The Rangers may trade left-hander Cole Hamels in the next couple months, and “it looks like the Yankees could be interested,” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. Although the Yankees are among 20 teams on Hamels’ no-trade list, the 34-year-old suggested earlier this week that he wouldn’t block a move to a contender. New York certainly looks as if it’ll contend all season, which would appeal to Hamels, and the team figures to end up acquiring him or another legitimate starter at some point this summer. General manager Brian Cashman pointed to his pitching staff as an area that he could address Saturday, before Sonny Gray continued his disappointing season with an ugly start against the Angels.
Timeless right-hander Bartolo Colon celebrated his 45th birthday this week, so he’ll soon become just the 18th player in major league history to pitch in the majors beyond that benchmark. Colon is also the oldest to hurl a pitch since Jamie Moyer back in 2012. Value metrics are divided on his effectiveness so far this season; Baseball Reference pegs his contributions at 1.6 WAR, while Fangraphs believes his 2018 production to be exactly replacement level. In any case, it would have been difficult at season’s outset to imagine Colon exceeding his current results. A 3.51 ERA and 7.20 K/BB ratio are welcome numbers to a Rangers rotation that sports the sixth-highest combined ERA in major-league baseball.
It’ll be fun to see just how long Colon can keep up this pace. But in the meantime, here are some minor notes from last night…
- In other Rangers news, Jeff Wilson of the Star Telegram examines the job security of a pitcher and a position player in Arlington. Austin Bibens-Dirkx pitched well on the whole in his last start (though he was a victim of some bad fielding behind him), Wilson notes that the club is more likely to give Matt Moore a longer look before ceding his spot in the rotation to Bibens-Dirkx. Meanwhile, Wilson notes that struggling second baseman Rougned Odor has two options remaining. With Jurickson Profar putting together quality at-bats of late, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa producing at a better clip than Odor, there’s a chance the club might consider letting the latter work out his issues in the minors.
- In a subscription-only piece for The Athletic, Bill Shaikin examines the storyline of Alex Anthopoulos leaving the Dodgers organization to run a Braves club that’s currently leading the NL East. While Anthopoulos felt like he had “as good a job as there was in baseball” with the Dodgers, his reshaping of the Braves’ payroll has helped to set them up for success as they near the end of a lengthy rebuild. Trades of Jim Johnson, Matt Kemp and some international bonus pool money shipped to the Angels has set the stage for Atlanta to complement its young core through free agency and perhaps even the midseason trade market.
- Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides an update on Pirates prospect Bae Ji-hwan via Twitter. Bae is reportedly on his way back to the United States after cooperating with police in South Korea on suspicion of a domestic violence incident. He’ll be allowed to participate in baseball activities pending the outcome of an investigation into said incident. Bae was one of a few players that the Braves reportedly offered “extra-contractual compensation” recently and were thus barred from signing in the last international signing period.
The Rangers have acquired lefty Michael Roth from the Cubs, according to a club announcement. He had been pitching on a minor-league deal.
In other Ranger reliever news, the club announced that righty Kevin Jepsen has elected free agency rather than accepting an outright assignment. He had been designated for assignment recently.
Roth, 28, last appeared in the majors — quite briefly — with the Rangers back in 2016. He has thrown 36 total innings at the game’s highest level. In 29 2/3 frames this season at Triple-A, Roth owns a 3.03 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 4.6 BB/9.
As for Jepsen, the 33-year-old will head onto the open market in search of another chance at returning to the majors. He had a less-than-promising showing this year in Texas, posting a 5.94 ERA with an 8:11 K/BB ratio in his 16 2/3 innings. Jepsen has had stretches of high-quality work in the majors, of course. In particular, he threw 215 1/3 innings of 2.93 ERA ball from 2012 through 2015.
- Adrian Beltre hasn’t made a decision about his future beyond the 2018 season, writes Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, though he’s open about the fact that he’s not looking to play for several years beyond 2018. Asked if he had any desire to play to age 45 like his countryman Bartolo Colon, Beltre joked, “My wife would divorce me.” For now, the Rangers third baseman is merely focused on getting healthy enough to return to the field, and Wilson notes that the current plan is for the 39-year-old to return to the lineup in about two weeks’ time. Whether Beltre will finish out the season in Texas remains to be seen as well, of course, as he’s already come up as a potential trade candidate should he return to the lineup in good health and avoid further trips to the DL.
