Here’s a fun fact from last season that general manager Jon Daniels doesn’t like to have brought up: He was the mastermind behind the April decisions to send Jose Leclerc to the minor leagues with a 0.00 ERA.
To Daniels’ credit, Leclerc’s Triple A stays spanned no longer than 17 days, and, considering the 2017 season he had, the Rangers might not have been fully ready to commit to Leclerc for a full season.
Less than a year later, that has all changed, and on Wednesday, the Rangers committed to Leclerc until at least 2022 and perhaps as long as 2024.
The Rangers signed Leclerc to a four-year contract extension worth $14.75 million with two options years that could add another $12.25 million to the deal.
The 25-year-old becomes the youngest reliever in MLB history with two-plus years of service time who isn’t arbitration-eligible to receive an extension. He can become a free agent at only 29 if the Rangers don’t exercise their options.
“This is the best decision I’ve ever made,” Leclerc said. “I don’t know how I can say how excited I am.”
The deal, according to baseball sources, pays Leclerc a $2 million signing bonus plus $1 million in 2019, $2.25 million in 2020; $4 million in 2021 and $4.75 million in 2022. The club options are for $6 million in 2023 and $6.25 million in 2024 with $750,000 in buyouts.
All of this comes after one season, albeit a remarkable and historic season as Leclerc came out of nowhere to emerge as one of the best relievers in baseball after entering spring training needing to win a roster spot.
Leclerc posted a 1.56 ERA last season, which started with him as the last reliever to make the Opening Day bullpen before finishing it as the closer. He ended the season with a 21-inning scoreless streak and with the lowest opponent batting average (.126) by a reliever in the majors.
The .1257 mark was the fourth-lowest by a reliever in MLB history.
Yet, Leclerc has never gone wire-to-wire for a full season without an injury or a minor-league option. The Rangers, though, don’t believe that Leclerc is a one-hit wonder or that the extension is a case of too much too soon.
“His performance last year was pretty unique,” Daniels said. “But more than that, he wants more. He’s not satisfied. He more or less went wire to wire last year, but when you look at who he is and the drive and what his goal are, that’s pretty comforting to us as an organization.”
Leclerc was named the Rangers’ closer in January by manager Chris Woodward, but he was first installed in that role after the Rangers traded Keone Kela to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Leclerc was 12 for 12 in saves after the deal, and his performance actually improved.
He didn’t allow an earned run the rest of the way, issued only three hits and six walks, and he struck out 29 while holding opponents to a .053 average.
He struck out 85 batters last season in 57 2/3 innings, using his cut changeup, or “Slambio,” to post 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He allowed only one home run, a two-run shot to Oakland A’s slugger Khris Davis on July 25 that resulted in a blown save while filling in for Kela.
“I started off with the Rangers. This is my family,” said Leclerc, who signed with the Rangers on Dec. 9, 2010, in the Dominican Republic. “I feel really good with the group of guys I am around almost every day. I just want to finish here and do the best I can for the Rangers.”