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2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Are the Texas Rangers going to be buyers or sellers?

Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, and a host of others are candidates to be moved as the Rangers bring up the rear in the AL West.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach July 31, we will preview what each team is projected to do in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline. For a complete listing of our previews, click here.

Texas Rangers: 34-44, 5th in the AL West

To be fair, the Rangers have won their last seven games and are no longer on pace to lose 100 games this season, but they’re still 17 games out of first place in the AL West and 13.5 games out of an AL wild-card spot playing in a division that features two of the league’s strongest teams in the Astros and Mariners. Not many people had huge expectations for the Rangers this season — after all, they were mostly resting their hopes on guys like Mike Minor and Matt Moore performing significantly better than expected — but it’s still safe to say they’ve been a disappointment this year. They now look to be sellers for a second straight year, and it’s likely that they’ll be much more aggressive this July than they were at the deadline last year, when they were within a stone’s throw of a wild-card spot.

What moves have they made so far?

The Rangers have made a host of minor moves since the start of spring training. Many of the earliest ones involved catchers: They traded catcher Brett Nicholas to the Padres for a player to be named later (it ended up being minor-league pitcher Emmanuel Clase) on April 6, acquired veteran catcher Tony Sanchez from the Reds for cash considerations on April 16, and claimed catcher Carlos Perez off waivers from the Braves on May 3. They released two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who they signed to a one-year major-league deal during spring training, on June 5 after he failed to impress them on a minor-league rehab assignment. They claimed former first-round pick Deck McGuire off waivers from the Blue Jays on June 15, but just four days after that they dealt him to the Dodgers for a player to be named later.

Who could they trade?

Lefty starter Cole Hamels is the Rangers’ most prominent trade candidate this summer, and it’d frankly be surprising if he wasn’t moved before the deadline. He’ll be one of the top starting pitchers on the trade market, and with the Rangers unlikely to be competitive again in the AL West for the near future, there’s not much of a reason to keep him around. Hamels’ contract will surely complicate negotations a bit — he’s making $22.5 million this season, has a $20 million club option with a $6 million buyout for 2019, and has a limited no-trade clause that prevents him from being traded to teams such as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels, among others, unless he approves a deal. But that’s actually a pretty solid value for an effective starting pitcher, and Hamels has certainly been one this season — he has a 3.41 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 15 starts.

A more difficult decision for the Rangers will be deciding what to do with future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre, who is in the twilight of his career at age 39 and still hasn’t won a World Series. Beltre has had a bit of an odd season thus far, as he’s spent two stints on the disabled list due to a left hamstring strain that has bothered him dating back to last year, but he’s played well when he’s been on the field, hitting .314/.365/.456 with four homers in 192 plate appearances. There’s certainly an argument to be made for Beltre finishing his career in a Rangers uniform, as he’s now spent more years in Texas than he has anywhere else and seems likely to enter the Hall of Fame as a Ranger. But it’s also easy to see why the Rangers might want to act in the best interest of Beltre and send him to a spot where he has a chance to win a ring — especially when you consider that Beltre is a free agent after the season and might end up leaving the Rangers anyway, as he can still hit at an elite level and may want to continue his career beyond this year. With that said, there aren’t really any clear contenders that are in obvious need of a third baseman. The Red Sox and Braves could perhaps seek upgrades at the hot corner but would be fine with the guys they have now in Rafael Devers and Johan Camargo. The Diamondbacks might be well-served to find a platoon partner for Jake Lamb — a role that Beltre is far overqualifed for — and the Indians could bench Jason Kipnis and move Jose Ramirez to second if they acquire a better third baseman via trade. All in all, the options aren’t exactly plentiful for Beltre, especially with other talented players capable of playing third base such as Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas also being trade candidates. Even if the Rangers find a trade partner, they likely won’t get spectacular return value in exchange for Beltre.