The Rangers faced an uphill battle even before the season began, as they were chasing the defending World Series champions in the AL West. Now that the club is off to a 20-31 start, looking up at three other teams sporting winning records, it’s all but inevitable that the Texas organization will explore sales of veteran assets this summer.
There are a few interesting players to watch on the Rangers’ roster, with Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus certainly among them. But both of those veterans are currently situated on the DL, rather than the left side of the Texas infield, so it’s not the best time to look in at their market.
Instead, it’s southpaw Cole Hamels who seems the clearest possible trade piece at the moment. He’s a highly accomplished pitcher, with a resume that includes 16 postseason starts, who’s playing on an expiring contract. Through 58 2/3 innings on the season, Hamels owns a 3.38 ERA that’s nearly a spot-on match for his career average. While he’s no spring chicken at 34 years of age, that’s not much of a concern for a rental asset.
That’s not to say there aren’t any countervailing factors here. For one thing, Hamels wasn’t great last year, when he failed to record an ERA of 3.65 or below for the first time since way back in 2009. Even his 4.20 earned run mark, moreover, arguably required some good fortune. Hamels held opposing hitters to an unsustainable .251 batting average on balls in play. For the first time ever, he failed to record a double-digit swinging-strike rate (9.7% on the year) and struck out less than seven batters per nine (6.4). Hamels also hit the shelf for the first time in a long time owing to an early-season oblique injury.
There were some legitimate questions, then, entering the current season. Some, perhaps, have been answered. Though he missed eight starts in 2017, Hamels has otherwise been a paragon of durability, taking the ball thirty or more times in nine straight seasons (2008 through 2016). Unless something crops up between now and the trade deadline, teams will surely view Hamels as an excellent health bet over the final few months of the season.
But what kind of performance can be expected? In many regards, Hamels’s 2018 performance has encouraged. In particular, he has rebounded in terms of swings and misses (12.1% swinging strikes; 9.8 K/9). But there are some issues. Hamels has continued to hand out more free passes than he did earlier in his career. He has coughed up 1.69 homers per nine on a an 18.6% HR/FB rate. And he’s again benefiting from a low (.255) BABIP-against. The Statcast numbers indicate that opposing hitters have been unfortunate to record only a .317 wOBA, as their contact against him spits out a .352 xwOBA.
Taken together, it seems reasonable to view Hamels as a solid and reliable mid-rotation piece, but not a top-of-the-rotation arm. He’s producing a wide array of fielding-independent pitching numbers (4.94 FIP/4.12 xFIP/3.85 SIERA) thus far on the year, but all suggest that he’s more good than great at this stage.
Of greater importance, perhaps, is Hamels’s contract, which was originally signed with the Phillies just in advance of the 2012 trade deadline. The lefty is earning $22.5MM this season. Even if a contender feels that he’s worth every penny — which, as the above discussion suggests, may or may not quite be the case — that’s enough coin to be a potential stumbling block for teams that face luxury tax or other budgetary concerns.
There are some other contractual complications, too. The deal comes with a $20MM vesting/club option that carries a $6MM buyout. It’s not going to vest owing to the number of innings Hamels threw last year, but it’ll require some added financial wrangling nevertheless. An acquiring team could consider picking up Hamels at that rate for 2019, depending upon how the season shakes out, but also likely won’t want to sign up for the big buyout at the point of acquisition.
The Texas front office will not only have to sort out those matters, but will do so against the knowledge that Hamels has significant no-trade rights as well. He can be shipped to the Braves, Mariners, Phillies, Nationals, Rays, Cardinals, Cubs, Royals, and Astros without consent. Otherwise, the lefty will need to be consulted before a deal can be consummated. That may not necessarily prove a major stumbling block, but the presence of the option could come back into play if he’s not particularly interested in a certain locale for future seasons.
Certainly, the possibility for a tough-to-navigate situation does exist. While it still feels quite likely that Hamels will be dealt, it’s tough to say at this point exactly how it will come together.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Rangers announced tonight that they’ll select the contract of right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx from Triple-A Round Rock, and he’ll start Thursday’s game against the Royals. Texas has an open spot on the 40-man roster, so they’ll only need to make a 25-man move to accommodate the promotion of Bibens-Dirkx.
