ARLINGTON — The problem with fire sales is the fire.Is it merely smoke damage, or is the inventory charred beyond the point of being marketable?More to the immediate point, are the Texas Rangers going to be fire sellers or fire starters?General manager Jon Daniels continues to publicly maintain that it’s too soon to make any determination. But I think everybody felt it this past week when the iceberg hit the boat.Amidst the injury toll, the Rangers trod water bravely as they struggled for three months to stay near the .500 mark. But no team could survive the 20 disabled list trips and the key losses that the Rangers have sustained, as Tuesday’s 8-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers reminded. Clear the shelves, or just man the lifeboats? Daniels has some problematic decisions ahead.For one thing, fire sales seldom work, except as a vehicle to unload salary. The Montreal Expos did it regularly through the 1990s, shedding payroll almost annually, and the roster damage followed them all the way to Washington.The former Florida Marlins dismantled championship teams twice, then ownership wondered where the fans went.Baseball history’s most prolific fire salesmen? The Athletics, whom the legendary Connie Mack gutted twice after winning seasons, after which the franchise didn’t win a pennant for the next 40 years.The most memorable post-Beatles fire sale? Owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s White Flag Trade on July 31, 1997, when the Chicago White Sox were only 3 1/2 games out of first place. The trade involved, among others, Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin, Roberto Hernandez, Bob Howry and Keith Foulke. Sox fans correctly point out that Chicago rebounded, with the help of relievers Howry and Foulke, to win the AL Central in 2000. But that came three years after the fire sale. Daniels and the Rangers can’t afford to waste three years.Think back to the start of spring training. The Rangers thought they had the makings of an American League contender. The players that gave them that hope haven’t flopped — they’ve mostly been injured, including key pieces such as Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, Prince Fielder and Jurickson Profar.Trade any of the healthy remaining players, and the question becomes, “Who takes their place in 2015 and 2016?” And for how much?Both right fielder Alex Rios and closer Joakim Soria, to name two, might attract interest from a contender in trade. But who would replace Rios, who began Tuesday night batting .319, for anything comparable to the $13.5 million the Rangers will have to pay him in 2015? Soria, meanwhile, has a club option for next season for $7 million. It likely would cost at least that much to replace him.Why have a fire sale, if you’re only going to be spending more money and starting more fires?The same goes for third baseman Adrian Beltre, whose contract is expected to run through 2016 and who likely would be a welcomed addition to more than one contender. Beltre could bring a trade largess, but at what cost to the club’s 2015-16 playoff hopes?Again, Fielder and Profar didn’t flop. They got hurt. Injured players can get better. Postseason hopes can be restored.But not if all that’s left are ashes.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton