Rangers news at the halfway point

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, July 13th, 2018

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BY DIC HUMPHREY
DIC.HUMPHREY@YAHOO.COM

The Rangers are in Baltimore this weekend to finish up the
portion of the schedule before the All-Star break, the period of the
schedule that is known as the “first half” of the season, irrespective
of when the 81st game was played.
The Rangers will go to the All-Star break sitting in last place
in the American League West, no matter what happens this weekend, as
this has become a season of rebuilding instead of contending. Here
are some random thoughts at this point in the season.
ALL-STARS
The All-Star game is next Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and all
teams get a four day break in the schedule resuming play next Friday.
The Rangers placed the obligatory one member on the American League
squad – Shin-Soo Choo. This is Choo’s first All-Star game in his 14th
season. The designated hitter will not be used in the game since it
is being played in a National League park. Choo was the third
designated hitter selected for the American League squad, after
Boston’s J. D. Martinez (chosen from the fan’s vote) and Seattle’s
Nelson Cruz, one of three former Rangers that is an All-Star this
year. Ranger fans can look for Choo, who is dealing with a sore quad,
to make a pinch hitting appearance.
In other All-Star news, former Ranger Mitch Moreland was named
to the team. Hats off to Mitch. He was always well liked and played
hard when he was with the Rangers but was let go two years ago when he
became a free agent. They had first base options Joey Gallo and
Ronald Guzman in the system, so it didn’t make sense to keep him.
Moreland however has prospered with the Red Sox, becoming a more
consistent hitter.
The third former Ranger that is a 2018 All-Star is Milwaukee
reliever Jeremy Jeffress.
This weekend, the Futures Game will be played. There is a USA
team playing against World team with top minor league players coming
from all levels. The Rangers have two participants – outfielder Leody
Taveras and C.D. Pelham. Taveras will play for the World team. He is
ranked as the Rangers’ top minor league prospect, and is playing for
the Advanced-A Down East Wood Ducks. Pelham is a left-handed relief
pitcher playing for the AA Frisco Rough Riders, and is ranked as the
Rangers’ 19th best minor league prospect
TRADE DEADLINE
This is an exciting time for baseball fans. The July 31
non-waiver trade deadline is quickly approaching, and the Rangers are
looking to fuel their return to being a contender by trading assets
that this year’s contending teams need.
The first Ranger trade was announced last Sunday, and it was a
surprise. Instead of shedding players, they received three players
from the San Francisco Giants for either a player to be named later,
or cash considerations. The players were outfielder Austin Jackson (a
Denton native) and reliever Cory Gearrin, both Major Leaguers on the
Giants’ roster. The third player was Chris Bahr, a minor league
starting pitcher that the Rangers assigned to Advanced-A Down East.
Bahr is the prize of the trade for the Rangers.
The crux of this trade is that the Giants relieved themselves of
payroll to assure being under the luxury tax level, and the Rangers,
by taking on a salary commitment to Jackson and Gearrin of a bit more
than $5 million, received a highly regarded starting pitching
prospect. Texas told Jackson not to even report to the team; and on
Wednesday, the Rangers designated him for assignment. Assuming
Jackson clears waivers, the Rangers will be obligated for the balance
of his salary on a contract that runs through next year. If he later
signs with another team after clearing waivers, the team that signs
Jackson will pay him at the Major League minimum ($545,000 this year),
and the Rangers will be relieved of that portion of his salary.
Gearrin debuted as a Ranger last Monday and had a very good outing.
He could be a useful contributor to the bullpen over the balance of
the season.
As for the trades Ranger fans are expecting, some will
definitely happen, but it looks more and more like the Rangers will
see a minimal return. Cole Hamels, who starts against Baltimore this
weekend, has turned in three bad outings in a row including last
Saturday’s debacle in which he retired just two batters. When his
recent performance is coupled with the more than $12 million minimum
that is owed to Hamels under his current contract and no-trade clause;
the odds of getting traded are reduced. The Phillies, Braves and
Mariners may be his most likely destinations as they are the
contending teams that are not on Hamels’ no-trade list.
There also seems to be little interest in Adrian Beltre and
Shin-Soo Choo, despite Choo’s first half performance that was good
enough to make the All-Star team. He is still under contract for two
more years with more than $50 million. Beltre did tell a Boston
reporter this week that he would waive his no-trade clause to be
traded to a contender. He is a free agent after
this season, but has told l he plays next season, he wants to be with
the Rangers.
Seemingly every contender is looking for bullpen help, so Jake
