The Texas Rangers took somewhat of a chance on Ian Desmond over the offseason, inking him to a 1-year, $8 million deal to learn LF. Expectations were low after Desmond floundered in his contract year with the Washington Nationals, but obviously, he is now a key piece of a Rangers’ lineup with a lot of talent.
We can talk about how good Ian Desmond has been on the field, but instead of rehashing that, let’s look at how Desmond has given the Rangers an opportunity to make a big trade that can secure the AL West this year.
Currently, the Rangers are 24-19, (1.5 games behind the first-place Seattle Mariners), but the Rangers have lost several games due to a disappointing pitching staff, while (would-be) sluggers Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre fail to maximize their potential as a middle-of-the-order combo. Developing players like Rougned Odor and Nomar Mazara have largely driven the Texas offense, with Desmond and an improved Elvis Andrus. And now that Shin-Soo Choo is off the DL, the Rangers offense is trending upward.
Without Desmond, the Rangers’ would likely be forced to start Delino DeShields in CF, and though his defense has improved a bit, his 60 wRC+ would hinder the production of an already sluggish lineup, that features a dreadful Prince Fielder (42 wRC+) and a good-but-no-longer-great Adrian Beltre (98 wRC+) in the middle of the order, as well as a slumping Mitch Moreland (85 wRC+) and the light-hitting catching duo of Bryan Holaday (76 wRC+) and Bobby Wilson (74 wRC+).
To put it simply, a Desmond-less Rangers’ team might have one too many holes in the lineup to ignore. There isn’t, however, much room to add an impact bat.
There was plenty of preseason talk of a Jonathan Lucroy-to-Texas trade, which would have certainly boosted the Rangers’ offensive profile, but it never materialized. To this point, Desmond’s bat has reduced the need to find a C who can hit. And given that Bryan Holladay has done an admirable job filling in for Robinson Chirinos, initially garnering positive defensive ratings and 76 wRC+ (2016 average catcher wRC+: 81), Lucroy (or other starting-caliber catchers) should be out of Texas’ price range. The Rangers should still have some impetus to acquire another catcher for depth though.
Currently, Mazara has moved to left to accommodate Shin-Soo Choo, giving the Rangers’ a solid outfield that can likely produce on both sides of the ball on a daily basis. With a full outfield and Ryan Rua and Drew Stubbs on the bench, DeShields can take his time in the minors, and knowing Josh Hamilton will eventually come off the DL, the Rangers won’t need to address their outfield situation in major fashion, barring any injuries.
The infield is also obviously set, so without a need to replace a starting player, the front office can turn its sights toward a disappointing pitching staff. Let’s look at the healthy major league roster first.
|Catchers||Infielders||Outfielders||Starting Pitchers||Relief Pitchers|
|Robinson Chirinos||1B Mitch Moreland*||LF Nomar Mazara*||Cole Hamels||Sam Dyson|
|Bryan Holaday||2B Rougned Odor*||CF Ian Desmond||Yu Darvish||Shawn Tolleson|
|3B Adrian Beltre||RF Shin-Soo Choo*||Colby Lewis||Jake Diekman*|
|SS Elvis Andrus||OF Josh Hamilton*||Derek Holland*||Keone Kela|
|UTIL Hanser Alberto||OF Drew Stubbs||Martin Perez||Matt Bush|
|DH/1B Prince Fielder*||Cesar Ramos*|
*denotes player is left-handed
italics denote player is currently on the Disabled List
The pitching staff isn’t actually as clear cut, and the point of this is to indicate that currently, adding pitching will pay the biggest dividends. Mitch Moreland isn’t the long-term plan at 1B, but he also doesn’t have a great fit as a trade piece. Rougned Odor has gained legitimacy as an everyday 2B, making his departure (even after his suspension) difficult to envision. Beltre, Andrus, Fielder, and Choo are obviously locked in at their respective positions, as long as they’re healthy, and Desmond and Mazara round out a pretty good outfield.
Hamels and Darvish (who is scheduled to make his season debut this Saturday) make a great 1-2 punch, but the rest of the rotation doesn’t stack up nearly as well. Meanwhile in relief, Shawn Tolleson and Tom Wilhelmsen have both imploded, posting 9.20 and 9.98 ERAs, respectively, saddling the Rangers’ bullpen as a whole with a 5.59 ERA/4.63 xFIP.
