Texas Rangers

Rangers Memory Lane: Darvish-Calhoun swap produces no guarantees for 2018

Yu Darvish will pitch Game 3 of the World Series on Friday, thanks to a July 31 trade to the Dodgers. Despite Rangers’ interest, he might never pitch for them again.
Yu Darvish will pitch Game 3 of the World Series on Friday, thanks to a July 31 trade to the Dodgers. Despite Rangers’ interest, he might never pitch for them again. AP

Some 10 minutes before trade-deadline buzzer, roughly 2:50 p.m. July 31, will be remembered as the official time when the Texas Rangers declared themselves fringy playoff competitors and dealt away right-hander Yu Darvish.

The decision was made over the 120 days leading up to deadline day, as the Rangers languished far behind the Houston Astros and at times well behind the second-card spot. With Darvish a free agent and not guaranteed to return for 2018, the best business move was to trade him for the best available package.

Maybe Jon Daniels secured that, maybe he didn’t. Maybe the bidding was higher two the weeks earlier, when the Rangers came out of the second-half gate with a strong series at Kansas City, a four-game dud at Baltimore and a hope-revitalizing three-game sweep at Tampa Bay.

Daniels grabbed the best offer at the last minute from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sent three prospects. The prize of the bunch was Willie Calhoun, a hitting machine whose defense was thought to be a liability.

Darvish, meanwhile, overhauled his way of pitching and starred in his first two starts of the postseason. His third comes Friday, as he starts Game 3 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.

Good or bad, the Rangers have interest in a reunion. They also have interest in seeing Calhoun go through their off-season program and a full spring training after finishing 2017 in the big leagues.

There’s room for both on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster. There’s a better chance that neither opens the season March 29 at Globe Life Park.

Here’s how:

The success Darvish has had this off-season is sure to send his price soaring higher than it already was. He might not get $30 million a season, but $25 million doesn’t seem outlandish. Do that over five years, and only a handful of teams can handle that.

The Rangers are one of them, even with their smaller budget this off-season. Daniels said so himself, though he curbed the possibility of a top-of-the-market acquisition by saying that the Rangers have multiple needs and might be better off if they spread out their available funds.

Re-signing Darvish, thought to be a strong possibility in spring training, now seems like a long shot. The Rangers’ recent history shows that they don’t believe signing high-priced starting pitchers are the best route to a title.

Then there’s Calhoun, who finished the season in the majors after initially being passed over for a September call-up. The defense he played was better than the Rangers had been told. The hit tool is there.

There are even two openings that Calhoun could fill in the lineup — left field and designated hitter. It might seem like it’s his roster spot to lose, and maybe it is.

But in true Rangers fashion, they aren’t committing to anything at this point of the off-season and almost certainly won’t until they break spring camp.

While the defense was better than expected, Calhoun was clearing a really low bar. To have him as the starting left fielder would require the Rangers going with Delino DeShields in center or acquiring a center fielder.

The Rangers aren’t exactly thrilled with DeShields’ defense, and would find a Calhoun-DeShields pairing in left and center to be a liability.

Calhoun will get all of spring training to work on left field. He’ll get the entire off-season to improve his conditioning, speed and agility. It’s entirely possible that Calhoun, who only started to play left field, could blossom into a good-enough outfielder by the 2018 lid-lifter.

Or he might be slow to develop and might have to continue learning the position at Triple A. The Rangers, meanwhile, could go with DeShields in left and sign a center fielder. Or go with Joey Gallo in left field, or Ryan Rua or Drew Robinson.

The Rangers have options beyond Calhoun, though he will compete for a roster. They have options beyond Darvish, though the Rangers have interest in a reunion.

The young, developing, cost-friendly Calhoun is the better bet for next season’s roster.

But it isn’t a stretch to find a way for neither of them to be on the Rangers’ roster to open 2018.