- Rangers right-hander Jose Leclerc was one of baseball’s standout relievers in 2018, but this season got off to a horrific start for the 25-year-old. After he yielded 10 earned runs on 13 hits and eight walks (with 13 strikeouts) in 8 1/3 innings in April, the Rangers removed Leclerc from the closer’s role at the outset of May. Leclerc has since revived his season and regained the job, though, and odds are that he’ll enter 2020 as the Rangers’ go-to game-ending option, according to manager Chris Woodward (via Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). “As of right now, yeah,” Woodward said when asked if Leclerc’s the in-house favorite to close next year. The presence of Leclerc – he of the 4.10 ERA/3.66 FIP with 13.15 K/9, 5.09 BB/9 and 13 saves on 17 tries over 63 2/3 innings – should enable the Rangers to focus on more pressing needs when the offseason arrives, Woodward writes.
- Jeff Mathis has had a nightmarish season at the plate, hitting just .158/.209/.224, but the Rangers don’t appear to have any plans to move on from the veteran backstop, per Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Texas signed Mathis to a two-year deal due to his superlative defensive reputation, and manager Chris Woodward lauded the 36-year-old’s work behind the plate and his clubhouse presence. “I would definitely speak up if they were thinking about not bringing him back,” said Woodward. “I would speak against that because what he means to the clubhouse is a lot.” While there’s no quantifiable measure of Mathis’ impact on the clubhouse, the defensive metrics that have long suggested he’s an elite backstop have trended in the other direction. Mathis received negative pitch-framing grades for the first time in 2019, and his -1 Defensive Runs Saved is his only negative mark since 2006. His 17 percent caught-stealing rate is well below the 27 percent league average. At the plate, no player with 200-plus plate appearances has posted a wRC+ lower than Mathis (2). The Rangers owe him $3MM next season, but one could hardly fault them for contemplating a change even if Woodward were to protest.
Jesus Luzardo’s second Major League appearance resulted in his first career save, as the star Athletics rookie allowed a run on two hits and two walks over three innings of work in Oakland’s 6-1 win over the Rangers today. Luzardo has tossed three innings in each of his two MLB games, both times coming directly after a starter (Brett Anderson on Wednesday after five innings, and Sean Manaea after six innings today). Should the A’s reach the postseason, there’s certainly a case that Luzardo could serve as either a multi-inning reliever or even as a proper starter. “That gives us a little pause for thought about how we potentially might do things down the road,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters, including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser. “Obviously, we have to get there, a lot of work between then and now. But you definitely think of some options, especially with Luzardo coming out of the pen doing what he’s doing.”
- Joey Gallo is aiming to return to the Rangers’ lineup on September 20, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes. Gallo will spend his last few remaining days on the injured list playing in simulated games and instructional league action, and will be activated prior to the Rangers’ game against the A’s on Friday if all goes well. Gallo hit .276/.421/.653 with 17 homers over his first 214 plate appearances before a variety of injuries waylaid his dream season. He missed over three weeks with an oblique problem, and then struggled with wrist issues for the better part of a month before undergoing hamate bone surgery on July 25.
Set to miss the playoffs for the third straight year, the Rangers reportedly plan to make third base a priority in the offseason. Understandably so, as the position has been a sore spot for the club this year. But the problems the Rangers have faced at the hot corner pale in comparison to the issues they’ve dealt with at catcher, which should absolutely be a spot the club tries to improve over the winter.
Texas made a couple notable changes behind the plate last offseason, jettisoning starter Robinson Chirinos by declining his option and replacing him with free-agent addition Jeff Mathis. It was something of an eye-opener when the Rangers waved goodbye to Chirinos, who had been a strong offensive option for the majority of his tenure with the team, which began in 2013. Chirinos was a questionable defender throughout that period, but even still, his $4.5MM option looked eminently reasonable. The 35-year-old has since moved on to rival Houston, where he has continued his trend of hitting well while providing iffy defense.
