BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – Monday was a fast and furious day of wheeling and dealing, and the Texas Rangers were crowned the champions of this year’s non-waiver trade deadline jamboree. 18 deals involving 49 players were consummated on the trade deadline day, the most since 1995, and the Rangers were involved in two.
Texas made a deal for two pitchers last week and preferred to add even more pitching at the deadline. However, the asking price for quality starting pitching was ridiculously high for starters, and when prices didn’t come down as the deadline neared, Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels turned his attention to shore up other areas of the team.
“We did look at a number of starting pitchers, but the fit wasn’t there,” Daniels said at his Monday evening press conference. “We audibled a little bit and looked to improve the club as best we could.”
When the dust had cleared, Daniels had added catcher Jonathan Lucroy, reliever Jeremy Jeffress, and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Teams had been asking for top Ranger young players – Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara. The bottom line was that Daniels materially upgraded his team and all four are still Rangers.
Lucroy has been linked to the Rangers for months. Many predicted Milwaukee and Texas would make Lucroy a Ranger before the season began. It didn’t happen then, and last Saturday, it didn’t appear that it would happen at all. Word leaked that the Brewers and Indians had agreed on a deal to send Lucroy to Cleveland; and even Daniels went to bed Saturday night thinking that his chance for Lucroy was gone.
The devil is in the details though, and one detail was that Lucroy had a limited no trade clause. There were a list of teams for which he could veto a trade. Cleveland was on that list, and Texas wasn’t. It quickly became apparent Sunday that Cleveland could not satisfy Lucroy to okay the deal. The agreement was nullified, and Lucroy was again available.
The Mets were on the trail early in the day Monday, but in the end, Milwaukee made the deal with Texas. There are more names involved, but the principals in the transaction are Jeremy Jeffress, Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Jeffress, the Brewers’ closer, is coming to Texas, while Brinson and Ortiz are the key prospects going to Milwaukee.
Brinson is a marvelous athlete that plays center field. He’s at AA Frisco, though he’s struggled at the plate after rising meteorically through the Ranger system in 2015. He is clearly Major League ready defensively, as he is, or was until shortly before Monday’s trade deadline, the best defensive center fielder in the Rangers’ organization.
Ortiz was also at AA Frisco until Monday afternoon, and he was regarded as the Rangers’ highest end minor league pitching prospect. MLB.com ranked them as the second and third best prospects in the Rangers’ farm system behind Gallo. Milwaukee did well getting this pair.
Lucroy takes over as the Rangers number one catcher. He is signed through next season and is regarded as one of the top five catchers in baseball. He’s hitting .299 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs. He made the National League All-Star team this season for the second time. He is throwing out would be base stealers at a rate of 37.7%, one of the tops in baseball. The MLB average is 24.9%, and Bobby Wilson and Robinson Chirinos have thrown out less than 20%. He is clearly the best catcher to wear a Texas Ranger uniform since Ivan Rodriguez.
Lucroy is from Louisiana and indicated that he had hoped all along that he would be traded to Texas. “It’s like a shot in the arm,” he told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan. “Nice team; new fresh feeling. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Jeffress is a reliever with a tremendous arm. He is much like Sam Dyson in that his best pitch is the power sinker. He has 27 saves for the Brewers this season with a 2.22 ERA. Dyson likely stays as the closer, but Jeffress is a viable alternative.
The other deal may be more controversial from the Rangers’ standpoint. They sent Dillon Tate to the Yankees for Carlos Beltran, a 39 year old outfielder that will be a free agent this winter. The Yankees also received two lesser pitching prospects, Nick Green and Erik Swanson, and the Yankees will pay half of the $5 million salary owed Beltran for the balance of the 2016 season. Tate was the number four overall selection in the 2015 amateur draft, so that’s a healthy price to pay for a two month rental. Of course, the Rangers are optimistic that Beltran will be a three month rental.
The switch-hitting Beltran is having a banner season for the Yankees. He’s hitting .304 with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs. All three of those figures would lead the Rangers. He is regarded as a good teammate in the clubhouse, and he has been extremely successful in the playoffs over his career. In 11 playoff series totaling 52 games, he is hitting .332 with 16 home runs, 45 runs scored and 40 runs driven in.
Money-wise, the Rangers added about $4,000,000 to the payroll. Beltran adds about $2.5 million, and Lucroy adds another $1.5 million.
So what does this mean to the Rangers? In no particular order, the Rangers now have a powerful batting order. Bobby Wilson and Robinson Chirinos, the incumbent catchers have hit less than .200 for two months and have thrown out less than 20% of would be base stealers for the season. Lucroy is a MATERIAL upgrade both offensively and defensively.
Jefress gives the Rangers six strong arms in the bullpen. He joins closer, Sam Dyson, lefty Jake Diekman, Matt Bush, Keone Kela and Tony Barnette to give the Rangers depth.
“With all the guys in the bullpen now, we feel that we only have winning pieces,” Daniels said.
The move for Beltran may signal that Shin-Soo Choo, who is currently on the disabled list, is in much worse shape than the team has let on. If not, it may still indicate that the team has little confidence that Choo can stay healthy once he returns.
The bottom line is that the basic lineup for the Rangers is Lucroy at catcher, Moreland at first base, Odor at second base, Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Adrian Beltre at third base, Beltran in left field, Ian Desmond in center field, Mazara in right field, and Profar at designated hitter. They will line up as the most powerful batting order in baseball.
Jon Daniels said at his press conference after the trade deadline, “We kept the core of the team together, but we gave up some good players.” He’s right. He did give up some very good prospects, but he made this team much more likely to do damage in October.
“We as a front office believe in this team,” Daniels said, “but at the same time we think we can get better.” On paper for sure, the Rangers did get better on Monday.
* Mitch Moreland was named the American League Player of the Week last week after he blasted five home runs and drove in nine runs.
* To make room on the 40-man roster for the three new players, Prince Fielder was transferred to the 60-day disabled list, and Bobby Wilson and Bryan Holaday were designated for assignment. Wilson’s DFA cleared one spot on the active roster, and Joey Gallo was optioned to clear another. That created spots for Beltran and Lucroy, who will be with the team in Baltimore Tuesday night. Jeffress is scheduled to report Wednesday, and move to open a spot on the active roster will be made at that time.