The Texas Rangers have what it takes to compete in the playoffs if they can buy a solid starting pitcher. Although unlikely to win the pennant, nothing would cause Ranger fans to fill seats in their new stadium next year like coming off a deep playoff run.
Despite splitting their recent four-game series with the Boston Red Sox, the last game on Thursday could have gone either way. The Red Sox returned to form, knocking five out of the park, and the Rangers left the bases loaded twice in their 7-6 loss. Adrian Sampson did not necessarily pitch badly; the Ranger bats simply did not pull through against a high-scoring opponent when needed.
The Rangers currently sit one game ahead of the Red Sox for the second American League Wild Card spot. But they weren’t supposed to be here. After last year’s abysmal 67-95 record, Las Vegas oddsmakers had the team improving to only 71-91 before Opening Day. After trading away Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman last year and Jurickson Profar during the offseason, 2019 was meant to continue their rebuild. They would pretend to compete, then trade away Joey Gallo, Mike Minor, and anyone else who showed promise before the July 31 trade deadline.
Their surprising 2019 success, though, has prompted analysts to speculate if GM Jon Daniels will turn away from selling to buying.
They have stayed an above-.500 team most of the season, and Willie Calhoun, Elvis Andrus, Danny Santana, Shin-Soo Choo, and Hunter Pence are all hitting above .280.
Were they as inconsistent as the Cardinals, or even the Red Sox, most would urge them to play for 2020 and 2021. But the Rangers are simply not as bad as most people thought.
If they do try to capitalize on their success this year and make a run for it—as they should—they will desperately need to fill their rotation with at least one more quality starter.
After moving Drew Smyly to the bullpen, they will add a fifth starter next week. But Minor, Lance Lynn, Sampson, Ariel Jurado, and whomever the Rangers name to replace Smyly will not hold in multiple seven-game series.
Despite the need for pitching depth now, though, Daniels recently made clear the club’s overall rebuilding strategy has not changed and if any new pitching is added to the team it would ideally be someone “with control beyond next year.”
Cory Mageors of 105.3 The Fan does a good job breaking down possible pitching trades from all teams likely to sell, and there’s simply not a lot on the table. Adding someone who is locked in past 2020, while keeping to their rebuilding timeframe, significantly limits their options.
Unless the front office is willing to upend two years of rebuilding to bank on this year’s success, the likes of Madison Bumgardner, Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer, and Matthew Boyd are out of reach—all too expensive.
However, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez of the Toronto Blue Jays, Jeff Samardzija of the San Francisco Giants, Mike Leake of the Seattle Mariners, and Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets do fit the bill.
Stroman makes an attractive option money-wise. He signed a $7.4 million contract with Toronto in January and has one year of arbitration left before becoming a free agent in 2021—meaning the Rangers would have Stroman until their recent drafts and prospects get ready for the call-up.
Stroman started the season strong with a 2.41 FIP and 2.20 ERA but has petered off slightly as of late. He currently holds a 3.31 ERA and a 3.75 FIP.
Stroman brings a fastball that ranges in the low to mid-90s and a solid slider. But what makes him truly dangerous is his efficient sinker and cutter. According to Fangraphs, Stroman’s sinker sinks more than that of any right-handed pitcher in baseball. Furthermore, 68 percent of batted balls off his sinker result in grounders, which is in line with his 70 percent career percentage. Stroman has had a rocky ERA, depending on where he has played, but his FIP has remained consistent. He clearly performs best with a team that has a good infield to back him up.
If the Rangers had a top-tier defense or even a middle-of-the-road infield, the trade would make sense. But the team’s defense is not even middle-of-the-road. It currently has a Defensive Efficiency Rating of .670—dead last in the league.
Toronto will not part easily with Stroman and would likely require the Rangers to dip deeper into the farm than they plan to. If the Rangers’ infield played as well as it hit, acquiring Stroman would make sense. As things currently stand, though, the team should pass on this one.
The Blue Jays’ second likely pitching trade is 26 and is controllable until the end of 2020. Sanchez’s $3.9 million contract is attractive, but his performance has been mediocre since his peak year in 2016. Granted, he’s not playing with a very good team, but his FIP is higher than his 4.25 ERA. With a career 3.55 ERA, though, he promises potential if the Rangers could strike a deal with Toronto that would not require them to give away too much. However, his inconsistency, driven by finger blisters, require cautious consideration.
Samardzija fits the bill similarly to Sanchez. Controllable through 2020 with a salary of $18 million, he holds a 3.72 ERA and a 4.63 FIP. Most importantly, his ground ball rate is 33 percent, the lowest of all the pitchers considered here. That alone should give him an advantage for the Rangers. At 34, though, the team would likely only use him to hold the gap until 2021 and would require the Giant to eat part of his salary. He would make a good fit for what the team needs to maintain its rebuilding strategy if it can get him without sacrificing pitching prospects.
Leake might make an attractive choice contract-wise if the Mariners would be willing to cover a good chunk of the $23 million owed him by the end of next year. At 31, he probably still has a few good years left. Although, with a 4.26 ERA, but a 5.33 FIP, it’s probably not the kind of good the Rangers need with such a subpar defense. Furthermore, Leake, like Stroman, relies heavily on grounded outs. Fansided’s Kenneth Nash believes a trade of Leake for Rangers outfield prospect Scott Heineman would be a winner. If that’s all the Mariners asked for Leake, then Leake by far crushes all the trade prospects I list here. Such a scenario, however, seems unlikely.
The Mets have locked Jacob DeGrom in with a five-year contract, and they’re not making the playoffs this year—which means they will almost certainly trade Syndergaard.
Syndergaard makes $6 million with two years of arbitration, which means he fits what Daniels wants in controllability. At 26, he has a 3.19 career ERA and has likely not yet peaked. His ERA is higher this year, but remember, he’s playing with the Mets. The fact that his 3.48 FIP is a point below shows he hasn’t gone anywhere talent-wise.
He would be a fantastic addition to the Rangers’ rotation but would not come cheap. The Rangers would have to dig deep into their shallow farm to satisfy the New Yorkers, and yes, that would undoubtedly include sending their number one prospect right-hander Hans Crouse their way. But the Rangers would get everything they want from Crouse and more through Syndergaard. A Texan himself, “Thor” would fit perfectly and may have six more years of prime left. He would give the Rangers pitching depth another two years and possibly another decade if only Daniels & Co. are willing to deviate slightly from their rebuilding plan.
Although it would be fun to watch the Rangers go for it all this year, even if it means selling half the farm, Daniels will not take that road. The front office will instead try to acquire a few more prospects that it feels can take the team deep in 2021. That does not, however, mean that it should not try to keep what’s working in its rotation and land an ace that can compliment Minor and Lynn.
Stroman, Sanchez, Samardzija, Leake, and Syndergaard all fit the bill without completely undoing the team’s rebuild. Considering the Rangers’ weak infield, though, Syndergaard fits it best, with Samardzija a close second, and Sanchez and Leake both a distant third.