The Rangers announced that they have signed first baseman Jared Walsh, infielder Matt Duffy and left-hander Blake Taylor to minor league deals. All three deals come with invites to major league Spring Training. Walsh and Taylor are repped by ISE Baseball, Duffy by TWC Sports.
Walsh, 30, once looked like a mainstay of the lineup for the Angels. He hit nine home runs in the shortened 2020 season and then added another 29 the year after. His .280/.338/.531 batting line in that time translated to a wRC+ of 130, indicating he was 30% better than the league average hitter. He wasn’t considered a strong defender but the bat was clearly enticing.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been anywhere near that level since, with injuries holding him back. He hit .215/.269/.374 in 2022, with that season ultimately ended by thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. He returned in 2023 but battled neurological issues, including insomnia and headaches, something he discussed with Sam Blum of The Athletic in May. He hit just .125/.216/.279 in 39 major league games last year, getting passed through waivers twice. The second such instance was in October and he elected free agency afterwards.
For the Rangers, they have Nathaniel Lowe at first base but don’t have a strict designated hitter. If Walsh were able to get over his recent health issues and return to that strong form he showed a few years ago, he would be a candidate to take over the bulk of the DH at-bats, while also providing depth for a possible Lowe injury. If he were to get back in form and earn himself a roster spot, he could be retained for future seasons via arbitration, though he is out of options.
Duffy, 33, is a veteran utility guy. He spent 2023 with the Royals and hit .251/.306/.325 in his 209 plate appearances for a wRC+ of 72. That offense is obviously subpar, but he provided the club with defensive versatility. He spent some time at all four infield positions and even tossed two innings of mop-up duty on the mound. He’s also played a bit of left field in previous seasons.
The Rangers have Lowe at first, with the rest of the infield set to be filled out by Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Josh Jung. They also have infielders like Ezequiel Durán, Jonathan Ornelas, Josh H. Smith and Justin Foscue on the roster, but Duffy will add a bit of veteran non-roster depth.
Taylor, 28, pitched in 92 major league games for the Astros over the 2020 to 2022 seasons. He allowed just 3.06 earned runs per nine frames over 79 1/3 innings combined, but a bit of luck may have been involved. His 19.1% strikeout rate and 12.6% walk rate were both a few ticks worse than average, while his .249 batting average on balls in play and 79.3% strand rate were both on the fortunate side. His 4.65 FIP and 4.94 SIERA each suggest he may have deserved worse results than the ERA might indicate.
In 2023, he began the year on the injured list due to a left elbow strain. He was activated a couple of weeks later and optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land. He made 35 appearances for the Space Cowboys with a 5.15 ERA, 14.9% strikeout rate and 13.1% walk rate. He was released in August.
The Rangers lost lefties Aroldis Chapman and Will Smith to free agency and then non-tendered Brett Martin. Their southpaw relief contingent now consists of Brock Burke, Jake Latz and Antoine Kelly. They could also have Cody Bradford back there if he’s not working out of the rotation. Taylor will give them some non-roster depth with a bit of major league experience under his belt. If he is able to earn his way back to the majors, he does have one option year remaining.