Valuing the trade chips: Texas Rangers
After a last place finish in 2018, the Texas Rangers looked ticketed for another season at the bottom of the AL West. But the team has surprisingly fought their way over .500 in the early goings, currently holding a Wild Card spot.
Despite their early success, it remains more likely than not that the Rangers will eventually fall back. FanGraphs lists their playoff odds at less than 5%. Chances are, by late July they will fall out of the race and choose to sell once again.
Luckily, the team has a handful of veterans they can flip (values in $Ms):
Despite being one of the most valuable trade chips the team has, it seems unlikely that young reliever Jose Leclerc (21.3) will be moved this summer. He is off to a terrible start to the season, and the Rangers have no reason to sell low on the 25-year-old. Similarly, Rougned Odor (10.0) might be immovable despite his positive value. This is due to his sizable contract and frustrating inconsistency, as well as an oversaturated second base market.
Instead, when contenders call the Rangers this summer, the first name they will ask about is lefty Mike Minor (17.1). He was signed to a three-year deal prior to the 2018 season and turned in a solid, albeit unspectacular, first year in Texas. But he has taken a huge step forward in 2019 and looks like a mid-rotation arm at worst, and a frontline starter at best. Durability remains a concern, as the lefty missed almost two years with a shoulder injury, but he remains one of the top starters on the market. He won’t come cheap — for example, it could cost the Minnesota Twins a package of shortstop Wander Javier (14.7) and righty Griffin Jax (2.0).
Righty Lance Lynn (4.7) will be a solid back-end option for contenders. The 32-year-old is owed an affordable $27 million through 2021 and has very impressive peripherals, as well as a lengthy track record as a reliable innings eater. The Oakland Athletics could have interest, possibly in exchange for infielder Jeremy Eierman (4.6).
Veteran Jeff Mathis (3.4) is one of the most highly-respected catchers in the game. While he has never been anywhere near league-average offensively, his defense is top-notch and pitchers love him. His defensive reputation earned him a two year, $6.25 million contract from the Rangers last offseason. Teams may have interest in Mathis, but he may have more value to Texas, where he can continue to work with some of the team’s young arms.
Infielders Logan Forsythe (2.2) and Asdrubal Cabrera (1.7) could interest teams as utility options. Both are capable of playing multiple positions and have been above-average offensive performers in 2019. As pure rentals, neither will command a huge return, but expect a low-to-mid range prospect.
The Rangers’ most interesting bullpen piece is probably righty Shawn Kelley (1.5). The veteran contemplated retirement in the offseason, but signed on with Texas for just $2.75 million and has been excellent. The peripherals don’t support Kelley’s success, but he has always been solid against right-handed hitters and will have a wide market.
Hunter Pence (0.3) has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball. After an awful 2018 with the Giants, the 36-year-old’s career looked like it was over. But Texas took a flier on Pence with a minor-league deal and it has paid dividends. He has posted a 135 wRC+ and has already slugged 14 home runs. Pence has been used primarily as a designated hitter and is a pure rental, limiting his value. Additionally, given his awful 2018, there will be some healthy skepticism about his success. But contenders will likely have interest in Pence as a bench bat at the least.
The Rangers have toyed with the idea of moving Shin-Soo Choo (-22.7) in recent years. But despite the 36-year-old’s offensive success the last two seasons, his contract remains well underwater and the team will have to get creative to move him. Lefty Drew Smyly (-4.2) looks like a lost cause and won’t see much interest.
With Minor, Texas could control the top of the starting pitching market. He should return a solid prospect or two, while the Rangers have a handful of other veterans to move for lottery tickets or salary relief. This summer probably won’t be too exciting, but the team has a solid young core in place and, if their pitching prospects develop, could return to contention soon.