Mathis, 36, is essentially Chirinos’ polar opposite. He’s a well-regarded defender who has never really posted big league-caliber work as a hitter. The Rangers guaranteed Mathis $6.25MM, including $3MM in 2020, but they couldn’t have imagined he’d be as close to as woeful at the plate as he has been this season. Mathis entered the year with a career batting line of .207/.274/.297 – good for a wRC+ of 49. Just a reminder that a wRC+ of 100 makes you a league-average offensive player, so Mathis was basically half of that coming into 2019. That’s obviously not good, but it’s far and away superior to the output Mathis has offered in his first season as a Ranger.
Through 244 trips to the plate in 2019, Mathis has batted .158/.209/.224. His wRC+ is 2 (!), which easily ranks last among all major leaguers who have accrued 200 or more plate appearances this season. Likewise, with minus-2.0 fWAR, Mathis sits last in that category. He’s still a decent defender, but when you’re dragging down your team’s offense as much as he has, does it really matter?
As mentioned, the Rangers are stuck paying Mathis a few million dollars next season. But if they’re going to make a real effort to contend then, they better focus on trying to better their situation behind the plate. One problem for the Rangers is that they don’t have an obvious in-house solution behind Mathis. The light-hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa is all but done as a catcher, Jose Trevino hasn’t been any kind of offensive standout to this point, and prospect Sam Huff – although promising – hasn’t even played above the High-A level thus far. With that in mind, the Rangers will likely have to look outside the organization for a 2020 upgrade over the winter, whether via trade or the open market.
Chirinos will be a free agent again after the season, but it seems unlikely the Rangers will go back down that road one year after booting him from the organization. He’s one of just a few soon-to-be free-agent catchers who offers much at the plate, though. Current Brewer Yasmani Grandal is hands down the game’s cream-of-the-crop pending free agent at backstop, but he’ll command a significant payday, and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported this week the Rangers will be hard-pressed to dole out more than one large deal over the winter. It seems that pact will go to either a starting pitcher or a third baseman, which could rule out an earnest pursuit of Grandal.
Fortunately for Texas, the club won’t need to break the bank to pick up a catcher who can outdo the meager contributions Mathis has brought to the table this year. Other free agents-to-be such as Jason Castro (Twins) and Travis d’Arnaud (Rays) are among many catchers who have crushed Mathis’ 2019 production, and either could end up on the Rangers’ radar during the offseason. Regardless, it’s clear the position should be one the Rangers dedicate quite a bit of attention to in the coming months.
For the short term, Hunter Pence is focused only on returning to the Rangers’ lineup before the season is out. As far as 2020 goes, Pence told reporters (including T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com) that he will head into the offseason in preparation of playing next year and potentially spending another season with Texas, though nothing is yet certain.
“I would love to be a part of this organization. There is a lot to be excited about with the young talent,” Pence said. “I think there is a wealth of talent here. But I haven’t decided completely what I am going to do next….I want to feel healthy and be able to contribute. I don’t know what the opportunities are going to be. Somebody has got to want me and make an offer.”
Though Pence turns 37 in April, there will certainly be some free agent interest in his services following a tremendous comeback season. After a pair of subpar, injury-hampered seasons with the Giants, Pence inked a minor league deal with the Rangers and ended up an All-Star for the fourth time in his career. Pence has hit .297/.358/.552 with 18 home runs over 316 plate appearances, and while there was perhaps a touch of good luck baked into his performance (his .382 wOBA was well in front of his .358 xwOBA), he’s still in the 80th percentile of all hitters in xwOBA and the 90th percentile in exit velocity. In fact, Pence is hitting the ball harder than ever — his 42.5% hard-hit ball rate is by far the highest of his 13-year career.
