AL West Trade Primer: Texas Rangers

In the first two parts of our AL West trade primer series, we discussed a pair of organizations clearly needing to rebuild — the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels.

The next club up — the Texas Rangers — is a fringe contender that could conceivably buy or sell.

Whether general manager Jon Daniels opts to add or unload players will likely be determined by his team’s performance between now and the July 31 MLB non-waiver deadline.

Entering today’s play, Texas is 32-33 and 12 games behind the division leading Houston Astros, but there’s still hope for the Rangers.

They’re just 2.5 games behind in the wild card race and help is on the way.

Offseason acquisition Tyson Ross underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in October and makes his first start for his new club against the Mariners tonight. Prior to his health issues, Ross was the ace of the San Diego Padres rotation.

As with any pitcher returning from a major surgery, Ross’ progression bears watching. In four rehab starts with Class-AAA Round Rock, the right-hander tossed 18.2 innings surrendering 16 earned runs, 23 hits, and 11 walks and striking out 11.

Center fielder Carlos Gomez also returns from the DL tonight and first baseman Mike Napoli is rehabbing with Class-AA Frisco and may be back with the Rangers this weekend.

Gomez is a superb fielder and relatively productive at the plate this season. The returning 31-year-old bolsters outfield depth and versatility while adding another player capable of causing mayhem on the base paths.

Conversely, Napoli wasn’t contributing before going down with a back strain.

The 35-year-old is coming off a career best in home runs (34) and had 11 dingers before heading to the DL. But, he’s drawing fewer walks than in recent years and currently owns a career-low .262 OBP.

The most anticipated DL returnee is co-ace Cole Hamels. The southpaw is mending from an oblique strain and set to make his first rehab start with Frisco this evening.

Assuming Hamels returns and is his normal self, the Rangers will have the strongest 1-2 punch of any rotation in the division. Throw in Ross, Martin Perez, and Andrew Cashner and Texas has a solid, but not great starting staff.

If the returning wounded help push the Rangers over the .500-mark and motivate Daniels to buy, the 39-year-old executive has previously demonstrated he’s willing to part with prospects to get what he needs.

In 2015, Daniels shipped a package of prospects, including Jorge Alfaro, Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff, and Jake Thompson to the Philadelphia Phillies for Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman.

Not all of the prospects panned out for the Phillies, but Alfaro is the number-three catching prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com and Eickhoff is a fixture in Philadelphia’s rotation.

A year ago, the Rangers made two significant deals before the deadline. The club traded three minor leaguers — Nick Green, Erik Swanson, and Dillon Tate to the New York Yankees for outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran.

Swanson and Green are pitching at the lower levels of the Yankees minor league system, while Tate is the organization’s number-15 prospect. He’s currently on the DL recuperating from a shoulder injury.

The other big transaction brought reliever Jeremy Jeffress and catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for minor leaguers Luis Ortiz, Ryan Cordell, and Lewis Brinson.

Brinson entered this season as Milwaukee’s top prospect and number-13 overall in baseball — the 23-year-old debuted with the Brew Crew this past Sunday.

Ortiz is pitching well for Class-AA Biloxi, but is on the DL with a hamstring strain.

After relinquishing so many prospects over the past two years, the Rangers’ minor league system isn’t as deep as it once was. The shelves aren’t bare, but swinging a major deal will be more challenging.

Assuming Daniels goes all in, his roster could use help in four spots — bullpen, first base, utility player, and starting pitcher.

Texas has already designated Opening Day closer Sam Dyson for assignment and shipped him to the San Francisco Giants. Compounding matters, Diekman hasn’t pitched this season after having his colon removed during the offseason.

Although the relief corps have been ineffective as a group, there are a few assets available to manager Jeff Banister.

Hard-throwing Matt Bush is the new closer and performing relatively well in his new assignment. The former number-one overall pick drafted as a shortstop is missing bats and just recorded his first 4-out save.

Alex Claudio has proven to be a versatile asset. The southpaw has setup and delivered multi-inning outings when needed.

