The SandBox: Rangers Return From Long Road Trip, Trade Deadline Approaching

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LEADING OFF

For the first time in a while, the Rangers are in the driver’s seat. No, I’m not talking about their fun and exciting start to the season. I’m talking about their position of leverage as we approach the trade deadline in regards to LHP Mike Minor.

As long as Minor remains healthy and productive, I’m not sure that the Rangers have had this much leverage on a coveted potential deadline addition since...trading Mark Teixeira? The Rangers didn’t have leverage with Darvish. He was a free agent-to-be on a bad team and wasn’t in top form. Everyone knew it made no sense for the Rangers to not trade him, so dealing from a position of weakness like that is tough. While Cole Hamels wasn’t as extreme of a case, no team who was interested in Hamels, who was struggling like Darvish was the year before, was worried the Rangers weren’t going to deal him.

If Texas chooses to trade Minor, they won’t receive near the haul they received for Teixeira. Times have changed. The value of prospects has soared. Plus, Minor is older and isn’t the star Tex was. But, he still has value. His value to the Rangers, however, might be greater with him in uniform than on the move.

Why is he so valuable?

Obviously, his production is most important here. The former seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft has been outstanding since the 2018 All-Star Break, posting a 3.30 ERA (12th in A.L.) and an opponents’ batting average of just .193 (3rd in A.L.). In addition to his production, the fact that he is under a team-friendly contract through 2020 (owed 9.83 million this year and next), thus not making him a rental, certainly helps. But what really makes Minor so valuable in the trade market is the same element that makes him so valuable to the Rangers: the free agent cupboard has gotten very bare.

The off-season following the current season had promise to feature some really impressive free agents, including some top-of-the-rotation/ace-types, but all of the extensions that players have signed has diluted the market. The only free agent for the upcoming class who remains unextended and who could legitimately head up your rotation is Gerrit Cole. So, if you want to get better not just for this year, but next year is well, Mike Minor is among your best options…and that list is just not very long. Supply and demand, my friends. Supply and demand.

Why would it make sense for the Rangers to deal him?

He can help them get better for the future. Even though it appears they could compete for a playoff spot as soon as this year, their best years seem to be beyond 2020. Minor could bring in more cavalry for that period of time. It appears that Minor presents their best chance to acquire a really promising young pitching prospect to add to their collection of young arms.

Why would it make sense for the Rangers to hold him?

He’s a very good pitcher and you need those if you’re going to compete for a playoff spot this year and next. The trade market has been so tough to predict and maybe they don’t really get nearly enough for him to justify a move. While this year’s start is promising for a playoff push, the Rangers should, in theory, be better prepared next year but they’ll need pitchers and Minor could be a valuable piece of the puzzle.

Final verdict

You obviously listen to calls and maybe even make the calls to see what’s out there, but this is definitely not a “sell to the highest bidder” situation. If the highest bidder isn’t high enough, you hold. My thought is that you’d really have to be blown away to trade Minor. I think he has the chance to be valuable for this team this year and next.

 

STRATEGY NOTE OF THE WEEK

Chris Woodward elected to use Kyle Dowdy to start Friday night’s 11th inning with the score tied, 4-4. He had thrown 66 pitches just two days prior and the Rangers had a fresh Ariel Jurado available. The Rangers lost 5-4 and Dowdy recorded just one out in the inning. He threw what appeared to be a routine inning-ending double play ball but when the ball got stuck in Forsythe’s glove with the bases loaded the Mariners successfully walked it off. Dowdy, for his part, wasn’t great. He walked two to load the bases. Was he rusty? Maybe. So why did Woody use him with a fresher arm available?

I thought Woody’s answer was interesting. He said that he wanted to challenge Dowdy, a Rule 5 acquisition whose stuff has impressed evaluators thus far, because he believes that Dowdy will be a big part of the bullpen equation when this team has success. Remember, this is another year where development trumps all else and maybe Dowdy has a little something that can help not only this year, but in the future. That’s not to say Jurado doesn’t have that same ability, but I think it’s safe to say the Rangers are a little more curious about Dowdy than they are Jurado.

 

AROUND THE TEAM

*Raise your hand if you had Logan Forsythe as the first Ranger to achieve a 4+ hit game this season? Forsythe, who wasn’t on the roster when position players reported to Spring Training, has been a great addition to the team as a utility infielder. He’s slashing 270/.375/.473 and is also supposed to be the best at picking up on the opposing team’s signs, for whatever that’s worth!