Health will definitely factor into Pence’s decisions. In addition to a groin strain that cost him a month of the season, his current back issue is no small matter, as he said he has a small disk tear. He has begun rotation exercises but not any actual swinging. “I don’t think it’s a surgical thing, but if I mess it up, it could be,” Pence said, noting that while he wants to get back onto the field, he won’t take any unnecessary risks.
Pence has played 23 games as a corner outfielder this year and 46 as a designated hitter, mostly splitting time with Shin-Soo Choo in the latter role. With the veteran Choo still under contract through 2020 and also better suited for DH duty at this stage in his career, having both Pence and Choo in an outfield/DH timeshare is perhaps a bit of a redundancy for a Texas club that also has other outfield options in Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, and utilityman Danny Santana. Trades could open up some room, of course, and Santana’s ability to play all over the field could see him earn more time as a corner infielder than in the outfield.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward acknowledged the logjam, saying “I just don’t know where we stand from a roster standpoint. Is it going to be a fit or not? Do I want him? 100 percent. There is no doubt about that. It’s just a matter if it fits or not, [that’s] the question.“
It has only been a little over five weeks, so it’s too soon to judge with finality how this year’s trade deadline maneuvers will play out. That said, we’re already half of the way through the period — the regular season portion, at least — for which rental players were acquired. Even players with future control are usually added first and foremost for their immediate contributions (though there are some exceptions). It’d be awfully premature to say anything conclusive about the prospect side of any deals, but we do now have some additional information with which to work.
So, that’s why we’re going to take a glance back over our shoulders at the moves (and major non-moves) that organizations made in the run-up to this year’s trade deadline. We already covered the AL Central, NL Central, AL East, and NL East. Now we’ll head out west, starting with the American League …
The runaway division leaders were already setting up for the postseason at this summer’s trade deadline. As has now become customary, GM Jeff Luhnow pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He came through this year with the summer’s biggest blockbuster.
The Astros’ acquisition of veteran righty Zack Greinke seemingly came out of nowhere, breaking at the last possible moment. But how does it look at this early stage? The 35-year-old Greinke hasn’t been quite as good as he had been in Arizona, but he’s certainly getting the job done as hoped. Through seven starts, he carries a 3.32 ERA. On the prospect side, we haven’t learned much that we didn’t know already. Corbin Martin is still early in his Tommy John recovery, while J.B. Bukauskas only made two starts after the swap. Seth Beer did struggle upon moving to the Snakes’ Double-A affiliate, slashing .205/.297/.318 in 101 plate appearances, though that only puts a bit of a damper on a promising overall campaign. Infielder Josh Rojas, the least-hyped player involved, went on an unreal tear at Triple-A to earn a call-up. He’s holding his own (.250/.337/.382) through 86 MLB plate appearances.
That one will take longer to assess, particularly with regard to what was lost for the Houston org. That’s also true of the team’s other big deal, though in that case the initial results have been a dud for all involved. The Astros were clearly positioned to utilize outfielder Derek Fisher as a trade asset with little need for him, so turned him into a buy-low opportunity on Aaron Sanchez, who came over with reliever Joe Biagini from the Blue Jays. Fisher has not been hitting in Toronto, but the ’Stros have also not gotten anything close to what they might’ve hoped from their side of this bargain. Sanchez tantalized with a gem of an outing but couldn’t sustain it and ended up requiring shoulder surgery (the full details of which remain unclear). Biagini has not thrived after making changes to his repertoire, having now allowed a dozen earned runs and six long balls with a miserable 9:7 K/BB ratio over 13 2/3 innings.
The other MLB piece added has worked out quite nicely. The Astros brought back veteran backstop Martin Maldonado for another run. Acquired for his defense, he has also provided a whopping .246/.319/.585 hitting output over 72 plate appearances. It has been quite the opposite experience for the Cubs, who added utilityman Tony Kemp in the deal. Kemp has just nine base knocks (two for extras) in his 64 trips to the plate with Chicago.