The Rangers could sell off a significant chunk of their bullpen at the deadline if they’re looking to add some lottery-ticket or mid-level prospects. Lefty Jake Diekman is their most obvious trade piece there, as he’s a free agent at the end of the season and has posted a strong 2.96 ERA with a .216 opponents’ average, 35 strikeouts, and 16 walks over 27.1 innings this year. He’s got postseason experience and would be a solid addition to pretty much any club looking to strengthen its relief corps for the postseason. With teams like the Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals all in need of left-handed relief help, the Rangers could probably get a pretty decent return for Diekman (at least as far as they go for rental middle relievers).

34-year-old right-hander Tony Barnette is having a fantastic year in his third season with the Rangers following a six-year stint in Japan, and he could definitely be of interest to some clubs at the deadline. He’s posted a 2.70 ERA along with career bests in WHIP (0.99) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.13) over 23.1 frames. Barnette isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet and could perhaps still be around when Texas is ready to compete for an AL West title again, but there’s a very good possibility that he’ll fetch more value on the trade market right now than he’ll provide for the Rangers in a couple years. Theoretically, the fact that Barnette is in his final year before aribitration and is under club control through 2021 should increase his trade value, and there will undoubtedly be some clubs that see it as a plus that he’s relatively cheap and controllable. But with the way major-league front offices have avoided aging players like an unsanitized wrestling mat for the past year, there may be some teams that don’t even want to devote a 40-man roster spot beyond this year to a guy in his mid-30s who will be receiving annually increasing salaries for the next three offseasons. Even if they’re mostly teams that would plan on non-tendering him at the end of the year, there should be pretty many willing trade partners for Barnette. Relievers who are having really good seasons on non-contending teams seem to get moved every year, even if they’re one-year wonders or guys having bounce-back seasons, with examples from last year being David Hernandez, Brandon Kintzler, and Anthony Swarzak. It’ll just be a matter of whether Texas deems the offers for him to be worthwhile.

Veteran swingman Jesse Chavez is having a pretty solid season, throwing for a 3.33 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 48.2 innings spanning 23 relief appearances. He’s certainly not a guy who is going to do a ton to change a contender’s fortunes, but the fact that he’s started 70 games over a 376-game major-league career could make him attractive to a club looking for a guy who can go multiple innings out of the ‘pen or make a spot start down the stretch. Chavez probably isn’t going to fetch more than a lottery-ticket type of prospect, but since he’s 34 and signed to a one-year deal, the Rangers should accept any respectable offer that they might get for him.

Outfielder/DH Shin-Soo Choo could also be a trade candidate, and FRS Baseball’s Jon Heyman has reported that the Rangers would be willing to retain some of his remaining salary in a potential deal. But even with the 35-year-old Choo having bounced back this season, posting a .279/.391/.479 slash line with 14 homers, the fact that he’s owed $21 million over each of the next two seasons plus the balance of his $20 million salary for 2018 will likely be a major obstacle to a trade getting done. Though a team would probably prefer to capitalize on his bounce-back season in an ideal scenario, it’d probably make more sense for the Rangers to try and move him during the offseason due to the nature of his contract — and the fact that there aren’t many contenders in desperate need of DH or outfield help.

Predictions

With starting pitching always a need for a few contenders at the deadline, it appears very likely that Hamels will be dealt next month. Despite the fact that they’re on his no-trade list, the Yankees would probably be the most logical fit, though teams like the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, and Indians would make various levels of sense for him as well.

We’ll see how the next five weeks go for Beltre, but with every legitimate contender being pretty well-set at third base and plenty of other good third basemen on the trade market, it’s easy to see a scenario where Beltre stays put in Texas.

Diekman is the clearest candidate to be traded in the Rangers’ bullpen, and he should have a ton of suitors with left-handed relief an issue for many of this year’s contenders. Barnette could probably fetch Texas a decent return as well, since he’s cheap and having a great season, though the Rangers may prefer to hang onto him since they control him through 2021. On the other hand, he’s 34 years old, so it might make sense to cash in on him now. Chavez is having a solid year and could be a quality addition for a team like the Cubs or Mariners that already has solid rotation depth but could use a guy who can throw multiple innings out of the bullpen and serve as a fill-in starter if needed.