It has been more than three months since Corey Seager opted to sign with the Texas Rangers and close the door on the Dodgers, the only major league organization he had ever known.
On Dec. 1, two days after agreeing to a 10-year, $325 million contract that is not subject to state income taxes, Seager received his new jersey during an introductory news conference at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. He carried the strings with a wide smile as he walked around his new workplace. It was an exciting moment.
Then, hours later, MLB implemented a lockout once the collective bargaining agreement expired. Communication between clubs and players was abruptly banned. The idea of not playing for the Dodgers became more abstract. It took until Sunday, until his first day on the job with Texas, for reality to sink in again.
“When I showed up at the camp, that was the moment he backed off, you know?” Seager said Monday. “It was exciting, though. It sure was.
Seager headed out to the back fields Monday for his first full day of training as a Ranger in a red jersey with his usual number 5 on the left sleeve. The 27-year-old shortstop was in the same batting practice group as second baseman Marcus Semien, the other franchise mainstay the Rangers bought during their pre-lockout spending spree. The midfield duo later took ground balls together at their respective positions. Fans ran to them for autographs. They were the main attraction.
“We’re going to be joined at the hip,” Semien said.
The Rangers and Dodgers spring training homes are a 30-minute drive apart. His expectations for the next season are a light year away. The Dodgers are favorites for the World Series. They have made the playoffs in the last nine seasons. The Rangers haven’t posted a winning record since 2016 and lost 102 games last season. They have never won a World Series. The only team to win a title at Rangers’ ballpark as a home team was the 2020 Dodgers.
The disparity between the two franchises came to light Sunday when Clayton Kershaw confirmed that he chose to return to the Dodgers rather than sign with the Rangers to pitch for his hometown team. The reason? The Dodgers offered him a significantly better chance to win another World Series.
“I’m a little biased,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “I think we still have a chance to win a World Series.”
To reach that level, the Rangers are counting on Seager to produce on the field and take the next step.
Seager established himself as an elite hitter in prime position when he was healthy for seven years in Los Angeles. He was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 2016. He made two All-Star teams. He was the MVP of the NLCS and World Series in 2020. But the spotlight was constantly shifting. There were MVPs here, future Hall of Famers there and All-Stars everywhere. He was one of many important cogs on a finely tuned and expensive assembly line.
Texas will be different. With the Rangers, she is a superstar with a lot of money. He is a veteran that the younger players will be watching closely. He is, for the first time, seen as a leader of the clubhouse. In preparation for the unknown role, Seager said he had discussions with his brother Kyle, who retired this winter after 11 seasons as a third baseman with the Seattle Mariners.
“I was lucky enough to have a lot of guys around me, and then even when I got older, there were still older guys around me,” Corey Seager said. “So, I wasn’t fully charged and I still don’t feel like I’m fully charged. It can’t be in a guy. This is going to be a collective thing, just moving in the right direction and staying on track.”
Woodward recalled talking to Seager about the trade years ago when he was the Dodgers’ third-base coach. He told the young shortstop that the veterans around him would eventually be replaced, and before he knew it, he would be one of those veterans.
“Now I have the opportunity to guide him and help him and say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy. All eyes are on you,’” Woodward said. “He doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t care about that because he does things right.”
For Woodward, that’s not Seager addressing the team with a speech. That’s not his style. It’s Seager refusing to throw a pitch during batting practice in a back field at spring training. It’s Seager going to great lengths to help a teammate behind the scenes. It’s the relentless work ethic, the kind the Rangers believe can infuse their culture and propel them to the next level.
For seven years in Los Angeles, Seager often lurked in the background. In Texas, he will always be center stage, a responsibility he claimed when he signed on the dotted line in late November and reality had yet to set in.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.