There’s “increasing buzz” that the Rangers will listen to offers on top starters Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels if they don’t open the second half of the season with strong play, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. It’s been previously reported that the Rangers will hold onto Darvish even if they fall out of the race, so that’d represent something of a change of mindset for GM Jon Daniels & Co. Darvish is set to hit the open market at season’s end, so if the Rangers are out of the race and don’t trade him, they run the risk of losing him to free agency (though he’d obviously receive and reject a qualifying offer, affording Texas some draft compensation). Hamels, meanwhile, hasn’t been listed as a potential trade target to date. He’s earning $23.5MM this year and next, and he’s owed at least $6MM as the buyout on a $20MM club option for the 2019 campaign. That contract and a bizarrely low strikeout rate (4.9 K/9) could complicate Hamels’ market, though he’s shown recent improvement with 12 strikeouts in his past 14 1/3 innings of work.
With 19 days until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Rangers are telling other clubs that they plan to hold, at the very least, and may yet act as buyers on the trade market, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports (on Twitter). The Rangers, of course, are all but finished in the American League West as the Astros run away with the division. However, despite a 43-45 record, Texas is just three games back in the American League Wild Card race. Morosi notes that the defending AL West champs open the season’s second half with a 10-game road trip that will likely prove pivotal in the Rangers’ determination of a course of action prior to the deadline.
- The lack of even an average bullpen is the primary obstacle standing between the Rangers and a Wild Card spot, opines Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Texas finally has Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish all healthy at the same time, but no team in the league has blown more saves than Texas’ 17. Grant suggests that the closer’s role is there for the taking for right-hander Keone Kela, and notes that healthy returns and some rest could allow Jeremy Jeffress and Tony Barnette to return to form. However, even if all of that pans out, the Rangers still likely need to bolster the relief corps via trade. Grant suggests that GM Jon Daniels connect with former colleague A.J. Preller to discuss a trade involving Brad Hand, noting that the shortstop-needy Padres could be intrigued with Jurickson Profar as a starting point. Of course, considering Profar’s durability issues and lack of production in the Majors, it’s worth emphasizing that Grant suggests Profar as a mere starting point. Hand unquestionably has more value than the former top prospect at this point. In fact, because Profar spent two seasons on the MLB 60-day disabled list and accrued service time, he comes with the same amount of team control as Hand. Both are free agents following the 2019 season, so the Friars would undoubtedly look to get some more controllable assets added into a deal.
- One team is looking to add controllable pieces both its bullpen and in general is the Rangers, in a return to their strategy from the 2015 deadline. One AL official feels Texas will add one or two relievers, and whomever the Rangers may add, “I would be shocked if that player did not have control through at least next season.”
- Right-hander Ernesto Frieri has accepted an outright assignment to the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the team announced. Frieri cleared waivers after being designated for assignment last week. The veteran righty signed a minor league deal with Texas a month ago and he pitched seven innings out of the Rangers bullpen, his first taste of MLB action since 2015. Frieri issued six walks against just five strikeouts in that brief stint, continuing to display the control problems that have plagued him in recent years. In 22 combined Triple-A innings in the Rangers and Yankees farm systems this year, Frieri has a 2.86 ERA, 10.6 K/9 and 2.89 K/BB rate.
- There’s a similar sentiment in Texas, it seems. It would take “unique circumstances” for the Rangers to sell veteran players at the deadline, GM Jon Daniels tells Jeff Wilson of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. While Texas is likely only competing for a Wild Card at this point, neither is the organization facing any need to trim salary, per the report. With confidence within the organization seemingly still running high, it appears the likeliest scenario is that the team will mostly look to maintain its roster through the non-waiver trade period.
- Meanwhile, it’s still unclear what will happen with Rangers infielder/outfielder Jurickson Profar, as Wilson writes. Presumably, the still youthful former top prospect could end up playing a significant role with Texas or be utilized as a trade chip over the summer. For the time being, he’s receiving only brief stints in the majors. Regardless of how things turn out, Profar says that he’s dealing with things by playing his hardest wherever that may be — mostly, this year, at Triple-A. He has hit well at Round Rock, slashing .303/.376/.444 in 223 plate appearances this year, and would still be an interesting trade candidate to dangle this summer.
- Rangers righty Preston Claiborne accepted an outright assignment after clearing waivers, per a club announcement. He was designated recently following a single appearance out of the Texas pen. That was Claiborne’s first MLB action since 2014; he missed all of the ensuing season with a rotator cuff injury. Claiborne, 29, showed well at the Double-A level last year with the Giants and opened the 2017 season at the Rangers’ top affiliate. Over 26 1/3 Triple-A innings, he owns a 1.37 ERA with 10.6 /9 against 3.8 BB/9. He’ll look to maintain that productivity upon his return while waiting for a new opportunity to open at the major league level.
The Rangers have activated righty Jeremy Jeffress from the 10-day DL, per an announcement from executive VP of communications John Blake. Texas designated veteran righty Ernesto Frieri to create roster space.
Jeffress, 29, has struggled to a 5.46 ERA through 29 2/3 innings on the year. While he’s still generating a healthy 56.6% groundball rate, Jeffress has managed only 5.2 K/9 against 4.3 BB/9 on the season while allowing homers at a career-high 1.21 HR/9 clip.
Still, his quick return from a lower back strain is a positive development for the Rangers’ beleaguered pen. After all, he carried a 2.46 ERA over the preceding four seasons. Getting back to that level of performance may not be easy, though. Jeffress’s go-to sinker is clocking in nearly two miles per hour lower than his career average.
As for Frieri, his six-game stint in Texas represented his first MLB action since 2015. The former Angels closer’s control issues reemerged — he allowed six in seven innings — but he did show a 94.4 mph average fastball in his brief stint. Frieri has also thrown quite well at Triple-A, posting a 2.86 ERA with 10.6 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in 22 frames (most with the Yankees’ top affiliate) on the year.
The Rangers have placed righty Keone Kela on the 10-day DL, according to an announcement from VP of communications John Blake. He is said to be dealing with soreness in his pitching shoulder, though further indication of the seriousness of the injury is not yet known.
Kela, 24, opened the season in the minors as a disciplinary measure. But he has swiftly reestablished himself as a critical component of the late-inning relief corps. Through 30 2/3 innings on the year, he owns a 2.64 ERA with 12.3 K/9 against 3.8 BB/9.
Indeed, Kela’s importance has only increased as the season has progressed. Sam Dyson was shipped out after opening the year as the closer, while Matt Bush has since struggled in that role. While the team’s near-term intentions weren’t yet clear, Kela seemed the odds-on favorite to seize the reins in the 9th.
Without Kela as an option for at least some stretch, the Rangers’ struggling pen will be stretched yet further. On the positive side, the team has activated starter Martin Perez. To create space for just-added reliever Jason Grilli, the club optioned southpaw Dario Alvarez.
- It’s possible Marte will head back to center if the Pirates trade McCutchen before this month’s deadline, and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observes that the value of both McCutchen and right-hander Gerrit Cole is increasing. Rival evaluators have pointed to Texas as a fit for the two, with one evaluator suggesting that the Rangers would have to give up outfielder Leody Taveras or left-hander Yohander Mendez just for McCutchen, according to Brink. Both Taveras (No. 45) and Mendez (No. 46) rank among MLB Pipeline’s top 50 prospects.