Coming off the best four year stretch in club history, the Rangers were expected to once again compete for a playoff spot this year, with many (including myself) pegging them as having a great chance to usurp the Athletics and put an end to Oakland's two year run at the top of the AL West. They had retooled in what had been a particularly busy offseason, signing Shin-Soo Choo to a massive deal, trading away franchise star Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder, adding Michael Choice, and bringing in Joakim Soria to replace Joe Nathan at closer (a move that looks genius in hindsight). The club was also expecting further development from key youngsters such as Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez, as well as a rebound season from Elvis Andrus. There was quite a bit to look forward to.
Unfortunately, things went awry quickly, as the team lost Derek Holland in January, and soon thereafter, Profar and catcher Geovany Soto went down as well. Starters Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison also began the year on the DL, though Darvish missed just one start and Harrison returned in late April.
The club was put into a hole to start the season, but things have only gotten worse over the past couple months. Harrison suffered a potentially career-ending spinal injury, Martin Perez tore his UCL and won't be back until sometime next year after having Tommy John surgery, Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers has pitched in just eight games and is back on the DL once again, and prized offseason acquisition Prince Fielder underwent a season-ending surgery to fix a herniated disc. Adrian Beltre, Alexi Ogando, and Mitch Moreland have also spent time on the DL this season. All told, Rangers players have spent a total of 688 days on the disabled list (via Jonah Keri), and are projected to reach 1,715 days by the end of the season.
As things are currently constructed, the Rangers hold a 32-34 record, eight games behind the A's in the division, but just three games out of a Wild Card spot. Theoretically, they have a very realistic shot at the playoffs considering their position in the Wild Card race, however, they would still have to leapfrog six teams, and that doesn't seem likely considering their current roster state. Texas' -38 run differential is the second worst mark in the AL, and fifth worst overall. As measured by Baseball Prospecus' 3rd order winning percentage, the Rangers actually hold the worst adjusted record in the AL and second worst overall. By BP's playoff odds, they currently have just a 4.6% chance of making the postseason, and 0.5% of winning the division. While those odds seem to be on the pessimistic side, it gives you an idea of just how dire the Rangers' situation is right now.
Buyers or Sellers?
As far back as they are now, there isn't exactly a lot of hope on the horizon for Texas. Among their wounded key contributors, only Derek Holland is expected back before July. A number of players won't be returning at all, including Fielder and Harrison, as well as (potentially) Profar.
They are unlikely to make the playoffs at this point (though it is not impossible), so the best idea would probably be for the Rangers to build towards 2015, when they should be in a much better position health-wise. This is a team that would probably be best served selling.
Which players could be moved?
Elvis Andrus, SS
.252/.304/.340, 2 HR, 16 RBIs, 74 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR
Texas signed Andrus to a mammoth eight-year deal just last spring, so it may seem odd that they would consider moving him so soon. However, Texas has a plethora of young infield talent, and a middle infield of Profar and second baseman Rougned Odor may be more enticing long-term.
Andrus isn't exactly at peak value currently, as he is in the midst of a second consecutive "down" season (it's worth noting that he has a .280 BABIP, the first time in his career that he is below .300) after being a four WAR player in both 2011 and 2012. Last year, he posted just a 78 wRC+, but still managed a 2.8 WAR thanks to his defense and baserunning exploits. He is a relatively safe option considering how weak his bat often is, as his defense makes him an everyday player, though that alone probably isn't worth $15 million a season.
It's unclear exactly who would be in the market for Andrus considering his contract, though the Dodgers (who could shift Hanley Ramirez to third base assuming they re-sign him) and Yankees seem like logical fits considering their needs and financial capabilities.
Trade likelihood: Low
Neal Cotts, LHP and Jason Frasor, RHP
Cotts: 25.1 IP, 3.91 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 2.56 FIP, 105 ERA+, 0.7 fWAR
Frasor: 22.2 IP, 1.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 2.99 FIP, 259 ERA+, 0.4 fWAR
The last thing a non-contending team needs is a pair of high-leverage relievers.
Cotts and Frasor are both enjoying spectacular seasons, with each boasting a FIP below 3.00 and K/9s over 9.0. The duo also happen to be free agents at season's end, giving the Rangers little incentive to keep them on board when they're simply luxuries. The Rangers would probably be best served dealing at least one of these two and taking the prospects that they get in return.
Trade likelihood: Moderate
Giants, A's looking for second basemen
The two Bay Area teams are winning consistently, but they each have an Achilles' heel that could come back to bite them if not dealt with before playoff time.
Alex Rios, OF
.335/.369/.490, 3 HR, 32 RBIs, 131 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR
Rios can provide plenty of value for a team in need of outfield help or a middle-of-the-order bat. Currently hitting .335/.369/.490 with a .370 wOBA, 12 steals, and a 146 OPS+, Rios is a strong bet to make this year's All-Star team, and may ultimately be the most valuable hitter dealt this summer.
Rios is the most interesting trade piece the Rangers have to offer, as he is enjoying arguably the best offensive season of his career, and is more than just a rental player, coming with a $13.5 million team option for next year that (at this point) is a no-brainer to be picked up. Still, Texas has plenty of reason to keep him around for next year, and may even consider him an extension candidate.
Trade likelihood: Moderate
MLB trade deadline is July 31st
Joakim Soria, RHP
23 IP, 1.96 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 0.68 FIP, 210 ERA+, 1.2 fWAR
Similar to the case of Cotts and Frasor, Soria is a luxury for the Rangers. However, Soria is a much more valuable asset, currently performing at a level reminiscent of his Kansas City days, and appearing to once again be a bonafide, top-tier closer. He also carries a $7 million team option for 2015, so Texas could keep him around as their closer for next season. Considering the fickleness of relievers and Soria's injury history, now may be the time for the Rangers to seek maximum return value.