Only two years ago, the Texas Rangers opened the second half of the season tied for the most victories in baseball. When they open the second half of the 2014 schedule Friday, they will have the fewest.
That wasn’t the plan in November after the Rangers traded Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, nor in late December after they agreed to terms with free agent Shin-Soo Choo, and not even after only one of their projected five starters was healthy enough to be in the rotation on Opening Day.
What happened? What’s going to happen the rest of the season? In the off-season?
One question was answered Wednesday, when right-handed reliever Jason Frasor was dealt to Kansas City for Triple A righty Spencer Patton. Players who are headed toward free agency, like Neal Cotts, might want to have a bag packed to leave at a moment’s notice.
General manager Jon Daniels, though, said that the core players aren’t likely to be dealt, but he will consider all “good baseball trades.”
“We’re not looking to tear this team down,” he said.
That’s one question for the second half. Inquiring minds have more. Here are some possible answers.
It can’t just be injuries that derailed this season, right?
The injuries are, without a doubt, a culprit, and no team would have been equipped to survive what has happened to the Rangers.
The pitching staff was hit the hardest. Derek Holland hasn’t pitched this season, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison are out for the season, and Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers aren’t expected back, either.
Season-ending injuries to Prince Fielder, Jurickson Profar and Mitch Moreland have been blows to the offense.
But the injuries exposed the lack of quality prospects and replacement players the Rangers had at Triple A. They didn’t really have any. They’ve dipped into Double A to plug holes, bringing up Nick Martinez, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas. Their best Triple A option, Kevin Kouzmanoff, quickly suffered a back injury.
The Rangers’ farm system has talent, but it’s at Double A and below after a series of trade-deadline deals were made to bolster postseason chances. Still, those deals gutted the system of what should have been the first line of defense to injuries this season.
The Fielder-for-Kinsler swap is a fireable offense, right?
Not yet. Year One of the deal has been terribly lopsided, but the Rangers were looking to upgrade the production in their lineup with Fielder and believed Profar would be an adequate replacement for Kinsler.
One neck operation later, Fielder is out for the season. And don’t buy into the thought that a physical should have been insisted upon before pulling the trigger. That just doesn’t happen. Besides, Fielder was baseball’s Iron Man, and the medical reports from Detroit had no red flags. Keep in mind also that Fielder passed a physical in spring training.
It’s still too early to judge the deal. Fielder has six years left on the contract. Let it play out before sizing Daniels for a noose.
If that’s not fireable, how about not re-signing Nelson Cruz?
This one is pretty egregious, but, again, not fireable. The Rangers were a bat short entering the season, and Cruz could have been had for $8 million and a few games a week in the outfield.
The idea that he was opposed to being a full-time designated hitter is accurate, but he would have settled for a split. Need proof? He was the starting DH for the American League All-Star team.
Who should be fired: Daniels or manager Ron Washington?
Putting a roster together and establishing quality depth are duties that fall to the general manager. The manager plays with what he is given.
That said, third baseman Adrian Beltre said that no one is to blame, and no one should be fired. But the lack of depth is glaring.
The Rangers knew all along that the condition that forced Harrison to have career-threatening back surgery could emerge. They lost Holland in early January. There was time to find someone better than Joe Saunders.
Offensively, the Rangers were counting on four players at the bottom of the order to play better than they ever had. Two of them haven’t reached the starting gate. Another is out for the season.
That’s too many “ifs” for a team that would go through injury hell.
Will Joey Gallo join the Rangers this season?
That would be a fireable offense if he did. There’s no need to rush him from Double A. There’s no need to make him a first baseman, which would be a waste of a plus-arm.
The power he showed at the Futures Game, especially batting practice, wowed all of those who hadn’t seen him take BP previously, but not the Rangers.
An improved hitter, Gallo’s future appears to be bright. But he’s not a finished product and he doesn’t need to be in the big leagues this year.
What about Luke Jackson as a call-up?
Absolutely. One of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects must to be added to the 40-man roster in the off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The Rangers should give him his first taste of the majors in September rather than spring training next year.
Everything will be fine in 2015 once everyone is healthy and when the new TV contract kicks in, right?
Not necessarily. The Rangers will have more money coming in, as much as $45 million, but a source said that the budget will be smaller than this season.
And not everyone is guaranteed to come back healthy. The Rangers aren’t counting on Harrison at all and don’t expect Perez back until the All-Star break at the earliest. Fielder should be OK, but seeing is believing.
So, two starting pitchers will have to be found, either via free agency or in this development season. Another bat is needed. Decisions are due on the options of Alex Rios and Joakim Soria. Profar could be headed to Triple A next year.
The Rangers need to find the answers themselves, beginning Friday when the second half opens at Toronto.