-94 record last season and manager Chris Woodward was fired with 48 games remaining.
The Rangers again made one of the biggest splashes of the past offseason by signing two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185-million deal.
Seager and Semien are playing like stars. Despite being limited to 18 games this season because of a hamstring injury, Seager is hitting .348/.418/.591 with three homers. Semien has a .299/.373/.498 slash line with eight home runs in 49 games.
DeGrom has pitched well when healthy. The problem is he hasn’t been healthy as he has been on the injured list since April 29 with elbow inflammation.
The Rangers have won all six of deGrom’s starts and he has a 2-0 record and 2.67 ERA. He also has 45 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings while allowing just 19 hits and four walks.
DeGrom has been throwing bullpens and is expected to rejoin the rotation sometime next month.
DeGrom was limited to just 26 starts combined during the previous two seasons with the New York Mets. The Rangers knew he was an injury risk but felt they needed to go to five years in the negotiations to be able to land him.
However, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi has provided great value for the two-year, $34-million contract he signed over the winter. He is 6-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 10 starts.
While the Rangers wait for DeGrom to get healthy, they have risen to the top of the AL West on the strength of a relentless offense. Texas is averaging an MLB-best 6.33 runs a game with right fielder Adolis Garcia helping lead the charge with 14 homers and 49 RBIs – both AL-leading figures.
“They can hit, and I think you’re looking at a lot of professional hitters that know how to work counts and work at-bats,” said Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton, whose team lost two of three games to the Rangers earlier this week. “When you do that, you end up getting more mistakes. I think if you look at it on the large scale, when they’ve gotten mistakes, they’ve impacted the baseball and because of it, they’ve scored a ton of runs.
“It’s an old-school American League lineup. We talked about those lineups at the end of the end of the 2000s, beginning of 2010, 2011, and I can tell you because I was fortunate enough to coach some of those in Cleveland and Tampa where the guys hitting 7, 8 and 9 can do damage, too.”
Putting it all together for the Rangers is Bochy, who retired as the San Francisco Giants’ manager following the 2019 season. He has 2,034 wins and three World Series championships in 26 seasons.
After being away from the dugout, Bochy was lured back by Rangers general manager Chris Young last October. In Bochy’s final season as the San Diego Padres’ manager in 2006, Young was part of his pitching staff.
The 68-year-old Bochy couldn’t be happier to be back running a team.
“I tell what, when I got to spring training, I felt it. I really understood how much I missed this,” Bochy said. “As things go along, there’s so many things you realize that you miss. Then when you have opening day, that’s so exciting. Then you’re going to different cities, and I always loved the travel part of it.
“Of course, being with these guys makes it fun. I have a great group of players here and a great staff. You do it for so long and there’s a lot of it you’re going to miss. It’s great to be back.”
And it doesn’t hurt to be in first place.
“That makes it even better,” Bochy said with a smile.