Diekman, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, is likely
to be traded.
There is another rumor that the Rangers would be willing to trade
Keone Kela, and he may bring the greatest return as he is under
contractual control for two more seasons.
The Rangers likely will be receiving prospects from the lower
minor league levels. They simply do not have assets for contenders
that will bring higher level prospects in return.
YOUNG RANGERS
All this leads to how the young Rangers are faring, the players
that are expected to be the backbone of the Rangers when they become
contenders again.
First, the good: The Rangers decided to go with Isiah
Kiner-Falefa as their back-up catcher when Carlos Perez was injured.
He’s now started seven games behind the plate and has given a good
account of himself. He’s thrown out three of five attempted base
stealers, and is getting high marks for his pitch framing and pitch
calling.
Rougned Odor looks to have turned his season around. He
unquestionably regressed last year after receiving a contract
extension that guaranteed him almost $50 million. When the season
began, he looked much like last year. However, after his stint on the
disabled list, he has gradually progressed on both sides of the ball.
At the plate, he is laying off bad pitches and walking more. His
batting average and on base percentage are moving up. He won’t reach
the 30 home run mark attained the last two years, but the power is
returning. Defensively, he’s been down right good. He committed an
error Wednesday night to end a career high 40-game errorless streak,
and has made some spectacular plays.
Ronald Guzman has been exceptional at first base. Offensively,
he has shown more power than his minor league performance would have
indicated. His average is up to .257 with eight home runs and 33 runs
batted in. He appears to be up with the team for the balance of the
season.
      The bad: Joey Gallo has regressed from last year. He is still
hitting home runs, but little else. He has 21 home runs and 50 RBIs,
but his average is down to .186. He isn’t walking as much or getting
many hits other than home runs, so his on-base percentage, slugging
percentage, and OPS are all down too. Evan Grant of the Dallas
Morning News wrote an article this week indicating that Gallo may get
sent to AAA to work on his offensive problems.
The two minor league prospects deserve mention – Willie Calhoun
and Scott Heineman. Calhoun was thought to be a Major League ready
hitter this spring, but his defense was suspect. In the Dodgers’
system, he was playing second base, but not very well. When the
Rangers obtained him in the Yu Darvish trade last summer, they moved
him to left field. He wasn’t very good there either; so early in
spring training, he was sent to AAA to work on his defense.
It was assumed that he would be back with the Rangers a month or
six weeks after the season began. Certainly by June 1. Well here it
is the middle of July, and he’s still at Round Rock having watched
Kiner-Falefa and Guzman advance to the Major Leagues ahead of him. He
slumped early, largely because he sulked over the demotion to AAA.
Lately though, the offense is back. He has a 16-game hitting streak
that has his average up to .298, and he has improved enough
defensively to be adequate in left field.
At this point though, there is no place for him on the Major
League roster. Guzman is getting most of the first base playing time,
which moved Gallo to left field. If the Rangers call Calhoun up, it
won’t be to sit half the time and watch other people play. It will
likely take an injury or a trade to make enough playing time available
to call Calhoun up before September when the rosters expand.
One other problem for Calhoun is Heineman, another outfielder at
AAA. Some in the organization believe Heineman has overtaken Calhoun.
He is hitting .302 to Calhoun’s .298, and has two more home runs and
12 more RBIs in 10 fewer games. Heineman also has more speed and is
bigger threat to steal bases. He gave a good account of himself
earlier this week at the AAA All-Star game. He entered in the sixth
inning as a pinch hitter, singled and walked in his two plate
appearances, and stole four bases, including home on a double steal.
Another AAA name to look for is Brady Feigl. He is a reliever
that was moved to AAA after the season began. In 16 games, he has a
4-0 record with a 1.54 ERA. He likely joins the Rangers around August
1 when a current reliever or two gets traded.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line on this Ranger team is that it simply does not
score enough runs. The team batting average is down to .237, which
ranks 25th out of 30 teams and 14th out of 15 American League teams.
They have a run differential of -62. Ranger batters have accumulated
the second highest strikeout total among the 30 teams (most in the
A.L.), and are on pace to strike out 1,530 times. It’s also a very
poor defensive team, ranking 28th out of 30 teams in fielding
percentage.
The team certainly has some good young players on the roster, and
a minor league system that hopefully will start sending pitchers to
the parent club. To contend though, all these young players need to
get better.

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