Houston’s other deals were of the roster-clearing variety. The club sent out backstop Max Stassi to make way for Maldonado. Stassi has managed just three hits in 49 trips to the plate with the Angels; it’s still anyone’s guess whether the Astros have anything in the very young outfielders (Rainier Rivas and Raider Uceta) acquired in the deal. Neither do the ’Stros miss Tyler White, who struggled with the Dodgers before getting hurt after being sent there following a DFA. The young reliever added in that deal, Andre Scrubb, continued to show much the same results as before the swap. He ended his season with 64 2/3 Double-A innings of 2.78 ERA pitching with 10.6 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9.
To the surprise of nobody, the A’s went for arms over the summer. While the club was rightly pleased with its overall position-player mix, there was an obvious dearth of talent in the staff — the rotation, in particular.
First came Homer Bailey, who held particular appeal since he’d cost only the league-minimum salary. (The Dodgers owe the rest of the tab on Bailey’s extension.) The 33-year-old has eaten innings as advertised, with a 4.98 ERA and 50:11 K/BB ratio over 56 frames. Oakland can’t really have hoped for much more. Infielder Kevin Merrell had been struggling when he was sent to K.C. in the deal and continued to do so after, slashing just .235/.278/.313 in 176 Double-A plate appearances.
The A’s have had much better results from the other starter they picked up, Tanner Roark, who was added in exchange for outfield prospect Jameson Hannah. While his peripherals look much like those of Bailey, Roark has held opposing teams to 3.40 earned runs per nine in his 42 1/3 frames over seven starts. Hannah — like Merrell, one of the team’s loftier recent draft choices — trended down after changing uniforms. He slashed just .224/.325/.299 in 78 trips to the plate at the High-A level.
Oakland swung one other deal with the Royals, giving up prospects Ismael Aquino and Dairon Blanco in exchange for southpaw Jake Diekman. The veteran reliever hasn’t generated the hoped-for results, compiling just 11 strikeouts while issuing nine walks over 14 1/3 innings. Blanco has scuffled mightily since the deal, while Aquino remains a total wild card.
You might’ve liked to see a bit more talent come in to the Oakland org, which surely could have stood to add more and/or better pitching pieces. But it’s hard to fault a somewhat conservative course when only a Wild Card was realistically in play.
It remains to be seen whether the Texas organization will regret the decision not to move Mike Minor and/or Lance Lynn. Both still look like very nice values now and in the near future. For a team with hopes of a reasonably competitive reset, it was understandable that they held onto these free-agent hits. An offseason deal could yet also be considered. But it’ll be tempting to Monday-morning QB the decision if one or both falter.
The Rangers still look to have added some nice pieces in the deadline moves they did make. Veteran reliever Chris Martin brought back southpaw Kolby Allard, while high-powered but command-challenged reliever Peter Fairbanks netted utilityman Nick Solak. It was easy to part with an older bullpen piece, though Fairbanks has shown well and could still make the club pay. Still, it’s hard not to like what the Rangers have seen from their two new pieces. The 22-year-old Allard may not have an exceptional ceiling, but he has managed to carry a 3.78 ERA through six MLB starts. And Solak has a ridiculous .347/.460/.556 slash through his first 87 trips to the dish at the game’s highest level.
We’ll have to wait to see whether the team gets anything out of veteran reliever Nate Jones (if it exercises an option over him), but taking on his salary via trade allowed the Rangers to add a major international target. That deal did cost two rookie ball pitchers. Joseph Jarneski struggled quite a bit after the swap; while Ray Castro put up solid numbers, he’s already 22 years of age and is still pitching in the Dominican Summer League. The Texas organization has also received 10 1/3 solid innings from righty Ian Gibaut, who was added for a song and could be a part of the bullpen mix in 2020.
Just kidding. But … yeah, not much action for the Halos, was there? The aforementioned Stassi was added on the heels of even smaller acquisitions of along with Josh Thole (link) and Adam McCreery (link). These moves haven’t really cost much and helped the club make it through the season, but that’s about it.