*Taylor Hearn made his MLB debut on Thursday. It didn’t go well. No sugar coating it. He recorded just one out (would have been two if not for an error), walked four, and allowed five runs/four earned. The command was non-existent. Maybe more concerning was that his mid-90s fastball was a low-90s fastball. But, while it wasn’t a great start, it was just one start. Lots of emphasis get placed on debuts, but remember that they tell you very little about a player’s future success. Hearn was in Edison Volquez’s spot. Volquez needed 17 starts over three seasons before he hit his stride. On the other hand, Chi Chi Gonzalez was awesome for the Rangers early in his career but hasn’t lived up to those initial moments. Baseball is awesome. Baseball can also stink. On Thursday, baseball stunk for Taylor Hearn. He’ll have several opportunities to make sure baseball is awesome for him in the future.

*Willie Calhoun is mixing in second base once again, getting a start there on Friday for Triple-A Nashville. That was his first appearance at second since 2017. He figures to get more as the season progresses. This is a multi-purposed decision, but it is not so that Calhoun can supplant Rougie this year. For one, if Rougie were to get hurt again, Calhoun would present himself as an option. More importantly, it can increase Calhoun’s value. With his slimmer body, the Rangers believe he is athletic and mobile enough to perform better at second base than he did with the Dodgers earlier in his professional career. Interesting development to follow.

*Nomar Mazara got off to a slow start this year, slashing .188/.288/.344 through April 22. He snapped an 18-at bat hitless stretch with a RBI double on the 23rd and is 12-for-his-last-30 with 3 2B and 3 HR, raising his slash line to .255/.320/.489. There’s been a lot of talk about how this is a big year for Odor and for Gallo, but the same applies to Mazara, too. You could make a case this year is bigger for Maz because, unlike Gallo and Odor, Maz is not an asset defensively and really needs the bat to improve for his worth to blossom. He’s worked on his swing mechanics to raise his launch angle. These things don’t happen overnight so it is something to track as the season progresses.

*Shin-Soo Choo got a bad rap from Rangers fans early on in his tenure and it really wasn’t his fault. Choo’s first year was 2014. He had a bad back but, after signing a big contract, he felt like he needed to play through. He acknowledges now that that was a mistake. He had a bad year and the back lingered into 2015. I’ll pass, however, on knocking a guy for trying to play through an injury, especially because he felt like it was his responsibility to do so after signing a big deal. Since that anomaly year, all Choo has done is get on base (.371 OBP since 2015). The Rangers don’t win the AL West in 2015 without him. In 2018, his on-base streak offered a level of excitement the team’s record did not. So, I guess I have two conclusions. First, the contract, which was heavily ridiculed at first, is actually not that bad. He was paid to get on base and he’s done that to a very high degree. Was he worth every penny? I don’t know. Not the way guys are valued these days, I guess, since he doesn’t really add much defensively, but the difference between his production and the value of the contract is not some ghastly amount. Second, Choo has been very good as a Ranger and I hope fans appreciate his commitment to the team and his production on the field.

*Shawn Kelley’s value as a reliever is beyond just the box score. Some relievers struggle or feel uncomfortable in certain situations, thus limiting the way a manager can deploy them. For instance, some relievers struggle when they enter in the middle of the inning instead of starting it clean. Other relievers simply prefer, for their own self-interest or routine, to pitch a certain inning and don’t like the deviate too much from that. A part of Shawn Kelley’s value is that he’s not only willing but very capable of pitching in any situation at any time. That makes life a little bit easier for Chris Woodward, especially because Kelley has been this team’s best reliever.

 

MAILBAG
@TrickyDick80: Do you think this team still needs to sell major pieces like Mazara, Leclerc, or Minor?

No player on the big league side is untouchable. I’d say Leclerc is unlikely to get moved. For one, he just signed an extension and that saps a little return value. Secondly, he isn’t off to the hottest start and the Rangers have urgency to move him so they certainly won’t sell low. With the other guys, they’ll listen and maybe on some they’ll proactively make calls. I don’t know that they “need” to trade guys, but they need to explore what is out there to try and grow their organizational depth and talent when the opportunities arise.

