Rangers playing hard despite injuries

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, June 29th, 2018

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DIC.HUMPHREY@YAHOO.COM

“Holy winning streak Bat Man. What’s going on in Arlington?”
The Texas Rangers have been woeful most of the season, but
amazingly they roll into the weekend having won nine of their last 11
games and four consecutive series. Certainly the schedule has
helped. All eight wins have come over teams with losing records,
however, the pitching has been good, the defense has improved, and the
offense has been scoring enough runs to win.

When the season began, the team’s slim playoff chances hung on a
supposedly solid offense and some turnaround seasons from retread
starting pitcher candidates. After two games the Rangers were 1-1
and tied for second place in the division. Both the .500 record and
second place will likely be high water marks for the season.

Early injuries to Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor –
three quarters of the starting infield – ripped up the good offense
though. That trio accounted for 67 home runs and 234 RBIs in 2017.
Those injuries dispelled the thought of contending for a playoff
berth and turned the 2018 season into a rebuilding year. The
Rangers dropped into the American League West basement after four
games, and have had last place all to themselves since April 9. By
early May, they were 10 games off the pace, and in recent days, they
have been as many as 19 games out of first place. Their best chance
of getting out of last place this season is to catch the reeling Los
Angeles Angels. Texas is five games behind L.A.

The playing time made available by the injuries largely went to
Jurickson Profar, who became the starting shortstop, and Isiah
Kiner-Falefa and Ronald Guzman, who were summoned from AAA. All three
have taken great strides toward establishing themselves as Major
League players, and all three are still an integral part of the lineup
with Beltre, Andrus and Odor back on the active roster.

The Rangers passed the mathematical halfway point of the season
this week, slightly earlier than usual with this year’s earlier season
start. There are four plus weeks remaining until the July 31
non-waiver trade deadline, and the Rangers’ roster is likely to look a
lot different in August than it does now. It should be an interesting
month to follow.

The Rangers bullpen had early troubles, but has been mostly good
since. They rank sixth in the league in bullpen ERA. Keone Kela took
over the closer role and has converted 20 of 20 save opportunities.
Jose LeClerc, Chris Martin and Jake Diekman have handled the lion’s
share of the seventh and eighth innings in games with a lead. Lefty
Alex Claudio is often in the late inning mix too, but he also sees
action earlier games and for multiple innings.

Tony Barnette has been good too, as has Jesse Chavez in the long
man role. There’s not much glory in the long man role, as Chavez
often pitches well before the eighth inning in games that are largely
already lost. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but his ability to pitch
multiple innings in those situations keeps back of the game pitchers
off the field and fresh for later winnable games.

Contending teams are always looking to bolster their bullpens,
so virtually all of the Ranger relievers are candidates to be traded.
Diekman is the Ranger most likely to go. He has been effective, he
throws hard, and he is a free agent after this season. Plus he’s
left-handed. Diekman will be in demand.

Surprisingly, the Rangers are reported to be interested in
trading Kela. He has pitched extremely well and won’t be eligible for
free agency for two more seasons. Strange that the Rangers don’t
want to hold on to such a commodity, but perhaps their thinking is
that Kela will bring a big haul in minor league prospects because of
his controllability.

Cole Hamels is the starting pitcher most likely to be traded.
He will be one of the top five starters that are supposedly available
for contenders. However, a Hamels trade has obstacles. He is making
more than $20 million this season, and there is a team option for next
season at $20 million with a $6 million buyout. He’s owed at this
point more than $10 million for the balance of 2018 plus at least
another $6 million next year. On top of that, he has a limited no
trade clause that requires his permission to be traded to 20 teams.
Most of the contenders are on that no-trade list, and rumor has it
that his price for approving a trade to one of those teams is the
exercise of his 2019 option.

The Rangers will likely need to kick in an impactful amount of
cash to get any significant prospects in return for Hamels. However,
national baseball writer Jon Paul Morosi broke the news this week that
“the groundwork on a Cole Hamels trade has advanced to the point that
a deal before the All-Star Game is increasingly possible.”

Beltre is the position player most often mentioned to be traded.
He’s having a good season when he’s on the field, but he has been on
the disabled list twice already. His defensive metrics also show
decline. However, it’s been reported that the Phillies and Red Sox
have expressed interest. Beltre has to grant his permission to a
trade with 10-5 rights (at least 10 years total experience and at
least five years with his current team). It is generally thought that
he will approve a trade if it gives him a reasonable World Series
possibility, since he hasn’t played on a World Series winner.
One obstacle for Beltre is that there aren’t many contenders
looking for help at third base. He’s making about $3 million a month,
so he’s not cheap. There are also at least two other third basemen
that likely will get traded that are perhaps more desirable than
Beltre – Manny Machado, who is actually playing shortstop at this
point, but who has won Gold Glove Awards at third base in the past;
and Mike Moustakas. Josh Donaldson is definitely available, but his
injury problems may keep him in Toronto.

