A TALE OF TWO TEXAS CITIES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers completed two trades just prior to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline. The headliners of the deal were catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress coming from Milwaukee along with outfielder Carlos Beltran from New York. Texas sent five minor league prospects to procure the three Major League players, and three of those prospects are regarded as premium prospects. All three were ranked among the Rangers’ top 10, and all three have been ranked in the top 100 minor league prospects at some point this season. Texas had also earlier made a trade with Atlanta sending another top 10 prospect for two pitchers, including Lucas Harrell, a veteran back of the rotation starting pitcher.

The Astros were in second place and trailed the Rangers by six games on August 1, clearly in the pennant race; but they chose to do virtually nothing to reinforce their team for the final two months of the season. Like Texas, they have a solid farm system with prospects that are attractive to other teams. They had the ammunition to procure Major League talent to boost this year’s team, but they didn’t.

Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels held a press conference with local media about 2-1/2 hours after the trade deadline. He said, “…the front office and ownership believes in this team and recognizes this is the opportunity to back that up and make the club better.” He clearly did back the team up, as most national writers graded Daniels’ moves as the best that were made at the deadline by any team.

Meanwhile in Houston, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, “Texas took three of the top five prospects out of their system to improve today, and that’s a decision that’s going to be here for a while. We are not prepared to do that for our organization at this point. I feel like we have a young team that is going to be here for a while. We are just getting into our window (of opportunity), and we want to keep it open for as long as possible.”

Despite the Rangers winning the division last year, the Astros were the overwhelming favorite to win the division this season. However, Houston sputtered coming out of the gate and scrambled since the low point in May to get back into the race. They have been as close as 2-1/2 games. It looks like a team with a good chance for at least a Wild Card berth even if they don’t catch Texas in the division. It looks like a team just begging for trade deadline help.

One aspect of contenders making trade deadline deals is the psychological boost it gives the team. Certainly, last year was a good example. The Rangers were barely in the race as the deadline approached, and made only deals for players with multiple years of contract control. They immediately started to win, and even made a waiver deal in August for a rent-a-player (Mike Napoli) to bolster their chances. It worked.

Clearly this year, there was disappointment in the Houston clubhouse that the front office did nothing. Outfielder Colby Rasmus was vocal in his displeasure, saying, ” That shows that (the Rangers are) wanting to go out and better their team. They’ve already beaten us with what they had,…but that shows something that they’re going out and doing that (making the trades).”

This weekend, the Rangers took two of three from Houston to push the Astros into third place 7-1/2 games out of first. The trade deadline deals were the difference on Saturday night. Rangers’ starter Lucas Harrell didn’t pitch well and was knocked out in the fourth inning, but amazingly yielded only one run despite horrendous control problems. Jeremy Jeffress pitched a scoreless inning, and his addition to the pen gave the Rangers the bullpen depth to turn in 5-1/3 innings of one run ball.

On offense, the Rangers eked out the 3-2 win with all three runs driven in by trade deadline acquisitions. Jonathan Lucroy hit a pair of home runs, and Carlos Beltran drove in the other. Houston had no trade deadline acquisitions to answer.

Many took Luhnow’s trade deadline comments as a shot at Daniels. More likely though, it was Luhnow trying to fend off criticism directed toward him.

This is not to criticize Luhnow. His team has injuries. He has an offense that strikes out way too much causing it to struggle to score runs. He may have correctly made the judgement that this team can’t be saved. In the big picture, he has a vision for his team. He tore it down when he took over trading veterans to stock the team with prospects. That led to miserable seasons including 2013 when they lost 111 games, which gave them favorable draft choices to stock the farm system even more.

Attendance is still suffering even as the team’s fortunes have turned. They are averaging a little more than 28,000 per game, while Texas is drawing over 34,000 per game.

Luhnow apparently believes that his farm system will be producing such that his team can be a solid contender in coming years, and is willing to throw away a chance at the playoffs this year to stay on that course.

Texas on the other hand looks to be a team that can not only make the playoffs, but win some series when they get there, even the World Series. Daniels like Luhnow is bringing along young players from the farm system. Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, and Jurickson Profar are integral parts of the team, and none of them have seen their 24th birthday.

However, Daniels unlike Luhnow has mixed in veterans such as Adrian Beltre, Ian Desmond and now Carlos Beltran – leaders to show the young players how the game is played. With Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, they have two top starters. With the acquisition of Jeffress and the blossoming of Matt Bush and Tony Barnette, they have a solid and deep bullpen. With the additions of Lucroy and Beltran and with the return of Shin-Soo Choo from the disabled list, they have the most fearsome batting order in baseball.

They also have one of the best managers in the game – Jeff Banister.

For sure Daniels gave up a lot to get Harrell, Lucroy, Jeffress and Beltran. They also took on about $4 million of payroll to make these deals. One thing the Texas organization has proven though, is that they can scout and develop players. They’ll be able to re-stock the system in less time than most people believe.

Perhaps Luhnow is right that the Rangers’ window of opportunity will close in the next couple of years because of the top prospects that have been traded. However, this Ranger team has a very realistic chance of winning the World Series. Daniels is going for it. He is generally regarded as the trade deadline winner this year. It’s rallied players and fans. The winner he wants to be though is the one holding the big trophy after the last game of the season. This Ranger team has the personnel to do it.

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