 

@DangurousDan: This year the Rangers are much improved in taking pitches and working counts top to bottom, what is Woodward selling that Banister could not?

That’s a tough question to answer. In fairness to the old regime, they certainly weren’t encouraging hitters to swing at everything. Their prevailing message was likely very similar and this current regime’s prevailing message. Without knowing specifics it is hard to decipher for sure, but my guess is this staff is just presenting it in a way that better clicks with the hitters. With that said, it is also necessary to account for young hitters and their development.

 

@CriswellsCC: Will Scott Heineman have a shot at CF once he gets his rehab in?

It’s possible, but I bet most of his time will be spent at a corner outfield spot. At AAA, Carlos Tocci is getting a bulk of the time at centerfield and I don’t anticipate them moving him off of that spot too often. Heineman is athletic, but he’s probably best at a corner, specifically left field. Does that mean he won’t play center? No. Just don’t expect that to be his best spot. He’s coming off of a strong 2018 campaign in which he slashed .306/.371/.445 with 23 Double-A at bats and 424 Triple-A at-bats.

 

MOMENT OF THE WEEK

Mike Minor set a career-high with 13 strikeouts in his start on Saturday night. In so doing, he tied Jamie Moyer and Cliff Lee for the most strikeouts by a lefty in Rangers history. In general, Minor became the 14th different pitcher with 13+ K in Rangers history

12-Nolan Ryan

5-Yu Darvish

3-Gaylord Perry, Jim Bibby

2-Bobby Witt

1-MIKE MINOR, Aaron Sele, Cliff Lee, Roger Pavlik, Jamie Moyer, Fergie Jenkins, Charlie Hough, Bert Blyleven, Dick Bosman

 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“I never lose I either win or learn”- Nelson mandela pic.twitter.com/oDAmEIKaJY

— Taylor Hearn (@thearn14) April 26, 2019

…I’m always game for good quote from Nelson Mandela.

 

STATS OF THE WEEK

*On Friday night Elvis Andrus played his 1500th career game, all with the Rangers. He became the fifth player in franchise history to play 1500 games for the Rangers, joining Michael Young (1823), Rafael Palmeiro (1573), Jim Sundberg (1512), and Ivan Rodriguez (1507).

*Hunter Pence’s sprint speed is 28.6 feet/second, 42nd best in MLB out of 339 qualified players. The only Ranger faster than Pence is Delino DeShields (12th, 29.3). Pence is ahead of guys like  McCutchen, Merrifield, Tapia, Dyson, Puig, Springer, and Yelich, among others.

*The Rangers collected 16 strikeouts (Minor 13, Jurado 3) Saturday night versus the Mariners. Their season-high last year was 14 (done once). The last time they collected 15+ K as a staff? July 18, 2014 at Toronto when they struck out 17 (Darvish 12, Cotts 3, Soria 2). The club record is 18, also against Toronto, set on July 25, 1989.

*Shin-Soo Choo has reached safely in the first inning in 14 of his last 15 games as the leadoff hitter.

*The leadoff hitter of each inning has compiled a .390 OBP for the Rangers, best in MLB.

*The Rangers are averaging nearly a run/1st inning this season. They have 26 first inning runs in 27 games. Only the Rays (28 runs in 27 games) have produced more runs in the first inning this year. Their .328 first inning BA ranks 2nd in MLB behind Tampa Bay’s .348 BA.

*Elvis Andrus’ 3rd inning home run on Sunday was his 1596th career hit, passing Juan Gonzalez for 4th most in club history. Michael Young’s 2,230 hits in a Rangers’ uniform is the most ever. If Elvis stays with the Rangers throughout his career and avoids a major injury, it seems very likely he’ll pass Young.

 

 

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*I’m pumped for the Vladdy Jr. era. Seems like a special talent. His father was an unreal player, but I wish he never had to deal with the Olympic Stadium astroturf. By the time he got to the Angels, as unreal as he was, he wasn’t his full self because his speed and defensive abilities just weren’t the same. That guy was unreal. Wonder what we’ll say about his son 20 years from now.

