The Texas Rangers have punched their ticket to the 2023 World Series - dominating the
Rays, dominating the O’s and then winning 4 games on the road in Houston (sound familiar?).
The Rangers path of getting back to contention was aggressive yet simple and the Nationals need to follow their playbook.
After the Rangers won 95 games in 2016, they followed that up with 6 straight losing
seasons, including a 102 loss season in 2021. After that season, the Rangers spent a whopping
$561.2 Million on Free Agents, particularly on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. After a lost season due to injuries in 2022, the Rangers opted to keep being aggressive in the free agent market. Those two seasons of acquisitions paid off and got them to 90 wins (with injuries keeping them from 100 this year), a postseason berth and nearly a division title. Now, they are in the World Series. The Rangers signings of Seager and Semien, as well as Jon Gray, Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney and Martin Perez all paid dividends. They also made great trades this season (taking on large contracts) by adding Max Scherzer and more importantly Jordan Montgomery, who has been their ace this postseason.
The Rangers aggressive moves and large spending skyrocketed them into the top 8 in MLB Payroll. Being in that range is important due to recent historical trends: only one team has won the World Series that was outside the top 14 in payroll since 1995. Thanks to a helpful thread by NexGenNats, in the last 10 standard postseasons small market teams are 15-29. Small payroll teams do not win in October. It is a big reason why the Rays, for example, sputter every single October.
The Rangers regular season success and playoff success happened on the back of those
acquisitions, as well as Adolis Garcia whom the Rangers traded for a couple of seasons
ago. The Rangers position players WAR this season was 33.3 and they received 26.9 of that WAR from players they acquired via free agency or trade. The Rangers pitching staff accrued 15.2 WAR this season and they received 14.2 WAR from pitchers they acquired via free agency or trade.
How does this tie into the Nationals? As you can see in the graph below, Most WAR Gained by Drafted and Signed Team and Average Signing Bonus Amount per 1 WAR, the Nationals have (not surprisingly) gotten by far and away the least amount of WAR from draft picks. The Rangers are 22nd in baseball with 3.83 WAR from draft picks in the Bonus Pool Era (2012 – Present).
The graph below is each team’s bWAR gained and lost based on talent given away. The Nationals are last in the league in this category and as far over as you can be for poor overall scouting. The Rangers are bottom 10 in this as well.
If you are a team and you are struggling with scouting, drafting and developing players but want to win, how do you make up for those weaknesses? You open up the checkbook and bring in good players. Acting like the big market team you are is always a good thing. The Rangers (5th largest sports market in the country) realized this and spent big, and I don't think anyone is regetting it at the moment. The Nationals are in the 8th largest sports market in the country, they can afford to spend despite what their current owner might say.
The Lerners have shown a willingness to open up the checkbook in the past, but that was also Ted Lerner. Will Mark follow suit? Hopefully he does and sees the recipe from recent history that you have to spend to win. It doesn't guarantee a winning team, like the Mets this year, but it is nearly impossible to win without spending. Teams that spent have shown the historical trend of winning and winning
pennants. Sure, you have teams that bust every now and then like the Mets and Padres did, but
there are always going to be outliers. History will always repeat itself and it does each October.