Particularly over the past five seasons, the Texas Rangers have been consumed by the pursuit of the franchise’s first World Series title. The effort has been admirable, the quest memorable, the journey nearly complete. One strike away, you may recall.
But we’re almost to Memorial Day, and, in the American League West standings, the Rangers are closer to Nolan Ryan’s Houston Astros than they are to first place. They have seven pitchers on the major-league disabled list — and only a 14.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the most recent Baseball Prospectus playoff odds projection.
The Rangers can — and probably will — wait until much closer to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to make significant personnel decisions. And yet it appears that 2014 will not be their year.
So, what should they do about it?
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels need not tear apart the team. The roster, if healthy, would be much better than 22-24. Prince Fielder, currently out with a herniated disk in his neck, has hit only three home runs in 42 games. He will have 40-homer seasons in Arlington … eventually … I think.
Still, it would be foolish for the Rangers to maintain the status quo. They haven’t won a postseason game since David Freese tripled over Nelson Cruz’s outstretched glove three years ago, and that drought is going to continue. Once the Rangers fall out of the race, they can listen to offers for potential 2014-15 free agents on the roster, such as Alex Rios, Joakim Soria, Geovany Soto, Colby Lewis, Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts. For a deadline ‘seller’ — which the Rangers haven’t been for several years — that’s standard practice.
But what about the left side of their infield — third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Elvis Andrus?
Before we go further, let’s make two things clear: First, the Rangers have given no indication that either player is available on the trade market. Second, the Rangers don’t appear to be under financial pressure to shed payroll; their local television rights fee will triple to $80 million per season starting next year, according to Forbes.
In other words, there’s every reason to believe the Rangers will continue to spend at their current level, if not higher; this year’s $133.5 million Opening Day payroll was the largest in franchise history, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
So, the issue is whether the Rangers should consider trading Beltre and/or Andrus in order to construct a better baseball team in 2015. And that’s a valid question, rooted in concern over which pitchers will fill out the remaining spots after Yu Darvish in the ’15 rotation.
The Rangers’ farm system is deep in position-player prospects — particularly those at the same positions as Beltre and Andrus. Third baseman Joey Gallo is dominating the Class-A Carolina League, with 18 home runs in 44 games. Luis Sardinas, Rougned Odor and the injured Jurickson Profar are viewed as potential everyday middle infielders.
But the Rangers don’t have as many major-league-ready starting pitchers in the upper minors. The team also faces serious questions about what it can reasonably expect in 2015 from starters currently on the disabled list: Martin Perez, Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers and Matt Harrison.
The Rangers need to look at postseason-caliber rotations in the AL — namely, those in Oakland and Detroit — and ask how their in-house starters would match up after Darvish in a playoff series. If they don’t like the answer, they should look into acquiring young, controllable arms from the outside — even if it means parting with a veteran of the World Series years, such as Beltre or Andrus.
Of course, the Rangers can put some of their new television money to work in this winter’s free-agent market. Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields loom as enticing possibilities there. But Daniels can’t afford to enter the offseason with his organization’s pitching depth chart in a desperate state. In that way, he can use the in-season trade market as a springboard.
Neither Beltre nor Andrus is having a very good season. Andrus has been a particularly big disappointment, with an OPS of only .655 since signing an eight-year, $120 million contract extension at the beginning of last year. Beltre, who turned 35 last month, is on pace for his lowest home run output in five years; assuming he stays healthy and guarantees his team option for 2016, he has two years and $34 million left on his contract after this season.
You might argue that few — if any — teams would be willing to assume all of the money left on either contract. And you might be correct. But even then, a trade would be possible if the Rangers were willing to eat money. In fact, that’s one benefit of the Rangers’ forthcoming TV revenue: They have a greater capability to write off sunk costs.
For now, this remains a theoretical discussion. The Rangers aren’t ready to punt on the season. There’s no reason to do so at this early stage. Over the next couple months, though, Daniels and his front-office lieutenants will assess just how many able-bodied, championship-caliber starters they have for the 2015 rotation. And if the answer is far less than five, they’d be wise to procure a viable arm or two before their first offseason meeting with Scott Boras.