Though we’re only a bit more than halfway through May, the Rangers have already informed other clubs that they’re open to selling off some veteran pieces, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports in his latest notes column. The report doesn’t characterize talks as serious, which isn’t surprising given that it’s not even June (the Draft is still a larger focus for most teams), though Rosenthal notes that some rivals have begun to tell Texas that they’re interested in various players.
The Rangers, off to just a 17-28 start to the season, find themselves buried under an 11-game deficit in the AL West and 8.5 games out of a Wild Card spot in the American League. Only three AL clubs — the Orioles, Royals and White Sox — have lower winning percentages than the Rangers.
Rosenthal lists left-hander Cole Hamels as the “most prominent” name that is likely to move, though he also suggests that Adrian Beltre would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to head to a contender once he’s back from his second DL stint of the season (both due to a strained left hamstring).
The Rangers aren’t exactly teeming with useful veterans, but Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, Jesse Chavez and Tony Barnette have all enjoyed above-average starts to their seasons. Lefty reliever Jake Diekman, too, is sporting a solid ERA and an impressive strikeout rate, though he’s walked a staggering 14 batters in 14 2/3 innings, which will surely make other teams leery.
On the position-player side of the coin, the Rangers have fewer appealing assets, outside of the currently injured Beltre. Rosenthal notes that the organization isn’t keen on listening to offers for young players like Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara or Delino DeShields Jr., and that leaves little in the way of productive assets. Speculatively speaking, perhaps Robinson Chirinos would be appealing for a club in need of catching help like the Nationals or Twins. While he’s hitting just .198/.280/.414, he’s again showing good power (six homers, .216 ISO in 125 plate appearances) after hitting .255/.360/.506 last season. He’s controlled through 2019 and would only be owed the remainder of this season’s $2.25MM salary plus a cheap $2.375MM option for next season ($1MM buyout).
If Hamels is indeed the likeliest name to go, he’s provided interested teams with a mixed bag of results so far in 2018. Hamels struggled with his velocity early in the season but has seen his fastball surge back to life recently. After averaging less than 90 mph on his heater in his first three starts, he’s now sitting comfortably in the 91-92 mph range, including a season-high 92.2 mph in his most recent appearance. The lefty’s 9.9 K/9 rate and overall 25.1 percent strikeout percentage would be his highest since his rookie campaign in 2006, and his 12 percent swinging-strike rate is up considerably from last season’s career-low 9.7 percent.
Hamels, though, is also walking more batters than ever before (3.7 BB/9, 9.3 percent overall walk rate), and his 43.7 percent hard-contact rate allowed to opposing hitters is among the highest in all of baseball. He’s also earning $22.5MM this season and is guaranteed at least a $6MM buyout on next year’s $20MM option.
In addition to that sizable sum of money, Hamels also has the power to block trades to 20 teams; MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported earlier this year that the only teams to which Hamels can be traded without his consent are the Mariners, Cardinals, Nationals, Astros, Cubs, Phillies, Royals, Rays and Braves. So while a team like the Yankees will be an oft-speculated and reported fit for Hamels, he’ll have the ability to try to negotiate a bit, perhaps by saying he’d only approve the deal if next year’s option were to be guaranteed.
Looking around the rest of the roster, Fister is playing on a $4MM salary that includes a $500K buyout of next year’s reasonable $4.5MM club option. His 3.43 ERA isn’t supported by fielding-independent metrics, but he’d be a nice steadying force at the back of someone’s rotation. The timeless and affable Colon signed a minor league deal with a $1.75MM base salary, and while he’s not as good as his 2.82 ERA would indicate, he’s demonstrating elite control and inducing grounders at a 50 percent clip while racking up plenty of innings (51 through nine appearances, including seven starts).
In the bullpen, Chavez’s 4.81 ERA sells him short, considering the fact that he’s averaged 10 strikeouts and just 1.9 walks per nine frames. He’s on a one-year deal worth $1MM. Barnette has missed time with inflammation in his elbow, but his velocity is holding at 93 mph. He owns a 9-to-2 K/BB with a career-best 56.7 percent grounder rate in 10 1/3 innings. With a $1.5MM salary and a similarly affordable club option, he’s fit nicely into a contending bullpen’s middle relief corps.
As ever, it remains unlikely that anything too significant will happen in mid-May. The Rangers are undoubtedly only in the preliminary stages of gauging the market for their veterans, while some clubs throughout the league have yet to determine whether they’ll actively acquire talent this summer, end up in a holding pattern or wind up selling off pieces themselves. Contending always looked like a long shot for a Texas club that put together a patchwork pitching staff, however, and it seems they’ve largely accepted their fate as summer approaches.