To be fair, the Angels did not have a ton of obvious trade pieces to work with. Kole Calhoun would’ve held appeal, and perhaps in retrospect should have been dealt, but it’s not clear he’d have brought back enough of a return to justify sacrificing what was then an outside chance at a Wild Card run.
There’s always some action when GM Jerry Dipoto is involved. But there could have been more. Dee Gordon was and is a candidate to be moved, as the M’s have no qualms about eating salary when necessary. Mitch Haniger might have been an interesting candidate for a big swap but for an injury. Domingo Santana was also not a factor for similar reasons.
The club did end up making several moves that brought in a volume of prospects. Cashing in veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion in June netted pitching prospect Juan Then, who got his start in the Seattle system. The 19-year-old worked to a 2.98 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 48 1/3 total minor-league frames after the swap, topping out at the Class A level.
In a pair of deals, the Mariners sent relievers Hunter Strickland (link) and Roenis Elias (link) to the Nationals for a series of prospects. Elvis Alvarado had been walking more than a batter per inning before the move but recorded a 13:3 K/BB ratio in a dozen rookie frames thereafter. And Taylor Guilbeau showed enough to get a late call-up. He owns a 4.50 ERA in eight innings over 11 appearances. More importantly, he’s showing well against left-handed hitters … though righties have had no trouble. The third hurler added from the D.C. organization is Aaron Fletcher, a recent 14th-round pick who could soon be on the MLB relief radar. He ran up the Nats ladder with good numbers and ended the season with a 13-inning Double-A run with the Seattle organization, over which he compiled a 3.46 ERA with a 15:3 K/BB ratio.
After a long time trying, the Mariners also found a home for veteran righty Mike Leake, whose no-trade rights complicated matters. Seattle was only able to offload $6MM of salary while picking up infielder Jose Caballero. The M’s gave him a look at the High-A level, where he slashed just .256/.339/.333 over 109 plate appearances. The only other Seattle swap was a minor one. Shipping Kris Negron to the Dodgers netted a younger utilityman in Daniel Castro. He continued to struggle at the plate at Triple-A after the deal.
Few teams have been worse off at the hot corner this season than the Rangers. Their third basemen rank 23rd in the majors in fWAR (8.6) and 24th in wRC+ (87). It’s fair to say life after Adrian Beltre hasn’t gone smoothly for Texas, which tried to replace the future Hall of Famer with free-agent stopgap Asdrubal Cabrera. But Cabrera performed so poorly over the season’s first few months that the Rangers released him in the first week of August. Logan Forsythe and Isiah Kiner-Falefa haven’t been productive, meanwhile, and utilityman Danny Santana and rookie Nick Solak – although extremely impressive during his very young career – have each started just a handful of games at the position.
Considering their issues at third this year, it seems the Rangers will prioritize the spot over the winter, as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes. As you’d expect, manager Chris Woodward indicated Wednesday that he’d rather go forward with one player at third – not a cast of different faces.
Asked if third will be an important offseason focus for the Rangers, Woodward said: “It’s pretty big. I’m guessing we will be in pursuit of a third baseman. We’d like to not have rotating third basemen next year.”
If Texas enters the winter in a spending mood (Grant reports the team’s expected to be more aggressive in free agency), it could be among the clubs in on a pair of big-time free agents in Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. Rendon, a 29-year-old superstar for the Nationals, figures to rake in the highest-paying contract of any position player during the offseason. Whether the Rangers will be up to the task of ponying up for him remains to be seen, but if they are, it could help their cause that Rendon is a native of Texas. The next deal for Donaldson, who will turn 34 in December, won’t come close to Rendon’s in total value, but the Brave is a standout in his own right who will no doubt earn a sizable guarantee on the open market.
