This changes everything. The Texas Rangers hiring Bruce Bochy to be their manager starting in 2023 will produce ripples throughout the American League West for the next several years. Perhaps not enough to create an immediate sea change at the top, but enough for the front-running Houston Astros to look over their shoulders and at least wonder what might be gaining on them.
The Rangers announced Friday through social media that Bochy, who turns 68 years old in April, had been lured out of retirement and signed to a three-year contract. At the time Bochy left the San Francisco Giants in 2019, the baseball world considered him to be one of the top managers of his era. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and a lot of the credit went to Bochy for keeping the players motivated, prepared and happy.
Bochy's teams, including the San Diego Padres from 1995 to 2006 before he moved to San Francisco in ’07, collectively finished in first place six times. His clubs made the postseason eight times in all, and his Giants went 36-17 in playoff games despite never having the most expensive roster or the biggest collection of All-Stars. The group just seemed to be mixed right.
Whatever the manager had to do with making it happen, Bochy provided it — intelligence, confidence, understanding, competitiveness, personality, empathy, fairness, attitude. What the Rangers need — what any team would need — Bochy can bring. Give him the right players, and he will make it work.
A year ago this offseason, the Rangers allotted $500 million to free agents Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Martín Pérez, Jon Gray and others in an effort to improve from a 60-102 record in 2021. They won 68 games, still finishing an astronomical 38 games out of first place in the AL West. They even finished 22 games behind the second-place Seattle Mariners.
Despite Texas adding credible ballplayers like Seager and Semien, the top of the division had little reason to notice the Rangers. During the season, the team fired manager Chris Woodward and then team president Jon Daniels, the architect of the club's golden era. General manager Chris Young remained. He's an important character, a former major-league pitcher known for being 6-foot-10 and a graduate of Princeton. Young played for Bochy in San Diego and is a familiar colleague who has his former manager’s confidence.
Why would Bochy un-retire with nothing to prove? He's back to win another World Series. He wouldn't have joined the Rangers if he didn't believe Young could deliver his part. Also, Bochy’s arrival should indicate a willingness by the Rangers to spend more money, starting now, in order to close the gap on the Astros.
And that's where the rest of the AL West pricks up its ears. They're going to have to bother with the Rangers.
The Los Angeles Angels are still going along merrily with Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and a lot of question marks that can't seem to push them past .500. Now they can’t even reasonably count on finishing third. And the Oakland Athletics obviously are more worried about finding their next ballpark than they are filling out a roster.
The Rangers are on the verge of leaving the bottom of the division in the dust, and they represent a possible, actual threat to the top.
Texas finished 12th in runs scored in 2022, with Seager and Semien providing decent production (after sluggish starts) and Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis Garcia having breakthrough performances. Catcher Jonah Heim and center fielder Leody Taveras also showed promise, as did rookie third baseman Josh Jung in 102 plate appearances. The offense isn't complete (it finished 19th in the league with a collective 98 wRC+, which is a little below average), but it doesn't need another offseason infusion of high-priced signings.
The bullpen has a lot of effective pieces, particularly Brock Burke, Matt Moore and José Leclerc, but the starting pitching needs a lot of work, especially with Pérez being a free agent and possibly ticketed elsewhere. Carlos Rodón would be a huge addition to any pitching staff, and he's already been linked to the Rangers, who need somebody big and expensive like him.
You know who else might want to come to Texas? The one and only Clayton Kershaw.
The future Hall of Famer talked to the Rangers during the previous offseason about joining as a free agent, but they're going to be further along in their rebuild this time around. Another postseason disappointment this season with the Los Angeles Dodgers could help push Kershaw back to the Metroplex, where he grew up, so he could try to win a World Series with the hometown team.
The presence of Bochy, a longtime nemesis-turned-pal, might be a tempting professional deviation before Kershaw calls it a career. It would be fun for him, and for us, if not for Dodgers fans.
The Rangers could have kept interim manager Tony Beasley, added more free agents and continued to advance their redevelopment. They have one of the top 5-10 farm systems in the league, which could yield additional prospects or trade pieces. Things probably would have continued to change in their favor on some kind of long arc. Instead, they made a bold move to put a big fish in charge of the dugout.
It will be interesting to see what else the Rangers might reel in this offseason, as they make their way back to competitiveness next season.