Chief Sealth high school graduate Keone Kela has proven useful in middle relief and also capable of multiple innings.

Former Mariners draft pick Austin Bibens-Dirkx made his major league debut earlier this season at age-32 and he’s been helpful as a middle reliever.

Beyond that, the Rangers have received inconsistent production from their relievers.

Jeffress walks as many hitter as he strikes out and Tony Barnette is allowing nearly 12 hits per nine innings. Jose Leclerc is capable of missing bats, but he’s surrendering too many walks.

The Rangers are in desperate need of a power arm to go pair with Bush at the back-end of the bullpen and at least one more reliever to provide depth and consistency.

Addison Reed of the New York Mets or Justin Wilson of the Detroit Tigers would be good pickups. Both have served in the closer and setup role this year.

At first base, Ryan Rua and Napoli have the majority of innings — neither is particularly productive this year.

Adding a rental player such as Lucas Duda of the Mets would help the club’s first base production.

Duda has injury history. That may make potential buyers leery, but should drive down the Mets’ asking price.

If Daniels wants to make a bigger splash, he could strike a deal with Oakland for pending free Yonder Alonso.

The 30-year-old is having a career year and currently slugging .645 and ranks fourth in fWAR among major league first baseman.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre is still an elite defender at third base and a dynamic hitter, but the 38-year-old has played just 12 games due to a calf strain. In his stead, Joey Gallo has filled in.

Gallo’s home run power is impressive, but the slugger has the second highest strikeout rate (38.2-percent) in the AL and his .301 OBP is eleventh lowest among qualified hitters.

Adding someone capable of spotting Beltre and providing depth across the diamond would benefit the Rangers during a stretch run.

Eduardo Nunez of the San Francisco Giants would be such a player. The pending free agent is slashing .300/.324/.416 and has time at third base, second base, and both corner outfield spots this season.

Even if Hamels returns on time and Ross performs well from the beginning, adding another veteran arm to the rotation would benefit the Rangers.

With three of their his starters — Darvish, Ross, and Cashner — scheduled to hit the free agent market this offseason, Daniels could have an eye towards the future and search for someone under team control past this season or he could simply take a win-now approach and pursue a rental.

Notable pending free agents not on clear-cut contenders include Marco Estrada, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, and Matt Moore.

The starters most frequently mentioned in trade speculation and under team control for one or more years are Jose Quintana and Sonny Gray.

The fact Texas could potentially lose 60-percent of their starting rotation and Hamels is under contract for just one more season generates a thought-provoking question.

Should the Rangers be sellers?

Only Daniels and his management team know what the club will do. As noted earlier, I suspect their win-loss record over the next six weeks will determine their strategy.

Assuming the Rangers opted to sell; they do have pending free agents who could potentially generate interest in the trade market.

Their best and shiniest piece would be Darvish. The 30-year-old will certainly be in Cy Young Award conversations and is averaging over 6 innings/start.

If made available, Darvish would jump to the top of a serious contender’s wish list.

Lucroy got off to the worst start of his career, although he’s hitting better lately and continues to be one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Daniels could move his receiver in an effort to recoup some of the value he traded away last year.

Gomez might garner curiosity from contenders needing a player capable of playing anywhere in the outfield.

Having said that, the 11-year veteran has been inconsistent at the plate in recent seasons and was released by the Houston Astros last August due an unproductive bat.

Barring a surge in their productivity over the next six weeks, Napoli nor Cashner won’t draw much interest.

Napoli does possess considerable postseason experience and that may pique the interest of a contender, but he’ll need to prove he can still hit.

Although he’s under team control until 2023, moving Bush could make sense. The 31-year-old’s value isn’t likely to increase as he reaches his mid-thirties. Selling high may be wise.

It’ll be interesting to see which path Daniels chooses for his ball club. He’s been one of the most aggressive buyers at the deadline during his tenure as general manager.

Perhaps, we’ll see him in action as a seller this year.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. During the baseball season, he can be seen often observing the local team at Safeco Field. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins
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