After Rendon, Donaldson and perhaps Mike Moustakas (who has a mutual option with the Brewers for 2020), it doesn’t appear as if free agency will be teeming with third base solutions in the next couple months. The Rangers have spent big in the past, though, and if they’re committed to breaking a three-year playoff drought in 2020, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them reel in any of those three via the open market.
Rangers right-hander Jesse Chavez underwent surgery to have loose bodies removed from his elbow this week, reports T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com (via Twitter). He’ll go through an eight-week recovery process before beginning a throwing program and is expected to be ready for Spring Training 2020.
Chavez, 36, signed with the Rangers in each of the past two offseasons — first on a one-year, $1MM pact and then on a two-year, $8MM deal last winter. The veteran swingman enjoyed a career renaissance in 2018 between the Rangers and the Cubs (who acquired him in a midseason deal) but had more mixed results in 2019 as he vacillated between the bullpen and the rotation.
For much of the season, Chavez gave the Rangers strong results as a reliever and occasional opener. He carried an ERA not far above the 3.00 mark into mid June, when injuries and poor performances among the Rangers’ expected starters prompted the team to put him back into a traditional starting role. Chavez threw quite well in a handful of late-June starts before being shelled in three straight starts to kick off the month of July (17 earned runs in 11 innings).
After that ugly run, Chavez moved back into a bullpen role, but the damage to his season-long numbers had largely been completed by that point. He made only nine more appearances before going down with the elbow issue that is now ending his season, giving up five runs in a combined 1 2/3 innings during his final two outings of the season.
While Chavez’s final 4.85 ERA in 78 innings isn’t much to look at, the right-hander posted a 72-to-22 K/BB ratio this year and owns a 3.06 ERA in his past 143 1/3 innings as a reliever. With Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and Kolby Allard all expected to hold down rotation spots in 2020 and Texas widely expected to add starting pitching in the offseason, Chavez should be able to return to the ’pen next year. He’ll earn $4MM next season under the aforementioned two-year, $8MM contract.
Kelley says he’s comfortable with the Rangers and would “love to come back and do another year.” Otherwise, he’s happy to hang ’em up and “drift off to the sunset.” (He’d do so with a $250K buyout as a parting gift.)
The 35-year-old was dinged a few times after returning from a biceps injury, but has otherwise generally been effective this year. All told, he carries a 4.07 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9.
Kelley has actually rebounded a bit in average fastball velocity (92.3 mph) and swinging-strike rate (11.2%) as compared with his 2018 showing, though he’s clearly not in prime form. As with many other hurlers around the game, Kelley has run into particular trouble this season with the long ball (1.93 HR/9, 16.4% HR/FB rate).
It’s possible to imagine this situation resulting either in a return or a retirement. The Rangers have little in the way of bullpen certainty and may like the idea of retaining the veteran at a palatable rate of pay. But it’s also possible they’ll decide to spend the money elsewhere.
- The Rangers have uncertainty at the hot corner for 2020, and they’ll at least kick the tires on the top free agent at the position, reports Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. There’s an argument that Anthony Rendon is the top free agent on this offseason’s market, period, with a six-year deal a strong possibility. It’s notable to hear the Rangers could consider shelling out that kind of cash, although Wilson notes they’ll evaluate their internal candidates at third base over the season’s final month. Those include Danny Santana, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nick Solak, per Wilson, but not Joey Gallo, who is no longer seen as an option at the position.
- The Rangers have had difficulty developing pitching in recent seasons, causing the organization to modernize its pitching development, explains Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News in a piece that would be of interest to Ranger fans. Texas has upped its usage of wearable technology and curtailed its recent draftees’ workload in an effort to keep their top arms healthy. As Grant notes, the program isn’t off to a rousing start, as Hans Crouse, Owen White and Cole Ragans, among others, have dealt with injury-plagued 2019 seasons. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to monitor the progression of the Rangers’ arms as the program takes a more defined shape.