There was a time in the not-so-distant past that talking about the Texas Rangers being absolutely outplayed by the Houston Astros was a laughable notion, at best. Despite that, here we sit, on July 9 of the 2014 campaign, and the Rangers have, before even playing the final game of the set, lost a series to Houston, while playing at home no less.
Laugh if you must, but unfortunately, the laughter should resonate from how poor the Rangers have played, not necessarily due to the idea that Houston is playing great baseball. We're probably about two years away from Houston no longer being the laughingstock of the AL West, and by extension, all of baseball, but as for now, the hourglass of time the Rangers have to take advantage of any sort of mismatch is slowly draining away.
It's that hourglass -- and realizing that this season is most certainly and undoubtedly not the Rangers' year -- that has brought me to finally pondering the idea of Texas trading away what has, in an injury-riddled and poor season, been one of the better players on the roster.
As much as it actually pains me to consider the idea of parting with a player that hasn't even been with the organization for a year, trading Alex Rios before the July 31 deadline is suddenly becoming a much more realistic and advantageous possibility.
Even as recently as a week ago, I was against the idea of the front office trading away Rios, being of the mind that with a healthier roster in 2015, the Rangers could be contenders once again. In the last few days, however, my mind has started to change, mostly for reasons I can't explain. Nothing significant has happened that would make Rios suddenly, in my mind, tradeable. The Rangers are still losing, something I expected a week ago. So, on that front, I can't really explain it. Nonetheless, while I'm sure the Rangers will be taking calls on a good portion of the roster in the coming weeks, I've actually come around to the idea that Jon Daniels should most definitely listen to offers concerning Rios.
Rios was a player that the organization acquired last season in August on a waiver claim from the Chicago White Sox. He was acquired in exchange for Leury Garcia, who never really appeared to have any real future with the club -- and it's only ironic that he might have been useful to the Rangers in this season that has seen injuries kill the oranizational depth -- and Chicago even sent $1 million to Texas toward Rios's salary. For a club that was, at the time, trying to replace some of the production lost by Nelson Cruz accepting a 50-game suspension, the deal made all the sense in the world.
When Texas headed into the offseason with even more uncertainty ahead with respect to Cruz, having Rios on the roster made even more sense, and as he figured to be a better defensive option in right field, he was penciled in as the starter in that spot. With a club option for 2015, it's one that, should the Rangers retain the rights to Rios, they will almost certainly pick up. He's a solid, if unspectacular player.
Since making his Ranger debut on August 10 of the 2013 season, Rios has put up a line of .296/.327/.444 for an OPS of .771. Prior to last night's loss at Houston, his fWAR in a Texas uniform was 2.1. Again, solid production for a player that Texas was able to acquire for a prospect that didn't have a defined future in the organization.
As far as reliability/durability, he's been among the best options the Rangers have had this season, tied for 2nd-most plate appearances with Shin-Soo Choo and behind only Elvis Andrus. When considering the options heading into 2015, there's a better than decent chance that, should he remain with the organization, Alex Rios will be penciled in as the starter in right field. Yet, as reliable as he's been, I'm just no longer sure the Rangers are necessarily better off after this season in keeping him.
For starters, one of the biggest problems at the end of 2013, and a need that the Rangers tried to address by acquiring Prince Fielder in the offseason, was an absence of power in the lineup. For his part, Rios is good for an occasional dinger, but in 2014, has only hit 4 home runs, and only one since May 14. His 8 triples, good for best in the American League, have helped bolster a slugging percentage of .438, but an OBP of .333 has left a little to be desired on that front.
His defense has been average at best, and he'll never be mistaken for having a very strong arm, putting up a UZR/150 of -1.6, in case you're into that sort of thing.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Rios, other than the fact that he's put up a .684 OPS since the calendar rolled over to June, is the number of double plays he's grounding into this season. As a matter of fact, he's tied for the Major League lead with Elvis Andrus with 16 GIDP on the season, even though only two have come since the beginning of June.
An advanced win probability metric that GIDP factors fairly heavily into, RE24, measures the aggregate effect of a player's contribution to the run expectancy in his plate appearances. Through Monday, Rios had put up an RE24 of -0.55, likely a negative figure due in large part to the double plays. So, perhaps with a bit better "luck", so to speak, that figure is positive, not negative.
The underlying point I'm trying to make is that, while Alex Rios isn't necessarily spectacular, he could be a valuable addition to a contending team, and with a club option for 2015, Jon Daniels just might be able to get a little something of value in return. If that turns out to be the case, and a good offer is on the table, I'm at a point in which I'd be on board with the Rangers making that move. Obviously, I'm not on board with unloading a good player for nothing, but if it's a scenario in which the Rangers can acquire something that will help the organization within two years, I just might have to say yes to that.
I'm not sure where that would leave the outfield options heading into 2015, but it's a chance that, for the right price, I'm more willing to take than I was even a week ago. The future of Michael Choice is a bit more uncertain than it was at the beginning of the season -- a future I still believe Choice can find a way to realize -- and who knows where things will end up with long-time prospect Engel Beltre. There have even been rumblings that perhaps the organization could give Joey Gallo a shot in the outfield starting in 2015, and while I'm a bit less enthusastic about that idea, it's a potential option nonetheless. Oh, and Nelson Cruz will be a free agent again this offseason, so that could be on the table once again.
In a lost season with depth-related holes to fill both now and in the future, the timing could be right for Texas to get a deal done. If that deal makes the Rangers better in 2015 and 2016, I'm finding myself more and more on board with the idea of moving Alex Rios, even if he may prove to be a dependable option to play 150-154 games in 2015. Funny how baseball can change our minds so quickly, isn't it?