The Rangers were active this offseason in revising their rotation for 2023. martin perez he was set to hit free agency, but received a qualifying offer of $19.65MM which he accepted to return. The club also signed free agents jacob degrom, andres heaney Y nathan eovaldiin addition to acquiring jake odorizzi from atlanta those five and the headline jon gray give the club six solid options for five spots. However, the bullpen hasn’t gotten as much attention. In addition to that turnover surplus that may push Odorizzi into a prolonged relief role, the club’s current relief options are holdovers and veterans in minor league deals.
The bullpen wasn’t an especially glaring weakness for the Rangers last year. Their collective 3.72 ERA ranked 12th out of 30 major league clubs. However, they lost matt moore and his 1.95 ERA last year when the lefty became a free agent late in the season. They also don’t have an established closer, as several players have been given the job in recent years only to be dropped with injuries and/or poor performance. The club’s saves leader in 2022 was joe barlow with 13, although the last one came in June as he spent much of the second half of the year on the disabled list. As the club held Rangers Fan Fest this weekend, Levi Weaver of Atlético discussed the situation with the general manager chris youngwho listed joseph leclerc, jonathan hernandez, ian kennedy, danny duffy Y Brett Martin as some of the candidates to take over closing duties, though Martin won’t be an option any time soon as he recently underwent shoulder surgery that could end his entire 2023 campaign.
Leclerc, 29, has once played the role of closer. He racked up 12 saves in 2018 and 14 in 2019. His ERA, however, jumped from 1.56 in that first season to 4.33 in his last. He then missed most of the next two seasons due to injuries, including Tommy John surgery in March 2021. He returned to the Rangers in June of last year and gave up five earned runs in his first three outings, but posted an ERA of . 2.01 the rest of the way. He seemed to pick up the closer’s job during the final months of the season, picking up seven saves between August and September. He is arguably the favorite and Young said Leclerc “could easily be the closer.”
Hernandez, 26, is on a similar trajectory to Leclerc, in that he underwent Tommy John in April 2021. Before going under the knife, he got off to a good start in 2020. He threw 31 frames that year with a 2.90 ERA, 24.8% strikeout rate, 6.4% walk rate, and 45.7% ground ball rate. After missing 2021, he returned last year and posted a 2.97 ERA in 30 1/3 innings. Control of him didn’t fully return to him, as he walked 13% of the hitters faced, but kept the ball on the ground at a rate of 62.4%. His closing experience is fairly limited, with all four of his career saves coming in a two-week stretch from late July to mid-August of last year. Typically, teams prefer his closers to be reliable strikeout guys, which could work against Hernandez, since he only hit 20.6% of opponents last year. He just might be able to pick up some punches now that he’s further from surgery, and Young expressed his belief that Hernandez could take on the role.
Kennedy, 38, would provide a more experienced option, though that won’t necessarily make him more reliable. A longtime starter, he’s moved to the bullpen in recent years, but has seen wild fluctuations in his performance. He racked up 30 saves for the Royals in 2019 with a 3.41 ERA, but then posted a 9.00 ERA in the shortened 2020 season while limited by injury to just 15 appearances. He joined the Rangers in 2021 and got back on track, posting a 3.20 ERA and saving 26 games between them and the Phillies after a midseason trade. But with the Diamondbacks last year, his ERA skyrocketed to 5.36 while his strikeout rate plummeted to 19% from 27.2% the previous season.
Duffy, 34, is another veteran option, albeit in a much different way. He has only one save, which he returned in 2015. Most of his career has been spent as a starter, with just 30 relief appearances spread over his time in the majors. He is also coming off a long absence, having last appeared in the majors in July 2021. A flexor strain left him on the shelf at the time and he was unable to rehab in time to pitch in 2022. The error bars in His 2023 are pretty wide, as he posted a 2.51 ERA when he was last healthy in 2021, but he may need time to get back on track after being inactive for so long.
A great wild card in the club’s bullpen is the left-handed brock burke. Young was asked about the left-hander and said he “potentially” could take the closer job and that’s something he’s discussed with pitching coach Mike Maddux. Burke had a breakout season in 2022. He made his MLB debut with six starts in 2019, but then missed all of 2020 due to shoulder surgery. He returned to the mound in 2021 but remained in the Triple-A rotation, where he posted a 5.68 ERA. Last year, however, he took on a multi-inning relief role in the majors and dominated, posting a 1.97 ERA in 82 1/3 innings in 52 appearances. He struck out 27.4% of the batters he faced while walking just 7.3%. It may be tempting to see what he could do in a typical one-inning relief role, but it seems the club doesn’t want to push him in that direction, and Young suggests Burke could eclipse 100-innings this season. “I’m not sure he understands that in the closer role. Or maybe he’s a different type of closer role; maybe not so conventional. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because we don’t commit to that. He might be a traditional type of closer, but we certainly see Brock as a valuable member of our bullpen and he can pitch a number of different roles that could help us win games.”
Burke himself admits that he held out hope of returning to the rotation until the club renewed it this offseason. “I feel like my role in the bullpen, with the starters we have this year, is going to be very useful,” he said. I’m good with whatever they have. If it’s one entry, two entries, break entries. Last year, I definitely would have said more innings, merrier, at one (point) but after getting used to going out for one inning, I felt more comfortable, so hopefully this year, whatever role the team needs me to be . ”
It appears the Rangers are keeping an open mind for now and will let the chips fall where they may in the coming months. Health and effectiveness in the spring and early parts of the season will surely help the club’s decision-makers navigate the upcoming campaign.
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