Evan Carter

Coming off of their first World Series win in franchise history, the Rangers went into the winter meetings hoping to leave with some of the big fish in free agency. Instead, they left with Kirby Yates, a 36-year-old reliever who had a 3.28 ERA with the Braves in 2023. Good news for the club though, most of their World Series team is still under contract. I will be going over some of those players that are potentially deserving of a contract extension.

  1. Evan Carter
Evan Carter

Carter began the season in Double-A with the Frisco Roughriders and stayed there for most of the year before getting called up to Round Rock for a quick stint of 8 games. Once Carter got called up to fill in for an injured Adolis Garcia, he made sure he was staying in the major leagues.

Why an extension?

Evan Carter is only 21 years old and he still maintains his rookie eligibility. That means the Rangers got his production for two months last season, including the playoffs, and one more full year before he becomes a free agent in 2030. A contract extension for a player with as little experience that Carter has can be risky, but there can also be a huge payoff if done with the right player. For example, the Diamondbacks gave their star outfielder, Corbin Carroll an 8-year $111 million contract before the 2023 season after only playing 32 games in 2022. He went on to not only win NL Rookie of the Year, but also place 5th in MVP voting and make his first all-star team.

When Carter came up in September he was putting up numbers that are demanding of an extension. He posted a 1.3 fWAR in 23 games which comes out to a 9.1 WAR over a full 162 games. For reference, unanimous AL MVP, Shohei Ohtani had a 10.0 WAR in 2023. Obviously that pace is not sustainable but even half of that would be an excellent season for a rookie. He had a 182 OPS+ in his month with the team, meaning he was 82% better than the league average hitter. That is thanks in large part to his elite plate discipline skills. Sporting a 9% chase rate when the league average is 28.5% led him to have a walk rate of 16% and for him to earn the nickname “Full Count Carter”.

He also had a sweet spot percentage of 43.7%. That is an important stat because it means his launch angle was between 8 and 32 degrees. That range is where batters will typically get the most production. Having a rate that high means that he doesn’t have to hit the ball as hard as other to produce, so his average exit velo of 89 mph can still be productive. With all the success at the plate, Carter’s defensive prowess got somewhat lost. He recorded 3 outs above average, which is an accumulation stat. If he were to have those kind of numbers over a full season he would easily win a gold glove. With all of his contributions the Rangers went 14-9 after his call up, including the franchise winning their first World Series. Carter played a big role in that as he ended up hitting 3rd and posted a .917 OPS throughout the playoffs.

Why to hold off:

While Carter does have an elite eye at the plate, it can get him into some deep counts if some borderline calls don’t go his way. Combining what sometimes can be a bit too passive of an approach and a 30.2% whiff rate, he ended up having a 32% strikeout rate. If he was a qualified batter, that would have ranked third worst in the majors. Like I said about his WAR earlier, this is also most likely not a trend that will continue as his highest K% in the minors was 22.3% with Frisco in 2023.

While Carter ended up starting every game in the World Series in the 3rd spot in the order, he was being protected against left-handed pitchers after his call up and into the ALCS. Including his time in the minors, he had a .602 OPS vs. LHP in 2023. In 2024 Carter will have to prove he can be a threat against LHP if the Rangers are waiting to give him an extension.

  1. Josh Jung
Texas Rangers Instructional League roster 2020
Josh Jung, Texas Rangers Instructional League roster 2020

Josh Jung also got a cup of coffee with the big league club before his official rookie season took place. The Texan native endeared himself with the fans in no time as he hit a home run in his first at-bat. He took that momentum with him as he started in his first all-star game and placed fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

Why an extension?

Jung quickly showed that he was well worth his billing as the top prospect he had been for multiple years. He started at 3B for the AL in the All-Star Game after posting an .835 OPS in the first half of the season. That is in large part to his 98th percentile hard hit rate at 41.9% combined with his 87th percentile average exit velocity at 91.8 mph. Both of those numbers are fantastic for a rookie season and if he can build off those, he will most likely become a more elite hitter. He also was at least average to above average on 7/9 pitches according run value on Baseball Savant.

If there was one doubt coming into the season about Jung, it was his defense. It seems that he saw those doubts and criticisms and worked hard to improve. He ranked in the 91st percentile in outs above average among all qualified players. He also made some huge defensive plays all throughout the playoffs. For example, making a diving play against the Astros in game 2 of the ALCS to help get Nathan Eovaldi out of a bases loaded jam in a game that the Rangers ended up winning.

Why to hold off:

While Jung thrived at times, pitchers seemed to figure him out down the stretch and attacked his weaknesses and he struggled to adjust. He sported a 32.9% chase rate and 29.7% whiff rate. Both of those are in the bottom 25% of the league and led to him have a very high k rate (29.3%) and very low walk rate (5.8%). It seems that he started getting attacked with sliders more as pitches got more of a scouting report as he had a -9 run value, the lowest out of all pitches. Not surprisingly, every stat on sliders for him is the worst out of all pitches that he saw in 2023.

  1. Jose LeClerc
Rangers Baseball, photo by Greg Scallan
Rangers Baseball, photo by Greg Scallan

No matter what he does in the rest of his tenure with the Rangers, LeClerc will go down as a Ranger legend for his heroics in the 2023 postseason. He also felt like the best story and most deserving for being the longest tenured Ranger and going through multiple injuries to get back to his dominant self.

