DALLAS - ‘“Whether it’s a combination of team performance or what happens or if somebody really comes calling for a player, for us to go the other direction would take a unique circumstance.” This was how general manager Jon Daniels recently responded to the question of buying or selling as we near two weeks until the trade deadline and the opening of baseball's second half.
If that’s the case, then the Rangers need to get to work. A few Rangers in particular need to step up their game to new levels if they want to be contributing members on a playoff team. It’s not enough to ask them to be just a little bit better, either.
Even in fighting for a one-game play-in game, a team doesn’t want to go into that game limping. Having these Rangers return to form for the second half of the season could be just the fresh breath of life needed to make a serious push towards the Wild Card game.
Rougned Odor – Odor is likely at the top of most Rangers’ fans’ “Most Disappointing First Half” lists. There have been signs of coming out of it in the last two weeks, but so far, Texas’ feisty second baseman has not looked like anything close to the player who was tendered a 6-year, $49.5 million contract extension before 2017.
During the first month of the season, Rougie slashed a paltry .196/.243/.371. His May wasn’t much better, at .216/.264/.328. In June, Odor’s average went down, but signs of better contact were showing, as his slugging went up and he amassed a season-high 46 total bases, cracking 6 homers along the way.
What the Rangers need to see isn’t necessarily the .370/.433/.852 line in 8 July games, but continuing to make solid contact will only result in good things. The 10-game hitting streak he had from the end of June to the second to last game of the first half is going to keep his bat creeping back towards his career line.
Odor’s home run total looks like it’s well on its way to where it ended up last year, at 33, and his walks look like they’ll surpass last year’s 19, but the Rangers are going to need to see more line drive and gap power from their five-hole hitter.
Jonathan Lucroy – If the $49.5 million second baseman didn’t top your list of disappointing Rangers in the first half, certainly the catcher traded for the number one outfield prospect in the system did. It was more than the perturbing .206/.242/.286 start to the season – in fact, Lucroy’s bat picked up after that, hitting .295 and .271 the next two months. Most worrisome has been the decline in defensive ability, however.
Furthermore, the poor production in the first few weeks of the season earned Lucroy far fewer starts behind the dish than one would normally expect from someone once regarded as the #2 catcher in all of baseball. It’s also far fewer than one would expect of an All-Star caliber catcher in his walk year.
Lucroy needs to pick up the bat, not just for the direct impact he can have on the Rangers, but if he wants to start to parler his performance into an average annual value of more than the $5.5 million he’s making this year, he’ll need to show that he can excel on at least one side of the ball.
Like Odor, Lucroy has shown signs of life over the last couple of weeks. If Jeff Banister has to have a difficult decision in whether to play Lucroy or Robinson Chirinos, that’s a good problem to have. Right now, though, if the Rangers don’t see any value in playing him more than a 70%/30% split, no team will.
Martin Perez – Despite Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish having injury issues, we tend to believe that both aces are generally going to be fine over the course of the year. Certainly, based off of Hamels’ last two starts and with Darvish on the verge of being one of the best pitchers in Texas Rangers history, the rest of 2017 will be just fine from those two spots.
Perez, however, needs to be done “growing up.” Sure, he’s just 26, but Perez has four years of Major League experience, an easily identifiable problem spot (the Big Inning), and a proven stretch of games dating back to last season showing that he can overcome the aforementioned problem spot.
Technically, the native Venezuelan is fighting for a contract – his guaranteed years are finished after 2017. It seems like an easy answer on whether to pick up the extraordinarily team-friendly options, but Shohei Otani and Yu Darvish are about to be fair game for 29 other teams.
Nick Martinez and Austin Bibens-Dirkx are showing that they can be back-of-the-rotation guys, and other options can be had on the cheap. Every penny counts, and with a $2.45 million buyout, Perez isn’t a guarantee as a Ranger.
On the flip side, the team-friendly options could be extremely attractive to a contending team.
Now that you’ve seen some of the obvious Rangers that need to step it up, here’s a somewhat surprising name.
Jeff Banister – Shortly after Neftali Feliz blew his third save in mid-May of 2015, the first-year skipper of the Rangers had a different strategy.
Banister very clear: There are NO roles in the bullpen at the moment— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) May 17, 2015
‘"[We] brought all of our guys in, told each one of them, individually, collectively, that right now as we sit, nobody has a specific role, that we are going to find what is the best match for this bullpen, for this ballclub," was how Banister responded to his bullpen dilemma two years ago.
"We're going to continue to look at the hitters who are coming up each inning and what's the best fit or the best matchup with the best arm that we have out there at any given time."
Yes, after that declaration, 8 of the next 10 save opportunities went to Shawn Tolleson, but the difference that year was that nobody was handed the closer role. When Feliz was displaced, Tolleson was not immediately named as the next closer, he wasn’t even named a de facto closer. No, it was closer du jour, until someone, Tolleson in that case, separated themselves from the pack and earned the title.
Perhaps the skipper has already realized it, but this might be the strategy needed to sort out the mess in the bullpen. It’s a full two months later than the point in the season Banister made that proclamation in 2015, but with the trade deadline looming, the urge to fight for a prestigious spot on a team with playoff aspirations could grow stronger.
Obviously, the mentality of team still reigns supreme, and the Rangers need to succeed as a whole to make a run this year. The success of these particular men will do a lot to tip the scales in the right direction.
Who are you hoping to see come through for the Rangers in the second half? Share your thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.
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