*A few years ago the Astros acquired Brian McCann in free agency. McCann wasn’t as potent offensively as he used to be, but he was still capable and provided a much-needed veteran clubhouse presence. The Astros also added Carlos Beltran prior to that 2017 season that ended in a World Series. It’d be unfair to credit those two veterans for being “the reason” the Astros got over the hump because they had an unreal collection of talent, but there’s no doubt their presence helped. The Astros added Michael Brantley this off-season. In addition to adding a much-needed left-handed bat in a righty-heavy lineup, Brantley adds a strong veteran presence much like McCann and Beltran did. According to those around the club, he’s already grabbed hold of a voice of leadership in the clubhouse and is impact is being felt. And, it doesn’t hurt that he’s hitting .312 with a .866 OPS.

*I don’t know why, but the non-existent relationship between college teammates Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer bothers me. While they certainly do not share all personality traits, they are both very bright people who are among the best in the game.

*Another random thought: Rick Porcello is going to go down as one of the most obscure Cy Young Award winners, especially on the American League side. He’s an average pitcher who had a reaaalllyyyy good 2016. Barry Zito didn’t end up having an outstanding career, but he might not be as obscure as Pat Hentgen, who won in 1996.

*No one really talks about Luis Castillo but the Reds’ 26-year old RHP has gotten off to a great start. He’s 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 43 K in 36.2 IP. While he throws a mid-90s fastball, his changeup is his best pitch and it’s devastating. Opponents are batting just .107 (6-for-62) against it and are without an XBH. He has a whiff rate of an astounding 52.5% against that pitch. Unbelievable.

*The Nationals lost Bryce Harper this off-season and they’re not off to the greatest start this year with a 12-14 record. Don’t feel too badly for them, though. Whether or not they turn things around this year, their future is bright. On Sunday, they benefitted from home runs hit by Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Carter Kieboom. Those three not only represent the future of the Nationals’ lineup, but are now responsible for the only instance in MLB history (going back as many as 111 years) in which a team got a home run from three players 21-and-under.

*Not many people are talking about Matt Boyd, but it appears that the 28-year old LHP for the Tigers if finally putting it together. Through his first six starts, Boyd has posted a 3.13 ERA, but more impressive is his 11.57 K/9 rate and .204 opponents BA. Worth taking note of his start to the year…

 

MINOR LEAGUE

*Leody Taveras had a very rough 2018. Playing at High-A Down East, Taveras slashed just .246/.312/.332…certainly not the numbers you’d want out of one of your best prospects. Just 20 years old, Taveras is back at High-A with the hopes that he graduates to a Double-A assignment at some point in 2019. Well, he’s on track to graduate. So far he’s slashing .311/.380/.411, but more than that, his centerfield defense has been spectacular and his great speed is translating into him becoming a force on the bases. The Rangers challenged Taveras to not just improve his hitting but become more of a complete player and he’s doing just that.

*RHP Emmanuel Clase, who has been featured in this section before, got promoted to Double-A Frisco after just a few weeks with High-A Down East. The fireballing 21-year old was acquired last Spring from the Padres in the Brett Nicholas trade and, as I’ve shared before, might be on a track to the bigs this year. He throws 100-101 mph with cut and doesn’t appear to have any control issues. Close delivered a 1-2-3 inning in his Double-A debut and has allowed 1 R on 3 H over 3.1 IP with 3 K and 0 BB. He’s a fun guy to follow.

*Catcher Sam Huff hit his 11th HR of the year on Sunday. He's slashing .325/.358/.805 this year and leads the South Atlantic League in HR by a handful. He has 7 HR in his last 9 games. Huff continues to grow defensively. Evaluators want to see him improve upon his swing-and-miss rate and develop a keener eye. Last year in Hickory Huff, who is 6-4 & really athletic, struck out 140 times & walked just 23. So far this year he's fanned 28 times & walked 3 times so while there is work to be done in that department, Huff is just 21 years old and possesses certain skills that are very exciting. He's definitely worth following. I imagine Huff will get a promotion to Down East at some point in the near future.

 

A/V DEPARTMENT

*Rangers GM Jon Daniels, during his weekly appearance with the Ben & Skin Show (Mondays, 4:20pm) identified what has stood out to him about Joey Gallo’s start this year

*Rangers reliever Shawn Kelley joined Ben Rogers and Kevin “KT” Turner on Tuesday and compared his former teammate, Chris Woodward, to his current manager, Chris Woodward.

He also described what makes Woody unique as a manager.