Rangers should learn lesson about preparing for the worst

The Texas Rangers made national news Tuesday when their injured first baseman Prince Fielder appeared naked in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. Later that evening, the Astros undressed the Rangers in Arlington.

The unimaginable has become all too real. The lowly Houston Astros and their miniscule payroll (and TV audience) are in the process of overtaking the Rangers in the A.L. West. This team managed two wins in 19 tries against the Rangers in 2013. Now, they’ve taken a commanding 5-3 lead in the race for the Silver Boot and will likely finish ahead of the Rangers in the division race.

The face of the Astros’ future, slugger George Springer, hit a 430-foot blast off poor Phil Irwin in the third inning to give the Astros a 3-1 lead. Houston now leads the A.L. West with 99 home runs after Chris Carter and Springer combined for three in Tuesday’s 8-3 win. The Rangers lead the Astros by one game in the division.

The Rangers have the fewest home runs in the division with 66. They had 68 home runs at the end of May last season. Even the traditionally light-hitting Mariners have 77 homers. It’s embarrassing for the Rangers to have such a low total while playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

This team is now burdened by what have to be considered three of the worst contracts in baseball. Maybe the Rangers should’ve been more concerned when the Tigers agreed to pay such a large percentage of Fielder’s contract ($30 million.) They couldn’t wait to unload him this past offseason. It seemed like a change of scenery might be a great thing for Fielder, but one of the most durable players in baseball had to undergo season-ending neck surgery.

I do think Fielder’s contract won’t end up looking as bad as Choo’s. It’s been shocking to see how poorly Choo has played in the outfield. He takes bad routes and doesn’t have the type of arm to slow down baserunners. He is sixth in the American League in walks (50) and 11th in on-base percentage (.373). But he also strikes out a lot for a leadoff hitter (80). Choo, who turns 32 this weekend, has a backloaded contract that will pay him $20 million per year for 2016-18. So he will already be 34 when the huge money kicks in. Choo will make $21 million per year in 2019-20, when he’ll be 37. Keep in mind that the greatest player in the history of the Mavs, who averaged 20 points per game last season, will make $10 million at age 36. Baseball players may have a longer career span than NBA players, but it’s still a remarkable thing to consider.

The Rangers will likely keep most of their roster intact in hopes of a healthy Choo and Fielder coming back strong next season. I think that might happen with Fielder. But I’m not so sure about Choo.

Beginning next year, Elvis Andrus will receive $15 million per year until he’s eligible to opt out following the 2018 season. In 2016, the Rangers will have roughly $55 million tied up in Choo, Fielder and Andrus. Choo will be 34 and Fielder will be 32. It’s a safe bet that Fielder will have entered his DH years at that point. That should clear the way for Joey Gallo to take over at first base.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels thought that adding Choo and Fielder would fortify an offense that had back-to-back collapses in 2012-13. But those now look like the glory days compared to this mess. It’s now obvious the Rangers would’ve been better off giving Nelson Cruz a three-year deal to play in the outfield. I’m told they offered him a two-year contract, but the money was embarrassingly low.   I know fans still have nightmares about Game 6 in St. Louis, but Cruz isn’t that much worse than Choo. The Rangers would be much better off with Cruz and Ian Kinsler still in the lineup, but no one could’ve predicted all the bad luck this team has suffered.

It’s safe to assume the Rangers will never go through anything like this season. But hopefully they will do a better job of preparing for the worst.

This pitching staff is in ruin because of injuries to Derek Holland, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez. But it’s not like the Rangers should’ve been counting on Harrison and Colby Lewis returning to form. This team needed a quality starter more than it needed a luxury item such as Choo.

And it might’ve not cost you seven years, $130 million.