Why an extension?

If the Rangers want to give LeClerc an extension, they have less than a year to do so as his contract expires at the end of the 2024 season. He has been consistently great in the back end of the bullpen when healthy as his lowest ERA+ in a season is 120. When healthy, he practically refuses to give up hits as his career H/9 is 5.1. He has a dominating fastball with spin that ranks in the 97th percentile in fastball spin and a great slider with a +4 run value. That great duo of pitches has equated to him having a career K/9 of 11.8. The Dominican reliever had his xERA, xBA, average exit velo, whiff rate, and hard hit rate all rank in the 89th percentile or higher. Many of those are great peripherals to look at to project future success for pitchers.

Why to hold off:

While LeClerc can be great to watch when he’s on, he can be just as frustrating to watch when he loses his confidence or doesn’t have his stuff. His career 5.1 BB/9 basically negates his elite hit prevention and tends to get him into jams that he has to work extra hard to get out of. His 12% walk rate in 2023 ranked in the 9th percentile of all pitchers.

  1. Adolis Garcia
Adolisgarciasuperstar Square 1

Garcia has a heck of a story that many people got to learn as he was dominating throughout the playoffs. He has played professionally in Cuba, Japan, and obviously in MLB. After getting DFA’d by the Cardinals and Rangers and getting passed by every team he got another shot with Texas in 2021 and never looked back. He ended up being a key piece in their WS run winning ALCS MVP honors along with a Gold Glove and 2nd Team All-MLB.

                     Why an extension?

Adolis Garcia has had his “breakout” season three years in a row now. His fWAR in 2021 was 3.0 and he improved it to 3.6 in 2022 and 4.8 in 2023. He also has boosted his OPS+ from 100 in 2021 to 123 in 2023, also improving each year. One of the biggest developments in his game last year was improving from below average to above average plate discipline.

In 2022 he had a 6.1% walk rate and improved it to 10.3% with an approach change in his age 30 season. Typically when players get to that age there is very little change in a players approach. That shows that he is still willing to learn and adapt his game even while being a well above average player. His batting (37), baserunning (1), and fielding (8) values were all above average according to baseball savant. His elite power led to him having his xwOBA, xSLG, average exit velo, barrel rate, and hard hit rate all being at least in the 90th percentile or harder. Those stats all combined to lead him to a career high 39 HR’s in 2023.

As I said earlier, he his not only a great hitter, but a great all around player earning a Gold Glove for the first time. That is largely boosted by his top tier arm strength in right field. His 93 mph average throw velocity ranks in the 95th percentile helped him throw out 11 baserunners on the year. All of these things compiled to get him ranked 9th in fWAR among all MLB outfielders. He not only performed in the regular season, but also became a superstar in the postseason. He had a 1.000 OPS or higher in each series after the Wild Card Series. This led to him winning ALCS MVP and hitting a walk-off home run in Game 1 of the World Series which is now one of the most, if not the most, memorable moments in Rangers history.

Why to hold off:

Garcia played his first full season at the age of 28, so he will not become a free agent going into his 34 year-old season. Typically as players approach that age they start to slow down in all facets of the game. He relies heavily on his great bat speed, elite arm strength, and great athleticism to produce and by the time he is 34 those skills will most likely be slightly deteriorated leading to less production year by year. Even in his 30 year-old season, his sprint speeds have declined each year.

While he has improved his plate discipline and K rate each year, his 27.7% K rate is a career low and is still in the 20th percentile. His 31.6% whiff rate was a big contributor to his strikeouts and ranked in the 16th percentile. Like I said earlier, the more he ages to worse these numbers will get.

  1. Jonah Heim
Frisco College Baseball Classic

Heim went from a throw in piece in a trade with the A’s for Elvis Andrus to being the starting catcher for the AL in the All-Star game in 2023. His passion that he plays with and continuous improvement have made him a fan favorite in Arlington.

Why an extension?

Heim has become a top tier catcher in MLB and it goes without saying that is one of the hardest things to find in professional baseball. If the Rangers want to keep that then they need to look into signing him to an extension, because their catching talent in the minor leagues is thin. He has improved from a well below average hitter, to above average for a catcher, to above league average. Among catchers with at least 500 PA, Heim ranks 5th in wRC+. He is not only a presence at the plate, but also behind the dish. Heim ranked in the 97th percentile in fielding run value and framing. He also liked to show off his arm, being in the 90th percentile in caught stealing above average. Basically, that just means he’s really good at throwing runners out. All of that cumulated to Heim ranking 5th overall in catcher fWAR.

Why to hold off:

Heim will not become a free agent until he is going into his 32 year-old. Usually around that age catchers will have some type of injury that catches up to them from squatting hundreds of times per year. There are obviously outliers that will catch into their late 30’s, but if Heim doesn’t his bat is most likely not enough to warrant an extension. He is a great hitter for a catcher, but just slightly above average compared to the rest of the league with a 103 wRC+.

Looking at his savant page, he out-performs many of his peripherals. His hard it rate, chase rate, and walk rates all went down from 2022, but he had a more productive seasons stat wise. Heim is also trying to learn to deal with a heavy workload, with his games played increasing every year since he debuted. Last year he was amazing in the first half with an .812 OPS, earning him a starting spot in the All-Star game. However, in the 2nd half of the season he struggled to a .656 OPS. Those struggles can most likely be attributed to his fatigue.

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