With one week to go before the MLB All-Star Break, the Texas Rangers’ season has not played out how most thought it would. The Rangers behaved in the offseason as though they were going to be contenders in 2014, and outsiders agreed: 21 of 44 ESPN MLB experts picked the Rangers to win the AL West this year.
Instead, the Rangers are much closer to last place than first place in their division, have the fourth-worst win-loss record in baseball, the second-worst run differential, and will be sellers at the trade deadline this year when they have consistently been buyers since 2010.
The 2014 Rangers have been decimated by injuries at an almost-record-setting pace, as most everyone knows. The 46 players (and counting - soon to be 48) they have used this season are already more than the 39 they used in the entire 2012 season.
However, injuries aren’t the only reason the Rangers are non-competitive this year. There were six moves that Texas made over the offseason that have negatively impacted their 2014 season that didn’t involve being tripped by a dog, hit by a motorcycle, or sleeping funny. Here they are, ranked from least to greatest impact.
6. Signing Shin-Soo Choo (+0.8 WAR) to a 7-year, $130 million deal
To his credit, Choo has been battling an ankle injury and has been able to stay off of the disabled list. Though well below his career averages in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage, he has still been mildly productive at the plate. Unfortunately, his baserunning and defensive woes have almost fully negated the positives.
The negative impact of this deal goes beyond Choo underperforming expectations. The budget committed to signing him seemingly prevented Texas from making upgrades in other areas that they needed, like starting pitching depth. And although one down year from Choo doesn’t mean the next six years of his deal will be a burden to the Rangers, a six-year commitment to a 32-year old coming off a slow season isn’t an enticing outlook, either.
5. Signing J.P. Arencibia (-0.7 WAR) as the backup catcher
There was a possibility that Arencibia would be a good recovery story for Texas after signing him to a low-cost deal when he was not tendered a contract by Toronto. Instead, Arencibia’s poor showing in 2013 carried on to 2014, and the catcher posted a .133/.182/.233 line in 66 times at the plate. His defense didn’t help his cause, as he caught just two baserunners stealing in nine tries, and according to Baseball Prospectus, he didn’t help with his framing skills either. What lands Arencibia on this list of mistakes isn’t the dollars the Rangers committed to him, but the roster spot. His occupancy on the 25-man unnecessarily blocked Robinson Chirinos and Chris Gimenez from holding down the fort until Geovany Soto returned, of which Chirinos and Gimenez have done an acceptable job once the Arencibia experiment was finally labeled a failure.
4. Signing Joe Saunders (-0.8 WAR) and Tommy Hanson
Saunders and Hanson had shown in years past that they had nothing left in the tank, and their absence from the roster here in July proves that point. If everything had gone right, Texas wouldn’t have needed these two, but planning for everything to go right isn’t a very solid plan. Teams like Oakland and Atlanta had starting pitching injuries this season too, but they built their starting rotations seven and eight men deep, and are in first place in their division. Atlanta signed Gavin Floyd and Aaron Harang as free agents to one-year deals totaling $5 million, and Floyd and Harang have provided a combined 164.2 innings pitched and 3.33 ERA for the Braves. Now, because of injury (Floyd) and not being very good (Harang), that may be all that Atlanta gets from them, but it’s a far cry more than Texas got from Saunders and Hanson. Instead of being a stopgap, the ineptitude of Saunders and Hanson only placed more strain on some of the Rangers younger starters who weren’t yet ready for big league roles.
3. Trading Craig Gentry (+1.7 WAR) for Michael Choice (-1.7 WAR)
The feel good story that could have been for UT-Arlington product Michael Choice coming back to his home town has ended up being as uncomfortable as many of Choice’s big league at-bats this season.
Now graciously optioned to Triple-A Round Rock, Choice’s first big league season of regular playing time only resulted in him being the least valuable player (by WAR) in the American League. Meanwhile, Gentry has had a down year at the plate in terms of getting on base compared to his last two seasons with Texas, but he’s making up for it with his speed and defense, as he does. The 30-year-old outfielder is a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts, and has continued to be one of the better defensive outfielders in the game on a per-inning basis.
This trade may swing to the Rangers favor over the next five years, and cannot be written off as a total flop yet, but in 2014 it decimated the Rangers’ outfield production.
2. Moving Robbie Ross (-1.1 WAR) and Tanner Scheppers (-1.0 WAR) to the starting rotation
The old English proverb says that “necessity is the mother of invention,” but whoever first penned the phrase never tried to convert a two-pitch reliever into a starting pitcher.
Ross and Scheppers were both stretched out as starters in Spring Training this year, and wound up making the five-man rotation for the Rangers out of camp. This attempt at a creative solution to the Rangers’ pitching injuries problem could not have gone worse.
Scheppers made four starts, tallied a 9.82 ERA, and went on the disabled list. He would return to make four relief appearances in June before making a return trip to the disabled list, where he sits today. Ross made nine starts and racked up a 4.78 ERA of his own before being sent to the bullpen. Over nine relief appearances, Ross was ineffective and was sent to the minors, where he continues to struggle.
The Rangers removed two key members of their bullpen over the last two seasons, and effectively ruined their 2014 seasons. The only hope is that the damage that has been done doesn’t extend beyond this year.
1. Trading Ian Kinsler (+3.7 WAR) for Prince Fielder (-0.3 WAR)
As with every item in these rankings, the advantage of hindsight is sorely one-sided. What seemed like an old-fashioned one-for-one baseball trade has turned into a fleecing, with the Rangers holding the short straw.
No one would have guessed that Kinsler would be on his way to one of the best years of his career, or that Fielder would look so poor at the plate before requiring season-ending neck surgery. But if we are making a true list of the worst moves of the offseason that impacted the state of the Rangers in 2014, this one takes the cake.
The convergence of all of these ugly moves in one season makes the Rangers’ underperformance this year make a little more sense. And maybe, they could be a blessing in disguise. It’s unlikely the Rangers were going to compete in 2014, considering all of the injuries they suffered. Even if they had reversed all of these moves, and used a crystal ball to put the right pieces in place, they would be scratching and clawing to keep up with Oakland in the division.
Now, going into 2015, the Rangers can hope that at least some of these moves will move back in their favor. Maybe Choo’s ankle doesn’t bother him next year, and he returns to full form. Maybe Prince Fielder’s neck is what caused him to swing such a soft bat, and he finds 30-plus home run potential again. Maybe with another year of development, Michael Choice can be a productive everyday player. And maybe Ross and Scheppers can settle back into their roles in the bullpen, and return to being weapons instead of liabilities.
There are a lot of “maybes” when looking to the future outcomes of these moves, but that’s all the Rangers have right now. At least this time, they know not to plan on all of the “maybes” becoming realities.