There are of course other trade possibilities. There is no
secret that the Rangers would like to move Shin-Soo Choo. He’s having
his best year offensively since joining the Rangers and could well be
their All-Star representative. He is limited defensively, so the
market for Choo is likely with an American League team where he can
DH. He’s about to turn 36, and he is still owed more than $50 million
under the ill-advised seven year contract the Rangers gave him prior
to the 2014 season. To get much in return, the Rangers undoubtedly
will have to kick in some significant money.

Gallo homer April 27As far as building blocks for the future, Nomar Mazara is the
closest the Rangers have to an untouchable player. An injury two
years ago opened the door to start his Major League career earlier
than projected, and he seized the opportunity and stayed in the
Majors. He stepped up last year to drive in 100 runs, and this year
he’s even better defensively and offensively.
Delino DeShields has turned into a tremendous defensive center
fielder. He’s seemingly makes SportsCenter quality catches on a
routine basis, and he’s a terror on the base paths with his plus-plus
speed.

Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor were thought to be building blocks.
They have power – combining for 71 home runs last year. Odor,
however, regressed in other offensive areas last season, as well as
defensively. Gallo has become a very serviceable defender at first
base and left field, but his offense has regressed this year. He
actually has fewer hits in June than the Rangers have wins.

They have been joined by Profar, Guzman and Kiner-Falefa.
Guzman especially is a defensive whiz at first base. Kiner-Falefa has
started games at four positions including catcher. In this day and
age of 13 man pitching staffs, positional flexibility is a big plus.
Profar has established himself as a solid offensive player, though
defensively, his throwing is a work in progress.

Unfortunately, all of those building blocks are position
players. Mike Minor is the only starting pitcher that appears to be a
find. The Rangers’ most Major League ready minor league pitching
prospects – Arial Jurado and Yohander Mendez have regressed. For the
Rangers to get back to contending almost every year, like they were
from 2010 through 2016, they have to solve the starting pitching
puzzle.

SHORT HITS – Attendance
maxresdefault The Rangers haven’t announced season ticket sales this
year, but they are down from last year. One crowd this year was
16,718, the smallest Ranger home crowd since 2010. In the American
League, announced attendance is “official paid attendance”;
irrespective of how many people actually show up for the games. The
season ticket sales then by definition are less than the smallest home
crowd, so it appears that season ticket sales dropped below 15,000
this year.

Total paid attendance for the Rangers’ first 42 home games is
1,149,114. That’s a decrease of 215,750 fans (18.8%) from the
1,364,864 paid attendance for the first 42 home games of 2017.
Clearly the Rangers poor 2017 record has chased away season ticket
holders. The Rangers’ terrible start to the season, especially at
home where they are still 17-25 (.405 winning percentage) after
winning four of their last five, is another contributing factor.

Overall, Major League Baseball has seen a 6.6% decrease in
attendance this year. That translates to more than 2,000,000 fans.
Bad weather in April is one factor. The evolution, especially in the
American League, of a few super teams that dominate and a number of
teams in all out rebuilding mode is another. The Red Sox (108),
Yankees (108), and Astros (107) are on pace to win more than 100
games; while the Orioles (115), Royals (111), and White Sox (105) are
on pace to lose more than 100. Add to that second list the Tigers,
Blue Jays, Rangers, Rays and possibly the Twins as teams that are
clearly rebuilding, and there is not much suspense to the outcome of
the A. L. playoff teams.

With the Rangers building a new stadium for which they
undoubtedly will be charging significantly higher prices for prime
tickets, these attendance figures are a concern to ownership.

EP-302199863.jpg&updated=201602191901&MaxW=800&maxH=800&noborderJEFF BANISTER – Quietly, Ranger manager Jeff Banister has done a
magnificent job this year. Many teams with records similar to the
Rangers’ awful first half would have thrown in the towel and been
going through the motions at this point. This team is still playing
hard and looks to be getting better. Banister could have easily used
the injuries as an excuse…but he hasn’t. Any team losing three
players as important as Beltre, Andrus and Odor for a significant
period of time would suffer in the win column. That includes the
Yankees, Red Sox and Astros.

Almost from the beginning of Banister’s tenure as manager here,
there were whispers that a number of players didn’t like him. His
tough guy, grind it out approach rubbed some players the wrong way.
In 2015 and 2016, the Rangers won the division, and that quelled the
critics. A season like last year though brought the grumblings to an
uproar. The local beat writers have acknowledged that there was truth
to the whispers. Banister has received communication instruction to
improve his skills with the players. The hiring of Don Wakamatsu as
the bench coach was another effort to smooth the relationship between
manager and players.

Banister has maintained positivity when there wasn’t much going
right early in the season. The team looks loose on the field. They
appear to be enjoying playing the game. A number of the younger
players have shown dramatic improvement. He has also done a
tremendous job at bullpen management to mold relief pitching into the
best performing area of the team.

Banister’s contract expires at the end of the season. Jon
Daniels has received a contract extension to continue leading the
rebuilding effort as general manager. At this point, there are no
rumors about a contract extension in the works for Banister. He
certainly has not made it an issue, and he shows no signs of feeling
the pressure the contract situation may be exerting.

With two division championships in four years, and the acumen he has
shown in this team improving as the season progresses; Banister
deserves to be extended.

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