First and foremost, I apologize for being so long in posting. I said that I was going to post more frequently, but that simply hasn’t happened. I’ll work on it. Now to the meat of the story.
As many of you Ranger fans already know, Martin Perez (torn UCL) and Matt Harrison (spondylolisthesis) are probably done for the year, and Harrison, sadly, could be finished for his career. In a season wrought with injuries, these two seem to be the straws that break the camel’s back.
I’m here to tell you: don’t freak out. All will be fine.
Sure, they might not be fine this year. As a matter of fact, the next five months may be some of the most painful of your fandom. But, it could also be the foundation of future successes. Let me explain.
The starting rotation right now consists of Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, Robbie Ross, Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez. Derek Holland threw in a simulated game earlier this week, so he could be back in three weeks (hopefully). Tanner Scheppers is rehabbing from an injury, as is Joe Saunders. Schepp is almost certainly going back to the bullpen when he returns, and word is that the front office would like Saunders to do the same.
The bullpen isn’t exactly stacked with well-known relievers. Alexi Ogando, Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Sean Tolleson, Aaron Poreda, Miles Mikolas, Scott Baker and Joakim Soria step up when the starter leaves the bump. While Soria has been a solid closer and Frasor has been an extremely consistent set-up man, the rest have been decent, at best.
The pitching mound isn’t the only place on the diamond that has problems. Prince Fielder is hitting in the mid-.200’s with almost no power numbers. Jurickson Profar, once touted as the games best prospect and the reason for trading away Ian Kinsler, has yet to see the playing field. Adrian Beltre once again has hamstring problems, and his backup, Kevin Kousmanoff, was on a certified tear before herniating a disk in his back. J.P. Arencibia, who was brought in to provide some pop to the lineup hasn’t produced. At all. Perhaps the only shining star on the field has been left fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who is hitting .315 with a .482 OBP. He’s been solid in every sense of the word and might be our only All-Star selection.
The Rangers are five games back of the Oakland A’s. I know that isn’t insurmountable. Another three-game sweep could pull us to within two games, and then all bets are off. But let’s be realistic: the team ERA is one of the highest in the league and the offense is one of the worst. Those two combined will keep the Rangers out of contention for the West, and a wild card spot is also out of the question.
Let’s take a step back here for a moment and take a look at the bigger picture of things. The Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 team is probably the single greatest team in Rangers history. The next year, the Rangers lost the West in the last series of the regular season and then lost the wild-card play-in game. In 2013, the Rangers lost a play-in game to get a Wild Card spot. They have been trending downward since 2011. No team can stay on top forever; they must take a period of time to reload their roster and work their way back to the top of the mountain. Some teams try to negate this process by constantly signing the game’s top free agents, giving them long contracts in order to get that player’s last three or four good years before age takes its toll on the player, or they send their best prospects to another team for the other team’s better players, only to lose them to free agency a year or two later. These teams usually end up hitting a salary-related wall and are forced to rebuild with cheap free agents rather than reload with internal talent
The Rangers current predicament prevents the team from going out and signing any top-tier free agents. There are none available midseason. So that leaves the Rangers with two options: 1. trade for a top player, or 2. bring up a player from within the organization. General Manager Jon Daniels has said that the organization is done trading away top prospects for rental players. He seems set on developing talent from within to fill holes. The truth of the matter is that it would take more than one player to get the team back to a high enough level to compete for a World Series. That, along with Daniels’ stance on trading prospects, would make us assume that the team’s only choice is promote a minor leaguer or two to fill a spot on the field.
This brings us back to the question of competitiveness this season. As I said earlier, the team isn’t going to win the Series this year. So let me tell you the good news. The Rangers could use this season to bring some minor league players up, give them experience in a low-pressure situation, all the while preparing them for future success, possibly as soon as next season. The season should become about reloading, not rebuilding.
From here on out, I’m writing about what I would do if I were JD. I’m not saying he will do any of these things, obviously, since he refuses to call me to ask my opinion after every game. But I can offer what I think the team should do to make itself better and ready to compete from Opening Day next season.
First, you have to look at which players are expendable. The organization’s depth at middle infield means that someone can go. The player that would have the highest yield/return in a trade (excluding Elvis Andrus) would be Jurickson Profar. Though he is hurt, Profar is still considered to be a high-ceiling player, and the could bring back the best pitching prospect in a trade, and let’s face it: if anyone is going to be traded, we have to get pitching back in return. After all, we’re in this predicament because we don’t have a lot of depth at the position in the high levels of the minors. Profar could be replaced by Rougned Odor, the organization’s current highest rated prospect (who also happens to be filling in for Profar at the moment), or Luis Sardinas, the versatile middle infield prospect that is currently filling the role of utility man on the big league roster. In this case, we’re looking at trading Profar and putting Odor in his spot.
Let’s take just a brief moment to talk about Prince Fielder. Fielder is having a horrendous year compared to his own standards. I believe that Fielder is trying too hard to be the savior of the offense. No one else (other than Choo) is producing, so Fielder is taking that duty upon himself. He needs to take a moment to relax and he needs his teammates to step up and produce so Fielder doesn’t feel that need. Once he is able to relax, he should absolutely crush in the Ballpark.
Next, we have to look at the catching position. Robinson Chirinos is currently the starter, with Arencibia serving as the backup. Geovany Soto is slated to come back at the end of June. When he does return, Arencibia should be released to make room for Soto on the roster. Chirinos started the year as the starting AAA catcher, but has proven to be a major-league ready player. He will provide continuity with the pitchers, and his bat has been far more reliable than Arencibia’s. Should the Rangers have a need for a third catcher after J.P. is released, the club could bring up prospect Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro is widely considered to be one of the best catching prospects in the game, with plus defensive skills. He has been receiving individualized mentoring and tutoring with sure-to-be first-ballot hall-of-famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. A call-up in September would go far in getting Alfaro mentally acclimated to becoming a big leaguer.
In the outfield, Michael Choice is currently serving as the fourth outfielder and occasional DH. This doesn’t really help with his development. Alex Rios is playing under the final year of his contract, assuming that the team decides to buy out the option year ($13.5 million salary as opposed to a $1 million buyout), which could make him attractive to a team that needs a solid outfielder. This would allow Choo to move back to his natural right field position and Choice to slide in at left field full time.
September call ups also create an opprtunity to allow some minor league players the opportunity to taste the major leagues. The Rangers currently have the minor league’s biggest name in power hitting – Joey Gallo. Gallo led all of minor league baseball last year in home runs with 40 (becoming the youngest player to ever hit 40 home runs in a minor league season). Gallo could be a September call up and see time at third base and DH. With all of his power, Gallo needs to work on his pitch selection. He tends to strike out a lot, so seeing the drastic difference between a pitcher in A ball and a pitcher in the majors could help him to work on developing an eye at the plate, which could help him arrive in the bigs sooner rather than later.
By allowing minor leaguers the opportunity to taste the majors in a low pressure situation allows them to understand what will be required of them when they do eventually make it, as well as to address areas of their game that need to be developed and improved in order to be successful at the major league level. These players are usually called up in time when they were replacing an injured player, learning on the fly rather than having time to develop. By understanding that this season could be used to develop those younger players, they could make a bigger impact when they do arrive in Arlington on a more permanent basis.
So there you have it. Just because the team most likely isn’t going to win the Series doesn’t mean that this will be a failed season. With the right moves, the team could develop talent in the lower levels to make them ready to get here faster. The team should see this as an opportunity to reload, not rebuild.