Dyson, Diekman, and Barnette have been solid so far, but the rest of the cast shuffled in and out of games has not had the same consistency. In all, the Rangers’ bullpen has earned -1.7 fWAR, good for 29th in the league, above only a historically bad Reds’ bullpen, but some good pieces are there. If Wilhelmsen can return to form and Matt Bush proves to be legitimate, the Rangers might prefer to avoid a big outside addition. Considering 2015 revelation Keone Kela should be back around the All-Star break as well, there’s reason to believe the bullpen will be fine without major intervention, meaning the rotation is the crux of a potential playoff run.
So what should the Rangers do?
The trade deadline is still more than a month away, so how teams shape up until then will effect who is available, yet Tyson Ross of the San Diego Padres still seems to me an ideal target for Texas. Ross, though he has spent the majority of the season injured, is more than capable of filling the 3rd spot in the rotation when he returns to action. In dealing with the Padres, the Rangers could also try to acquire C Derek Norris. At this point though, Norris’s presence creates depth more than anything else, unless his bat recovers from an ice cold stretch. But it’s important that the option is there.
The Rangers may be better off trying to pry SP Andrew Cashner away from the Padres as well as Ross, though, so that is what we’ll explore.
The article linked above ponders a deal that is essentially Ross and Norris for Joey Gallo and a prospect, but Gallo has cut his strikeout rate nearly in half this season. Because of this, Gallo’s value is likely, and justifiably, through the roof. In my mind, he should be pretty much untouchable despite his path to the majors being blocked at several positions. Additionally, the Padres don’t look close to becoming a competitive team. They could be sufficiently interested by a larger package of talent that isn’t quite as close to making an impact in the immediate future.
|Rangers receive:||Padres receive:|
|Tyson Ross, RHP||Eric Jenkins, OF|
|Andrew Cashner, RHP||Josh Morgan, C/INF|
|Michael Matuella, RHP|
|Martin Perez, LHP|
Lefty-swinging OF Eric Jenkins has well above-average speed and shows advanced base-stealing instincts at just 19 years old, stealing 23/27 in only 36 games this year. Jenkins hasn’t started hitting well yet in Low-A, slashing .208/.265/.292 at the moment, but he profiles as a true CF and more than a slap hitter; as Jenkins has some pop that should improve as he fills out his frame.
Matuella, at 22, is an interesting prospect because he wasn’t highly touted until after college, where he developed quickly. In Matuella’s junior year, he was inconsistent, showing flashes of dominance before Tommy John surgery. This knocked Matuella’s draft-day value way down, but there’s plenty of talent in this arm. You can get a good sense of Matuella’s potential in this article.
Morgan also comes with some intrigue, as he’s already logged significant time as a 2B, 3B, and a SS at only 20 years old, and also has some experience catching. That plan however, has been suspended, while Morgan plays out the 2016 season mostly at 3B. His bat isn’t anything special, but Morgan has a good arm, which is likely why he is getting reps at catcher, where he actually profiles pretty well if he can handle the defensive workload. Even if he doesn’t fully develop as a hitter (currently slashing .252/.335/.364 in High Desert), Morgan could be a valuable super-utility player down the line.
The Rangers would also send over Martin Perez, who is a decent pitcher but also probably worse than you think. Perez’s 1.3 K%-BB% this season is second-worst among qualified starters, and it isn’t because he has wild, untamed stuff like “leader” Vordano Ventura. Perez is still just 25 though and should be serviceable on a developing Padres squad. His contract is interesting and possibly prohibitive however, as Perez is owed $2.9MM this year, $4.4MM in 2017, then has 3 consecutive team options for $6M, $7.5M, and $9M through 2020 with buyouts of $2.4M, $0.8M, and $0.2M, respectively.
The Rangers do give up a lot of talent here, including a guy with significant major league experience, but they retain their very best prospects. In return, the Rangers land Tyson Ross for his arbitration years, giving them one of the best #3 starters around, and also nab Andrew Cashner for the rest of 2016, a pitcher with still unrealized potential. That’s not an encouraging description for a pitcher, but a change of scenery (and coaches) has helped guys in the past – and it doesn’t hurt to start with the tools Cashner has.
Texas has leaned on its defense and succeeded with a lineup that has limped along at times, but slumping guys like Fielder and Beltre can put the offense on their back when they get hot. A streaky, inconsistent lineup isn’t ideal, but without jeopardizing the future, the Rangers could roll into the playoffs with a 4-man rotation of Darvish, Hamels, Ross, and any one of Cashner, Lewis, Holland, or A.J. Griffin. That is pretty enticing.
Statistics provided by: FanGraphs.com
Images thanks to: CSN Mid-Atlantic, Fox Sports, shutdowninning.com, inningseaters, Washington Times, wtop.com