Trade Week: Finding a home for Choo's contract

DALLAS - This week we will be examining various trade possibilities for the Rangers as we near the MLB Trade Deadline. With Texas just a few games out of a Wild Card spot, the season is far from over despite a record seemingly stuck in neutral around .500. Whether Texas wants to trade players with expiring contracts for prospects to build for the future, trade prospects for big leaguers to help put them over the top, or stand pat and see if they can make it to October with the team they've built, the Rangers have options.

Texas has no easy choices as the trade deadline approaches.

If they buy, they risk taxing an already depleted farm system for what amounts to a coin flip in a Wild Card game. If they sell, they’re taking on a whole host of talented yet uncertain assets while decreasing the quality of the big league team. Less wins means less fans which means less money which makes ownership unhappy.

It’s an unenviable position for Jon Daniels’ crew, one with many paths to failure and criticism. The weight of a franchise’s future, along with the future of several human beings, sits on their shoulders.

What if there was a middle ground trade to be made? One that benefited the team as buyers, yet simulated the effects of selling to where the team achieved several end goals at once?

As it turns out there is and it looks like this.

Texas sends Shin Soo Choo, Jonathan Lucroy, Yohander Mendez, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Chicago White Sox for Tommy Kahnle, Melky Cabrera, and Bernardo Flores.

(Editor's Note: The article was filed before Sunday's game lest you fear that we decided the dump Shin-Soo Choo only after his dropped flyball blunder cost the Rangers yesterday afternoon. Pinky promise.)

Texas has a lot of problems they need to address both baseball and financial wise. The bullpen is a incorrectly used dumpster fire. They’ve also got depth issues in how they cycle through designated hitters due to a lack of positional flexibility.

They’ve also got a balance sheet that’s top heavy. The unfortunate mitigation of the Prince Fielder deal aside, contracts like Choo and Cole Hamels are weighing down finances. Even worthwhile extensions like Elvis Andrus, where the money is well spent, puts Texas in a bind when you combine the more Albatrossean agreements.

Moving Choo to the White Sox removes $20 million off the 2018 books, along with $21 million in 2019 and 2020. Just next year, trading Choo while buying out Mike Napoli and Tony Barnette  along with all the other free agents takes the Rangers’ salary number to just over $88 million. That number will go up with arbitration and other controllable players, but that’s more than enough room to bring back Yu Darvish, import Shohei Otani, or anything else requiring a large cash outlay.

Meanwhile the Lucroy situation for Texas has become untenable. The decline of Lucroy has been well documented, and with recent comments by Lucroy a trade seems inevitable.

Some would say Texas might want to keep him for the qualifying offer compensation, but there’s a real chance Lucroy would take it. Unless Lucroy turns into Barry Bonds in the final few months, he won’t be worth the roughly $18 million the QO will be this winter.

Plus, Texas has plenty of catcher depth in a lost season. Robinson Chirinos, who has shown Bondsian qualities in his starts this year, moves into the starting role while Brett Nicholas could slide into the backup role with ease. With Jose Trevino only a couple years away and names like David Garcia, Yohel Pozo, and Matt Whatley plying their craft in the lower minors losing Lucroy doesn’t hurt long or short term.

Of course, pawning off those two comes at a cost and part of that cost is Mendez. A top prospect in the Rangers system (No. 1 on WFAA’s preseason Top 15 List), Mendez is a Double-A lefty who has had ups and downs in the first half. Even so, he’s the Rangers top pitching prospect so losing him would sting.

It wouldn’t stop there though. Kiner-Falefa would also be a coveted piece, useful in paying the cost of making a bad contract go away. The 22 year old Hawaiian has been in the system since 2013, earning a reputation as a true super utility player. He’s listed as a catcher on the roster, but he’s also played all four infield positions along with limited outfield experience.

A .676 OPS isn’t exactly lighting up any stat sheets. It’s the versatility and makeup that will get IKF to the big leagues. He’s a unique player, one that most systems don’t have but want. For a much more experienced look at him, my colleague Kate Morrison wrote him up last month.

It’s the cost of doing business, along with making up for past choices. Yes, Mendez is a top flight prospect and IKF a potential long term MLB bench player. This is the current trend in sports however, the trading of “assets” in erasing bad contracts. The bigger the mistake, the more assets it costs to erase it. Losing those two hurts sure, but that’s the cruelty of baseball. Nobody gets to have it all.

Meanwhile the White Sox are about to turn the corner, but it’ll be a couple years as the young talent grows and develops. They’re stockpiling prospects, and with a payroll just under $38 million for 2018 they’ve got room to add money both in trades and free agency. They’re best suited in gaining as many assets as possible that will help them around 2020.

Which brings us to Tommy Kahnle. Kahnle is a 27 year old righty who won’t hit free agency until 2021. He also has a unique quality that Texas desperately needs: He is a righty that can neutralize lefties. This season Kahnle has limited lefties to a .328 on base and a .298 slugging percentage.

He’s even better against righties, with a .177 on base percentage and .289 slug. He’s controllable, young, and can be used in any situation. That’s a tool Jeff Banister desperately needs in his bullpen. More importantly, it’s a luxury that Chicago can’t justify in their current state.

Cabrera is the highest paid player on the White Sox at $15 million, but it’s only for this season. Texas taking him on gives them a major league outfielder to replace Choo, but represents a lot of savings for them long term. Cabrera has a .763 OPS this season, and is projected by Fangraphs to be Chicago’s highest WAR outfielder for the rest of the season. Essentially Texas is pulling an NBA type move, taking on an expiring contract while sending away a large one.

Despite giving up Mendez and Kiner-Falefa, getting back Flores would be a nice sweetener. Here’s a small sample of what MLB.com said about Flores, number 19 on the White Sox top 30 list:

“Flores totaled just eight starts and 91 1/3 innings in three college seasons at California, flashing velocity but little else before signing for a slightly under-slot $200,000 as a seventh-rounder last June. After making a few mechanical tweaks and getting the opportunity to pitch regularly in his pro debut, he asserted himself as the best left-handed pitching prospect in the system.”

If that’s not enough to get you interested, Texas fans might be familiar with the guy Flores considers his baseball hero.

Chicago would essentially be trading Flores, a riskier lower level prospect who needs more time, for Mendez who is closer to being ready in the time frame Chicago will be good. There’s no guarantee Flores will ever make it, but there’s enough potential there to offset the loss of Mendez.

One of the biggest benefits this trade offers is it represents not a buy nor a sell but a healthy option for both. As rumors swirl about whether Texas will or won’t trade Yu Darvish and the growing unlikely nature of an Adrian Beltre trade, they’ll need to get creative about improving the team.

Sometimes you improve the team without winning more games in the immediate.

By doing this, Texas would be getting back a valuable asset they can control for a few years. They’d also get a high upside, low floor lefty prospect to stash away while not dropping too much at the big league level. The cost of getting out from under a bad contract and an underwhelming catcher is your top pitcher and a swiss army knife type prospect, but it’s a cost Texas should pay.

A trade that nets Texas only a reliever isn’t likely to inspire great acclaim, but it’s much more than that. This nets Texas salary relief, helps clear up some positional issues long term, and makes the franchise healthier giving them more options this winter.

That’s the goal in this one, because it’s unsure how much winning Texas will do in 2017. 2018 and beyond though? The possibilities are more wide open. Texas needs to look towards those years, planning ahead and doing what they can to improve their chances then. This trade does that, even if it’s more painful than appealing.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. This is one of those times.

 

Would you be in favor of trading Shin-Soo Choo before the deadline? Share your hottest takes with Samuel on Twitter @thesamuelhale.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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