BY: Richard W. Humphrey
ARLINGTON, Texas – More than a third of the season is in the books. It’s been said that general managers use the first third of the season to assess what kind of team they have and the second third to do something about it. After the Rangers split two games with the Mets this week to close out the home stand with a 2-6 record, the dye is cast. They now sit in fourth place in the A. L. West, trailing Houston by 15 games. They are 4-12 since putting together a 10-game winning streak and have fallen five games under .500 at 27-32. There will be no third straight Division Championship, and the hope of a Wild Card playoff berth barely has a heart beat.
The record is even more disappointing when the schedule is considered. Of the first 59 games, only 16 have come against teams with winning records – Cleveland three, Houston seven, Minnesota three and Boston three.
The schedule gets tougher from here starting this weekend. The Rangers open a six game series Friday night against the teams with the two best records in baseball – Washington and Houston. Their second road trip of the month begins with two more series against over .500 teams – the New York Yankees for three games and Cleveland for four.
For sure the team is a disappointment at this point. The 2017 Rangers may not be as talented as the one that finished last season with the best American League record; but when the season began, it was a team that was reasonably expected to challenge for the A. L. West pennant. Injuries have played a part, but there have been disappointing performances.
Another big problen is that the Houston Astros are really good. They did an excellent job last off season of adding to their talented mix of young players. The bullpen is rock solid. Dallas Keuchel is back in the form that won the 2015 Cy Young Award, though he was placed on the disabled list this week with a neck problem, and there is no time table for his return. Houston’s offense is both explosive and consistent. Their lead in the West reached double digits before the end of May. They have the best record in baseball and are going to be hard to catch.
So far though, the Rangers simply haven’t played very good. The bullpen is a disaster. The starting rotation is in shreds. The defense is leaky. The offense is inconsistent and definitely strikes out too much.
The next six weeks will be telling. For sure, GM Jon Daniels does not want to pull the plug on this season too soon. He recently commented that his team could have a couple of good weeks, while Houston has a couple of bad weeks, and the Rangers could be right back in the chase. He can point to healing injuries for help. Adrian Beltre was activated last week, but appears headed back with an ankle sprain. Carlos Gomez, Tyson Ross, Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman are expected to return around the All-Star break if not sooner. Will that be soon enough?
The Rangers definitely want a playoff caliber team as they move toward a new stadium. The stadium proposal has the City of Arlington and the Rangers splitting the projected $1 billion cost. Arlington’s committment was secured in last November’s vote.
The Rangers though have not gone public with the expected source of their share of the construction cost. Almost certainly, a sizeable portion will be coming from John Q. Fan in some form – most likely seat license agreements for the better seat locations. The bill will be costly, and the money raising will go much easier if the team looks to be competitive for a World Series win in the next few years.
The likelihood though is that the Rangers in August will barely resemble the team that began the season. Sam Dyson was traded earlier this week. He surely will be the first of many that will be departing in the next seven weeks. Anyone with a contract that teminates at the end of this season is a candidate to be offered to a pennant contending team.
The list of expiring contracts includes pitchers Yu Darvish, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross. Position players Carlos Gomez, Mike Napoli, and Jonathan Lucroy are veterans that might be attractive to pennant contending teams. There is even speculation that Adrian Beltre could be moving on at his request if he sees a major rebuilding process coming next year.
Yu Darvish will be the biggest decision. He has pitched well, and looks fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He is the only player that would bring a significant return from a contender in trade. He likely will have 10-12 starts remaining in the season as the trade deadline approaches and even more if Daniels makes the trade earlier in July. 10-12 Darvish starts (or more) could make a significant difference to a contender.
Darvish has said that he likes Texas and wants to stay. Apparently talks of a contract extension haven’t gotten very far. It’s generally thought that he will command a nine digit contract this off season. Teams were a bit more timid in their starting pitcher offers last winter, but the Dallas Morning News’ Evan Grant believes Darvish will command an average salary of around $30 million ($25 million for sure) for five years or more. That adds up to plus or minus $150 million.
Do the Rangers have the money to make such a committment? Will they if they do?
The Darvish question is intertwined with Shohei Otani, a Japanese phenom that is called the Japanese Babe Ruth. The Rangers are clearly interested, and are even thought to be the favorite to land him. Even GM Jon Daniels has travelled to Japan since the season began to watch him play. Otani pitches at a level similar to Darvish, and he hits with power. He generally starts on the mound once a week and is an outfielder/designated hitter for up to five additional games each week. He also wants to continue pitching and hitting if he comes to America, so he is generally thought to be more suited for an American League team with the DH rule.
And he idolizes Darvish. He wears uniform number 11, and the two work out together in the off season.
The posting rules have changed since the Rangers landed Darvish after the 2011 season. Now the maximum posting fee is $20 million, and the player can negotiate with all of the teams that make the max bid, not just the high bidder.
Otani is not yet 25, so there are limits as to the amount of money he’ll command. He’ll certainly be cheaper than the $110 million in posting fee and salary that the Rangers ponied up for Darvish. Actually, the money may not be much of consideration for Otani. He’ll make tons from endorsements in his native country if he becomes a Major League star as expected.
So on one hand, retaining Darvish may increase the likelihood that Otani signs with Texas. On the other hand, letting Darvish go will free up payroll room for Otani and a lot more.
If the Rangers don’t resign Darvish and don’t trade him, they’ll be in line for draft choice compensation. That’s a lot less incentive than it once was with the new collective bargaining agreement. It’s also a significantly less return than the Rangers will be able to receive in a trade.
Right now, clubs are focused on next week’s amateur draft. That will be followed by a flurry of signings as teams get their short season minor league affiliates going. Towards the end of the month, teams will begin to focus on trades. The Rangers are expected to be very active in the July swap market. They have a lot of decisions to make. The surprise is that they likely are going to be sellers instead of buyers.