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Jun232014

It's OK if Texas Tanks in 2014

For the Rangers, judgement day arrived when Prince Fielder and Jurickson Profar were shut down for the year. By that point, whatever emotional credit the team had built up pre-May was sucked out of the season. Sometimes, players get hurt... then they're healthy again. Texas was simply unlucky that so many guys got injured seemingly all around the same time. It ain't easy to win 90-plus games, and this year is sufficient evidence to aid Ranger fans in re-learning that fact. 

Now 35-40, the last time Texas was this far below .500 came on September 24th, 2008 -- almost six full years ago -- when the club was 77-82. So many quickly forget, but this team has been really good for a really long time now.

The worst day of the year, however, didn't come from injury misfortune or casually blowing a late-inning lead; we can chalk that up to typical baseball vagaries. No, the worst day was the day Richard Durrett died. That was the first instance I thought to myself: Man, I hate this baseball season so much. It puts a black bow on the most forgettable spring in my 20 years as a fan of the sport. 

The point is: Real life is real life, and baseball is still merely a device meant to entertain, or occupy, us. As devastating as all the injuries have been, unless we're talking about Matt Harrison returning from spinal fusion surgery, all of these stints on the disabled list come with expiration dates. It's not for forever. Death hits home and puts things back in perspective, and Durrett's is a particularly painful reminder to everyone of what's truly important. (I'm not in the business of telling anyone how to live their life, but if you have a couple minutes and a few bucks you don't need, the Rangers set up a foundation for Richard's wife and kids that's worth contributing to.)

Anyway, if you recall to before Texas was any good, the 2014 season is pretty much on par; it's almost July and the roster isn't very strong, and their odds of making it to the postseason are minimal. Articles about the Rangers being sellers have already started circulating, making it all but a foregone conclusion within the industry that Texas is going to punt in 2014. 

It's the right way to go. 

Because when I think about it: What are the alternatives for the front office? Back in April I got all crazy and speculated about a Jorge Alfaro For Cliff Lee Trade, but that was under the (ridiculous, in retrospect) assumption that Texas would get healthy, and stay healthy. Adding a middle of the order bat -- or a TORP like Lee -- only would have made sense for the Rangers if it was used as a means to propel them from 87 wins up closer to 90. 

At this juncture of the year, making a similar swap would transform the Rangers from 77 wins up to, maybe, 79... so it's a trade obviously not worth making. 

Still, even if the Rangers are ostensibly conceding the 2014 season, it doesn't mean they should engage in full-on Miami Marlins Fire Sale Mode. There are still a plenty of championship-caliber pieces under contract in 2015, so I'm not comfortable with the idea of trading Adrian Beltre or Elvis Andrus -- not unless the return was too good to be true, which I don't know why it would be -- or even Joakim Soria or Alex Rios, who are each under reasonable options in 2015. 

The most realistic trade candidates both come from the bullpen -- a position of depth for Jon Daniels, and a superfluous commodity for a non-contender -- as Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts could each fetch a C-level prospect in what figures to be a sellers market. Aside them, unless a team fancies a player like Joe Saunders (don't ask me how or why they would), the Rangers lack reasons to make trades more than they lack viable trade pieces. They have plenty of those. 

A shade over a month ago when Keith Law wrote that the Rangers should put Adrian Beltre on the trading block, I was originally bullish on the idea. I'll admit, it may have something to do with him hitting .270/.338/.437 (112 wRC+) before May 22nd, and .349/.366/.519 (138 wRC+) since, but I've slowed my roll on hoping for that. It actually has less to do with Beltre and more with Joey Gallo -- the Rangers prized 3rd base prospect and Beltre's eventual replacement -- who is probably the last player on the farm Texas has any interest in rushing. Adrian Beltre is unquestionably the team's most valuable trade asset, but he's also an integral part of the team's current championship window. 

The same goes for Elvis Andrus. Trading him would be an even more ambitious move than trading Adrian Beltre, because while Beltre has Joey Gallo, Elvis doesn't have a true successor. Jurickson Profar seems like the slap-in-the-face-obvious choice, but he would be coming off missing his entire age-21 season from a torn teres major (an injury that sounds way more serious than it actually is). It would also ask Rougned Odor -- who's provided a brilliant .300/.330/.480 (118 wRC+) triple slash line through his first 109 plate appearances -- to assume the role of Starting Major League 2nd Baseman in his age-21 year in 2015. (Do I doubt Roogie's future? Hell no. But that's the reality Jon Daniels would be faced with if he shipped Elvis Andrus, his franchise shortstop.)

Like Law wrote last month: 

"[The] Rangers are probably at the end of a five-year run of success, winning 89 or more games in each of those seasons, with three playoffs berths and two AL pennants. It's reasonable to expect to have to at least retool at some point in any 10-year span, and the injuries may force the Rangers to look at 2014 in that way..."

It's understandable to be frustrated over this miserable baseball season, but there are benefits to being bad. For starters, the Rangers are likely headed into the territory of a top-10 draft pick in 2015, a pick that would be protected if the front office went out and signed a guy like Max Scherzer this winter. That's the big one, but if Texas happens to be 20 games behind the Athletics in the West by the middle of August, it would also allow the club to experiment on the mound with prospects like Luke Jackson, and Chi-Chi Gonzalez, and they could basically rest everyone who needs the time. 

Since 2014 will salt itself away... eventually... Texas can sit Shin-Soo Choo's ankle, Adrian Beltre's old man legs, and I'm even getting to the point where I wouldn't really even mind if Derek Holland just sat out the whole year. That's probably not going to happen, but it makes vague sense in an uncompetitive season. I hate to be so simple, but I just want the Rangers to be as healthy as possible heading into 2015. 

Here's the tl;dr version:

If you're going to be bad, be really bad, but don't be bad at the expense of jeopardizing next season.

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