The 33-year-old Bibens-Dirkx made his big league debut last season after a 12-year minor league odyssey that began as a 16th-round pick of the Mariners back in 2006. He appeared in 24 games with Texas last year and totaled 69 1/3 innings of 4.67 ERA ball, averaging 4.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 1.82 HR/9 with a 39.9 percent ground-ball rate.
Though only six of those 24 appearances were starts, Bibens-Dirkx has worked primarily out of the rotation since joining the Rangers organization prior to the 2017 season. That’s been his role with Round Rock this year, too, where he’s made eight starts with a 3.72 ERA and a 32-to-8 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 innings.
[Related: Texas Rangers depth chart]
Bibens-Dirkx will step into a rotation spot that has been vacated due to injuries incurred by both Matt Moore and Martin Perez. It’s not clear whether he’ll simply be making a one-off spot start or if he’ll get multiple opportunities while Perez and Moore work their way back, though both of those injured lefties have struggled substantially in 2018. Cole Hamels, Doug Fister, Mike Minor and Bartolo Colon round out manager Jeff Banister’s rotation at present, though that group’s composition figures to change in the coming months as the Rangers begin to field trade interest on their short-term veteran assets.
- Rangers righty David Ledbetter has decided to retire, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan (via Twitter). Per the report, the 26-year-old decided to hang things up as a “family decision.” A third-round pick in 2013, Ledbetter has never quite found his form in the minors. In 115 1/3 Triple-A innings, he owns a 4.99 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9.
With the Rangers struggling and Hamels in his final year under contract, the former World Series MVP has often been cited as a potential deadline trade chip. Some players in Hamels’ position have used their no-trade clause to garner some extra money and/or future security, though it doesn’t seem like Hamels would be particularly inclined to insist that a new team (for example) automatically pick up the $20MM club option on his services for 2019. It’s worth noting that several of Hamels’ nine non-protected teams are contenders, so Texas might not necessarily have to worry about the no-trade clause at all to potentially deal the left-hander. Miller’s full piece is well worth a read, as Hamels discusses several topics about his past and future in baseball.
- It also is not yet clear what kind of contribution the Rangers will get from righty Tim Lincecum. As Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes, the veteran hurler is only touching 90 mph with his fastball despite reportedly showing more in a pre-signing showcase. He has produced better results of late in his rehab work, but in sum he has managed a less-than-promising 8:6 K/BB ratio in 8 1/3 innings over six outings. Of course, that’s too small a sample to read much into things. It isn’t known yet when Lincecum will get a crack at the majors, but barring a setback it seems it’ll come between May 28th (when he’s first eligible to return from the 60-day DL) and June 6th (when his thirty-day rehab period will expire).
The Rangers announced on Monday that righty Kevin Jepsen has been designated for assignment. His spot on the active roster will go to fellow right-handed reliever Matt Bush, who has been recalled from Triple-A. Additionally, the Rangers announced that infielder/outfielder Drew Robinson has been activated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A.
Jepsen, 33, broke camp with the Rangers after coming to Spring Training on a minor league contract. While he got off to a strong start to his season, yielding just two runs through his first 10 2/3 frames, his early output never appeared all that sustainable. Jepsen survived a 6-to-4 K/BB ratio and just a six percent swinging-strike rate through those 10 2/3 frames due largely to a .207 BABIP and an elevated strand rate. Over his past 10 appearances, he’s been tagged for nine earned runs on the strength of four homers allowed in just six innings.
In all, Jepsen’s abbreviated run with the Rangers wraps up with a 5.94 ERA and more walks (11) than strikeouts (eight) in 16 2/3 innings of work. It’s possible, of course, that he accepts an outright assignment to Triple-A upon clearing waivers and returns to the organization at some point later in 2018 to try to improve upon those numbers. But, given his level of service time, he can also reject an outright assignment and return to the open market in search of a new opportunity.
As for Bush, he’ll be looking to get back on track after surrendering nine walks through his first 11 2/3 innings of the season. The righty served as the closer in Texas at times in 2017 and has been a generally useful reliever in Texas dating back to his debut in 2016. He totaled nine innings with Round Rock after being optioned to Triple-A, yielding just two runs on nine hits with a 14-to-4 K/BB ratio.