DALLAS — With shortstop Elvis Andrus starting a rehab assignment with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders on Tuesday, for a time it appeared the Rangers would have to make a serious decision regarding the roster spot he’s going to take upon returning.
Well, that was before Willie Calhoun hit the injured list with a strained quad on Wednesday. Calhoun's ascension and success in his stint with the Rangers in Elvis' stead this week shows that the Rangers have more options than roster and lineup spots right now. Eventually, a big decision will need to be made with the present and future hanging in the balance.
Perhaps this is just what people mean when a team is said to have depth. Perhaps the Rangers are currently blessed to be flush with options. Nevertheless, they'll have to make some choices eventually, and they won't be easy decisions, either.
The issue, if you want to call it that, is in a year that's supposed to be about building.
The squad is playing .500 ball and currently a game and a half out of a playoff spot. All of the part-time players are actually producing. And, two of the veteran possibilities off the bench have coveted defensive versatility.
When the Rangers are at full health, something will have to give. For now, Calhoun's injury has done what baseball often does and course-corrected itself.
Perhaps it will do so again when Calhoun is healthy. If not, here's a look at players who could be affected by the eventual lineup crunch:
The Versatile Danny Santana
Santana – signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason – is a true super-utility player. This year, he has played at first, second, short and center for the Rangers. He has played at a more than acceptable level at each of those and is probably the type of utility player the Rangers wish they had during their AL championship seasons.
Offensively, over 100 at-bats, Santana is putting up a .320/.367/.530 slash and has come through in a few clutch moments for Texas, including grinding it out on a sore ankle and hitting a go-ahead homer while scoring the winning run on a sacrifice fly against St. Louis on Sunday.
I don’t know that if he's healthy the organization would consider taking Santana off of the 25-man roster, but if that ankle happens to re-aggravate itself, he could be the guy who gets the axe eventually, especially if Calhoun continues to see some time at second base.
The Teacher's Pet Logan Forsythe
Similar to Santana, Logan Forsythe has played all over the infield for Texas. He’s actually played more at first base this season, even though he’s more of a natural second baseman. With Elvis out, he's even been sort of the "regular" shortstop.
While defensively Forsythe hasn’t necessarily shown as much acumen as you’d want from a utility infielder, he’s been able to anchor down some positions when starters have been injured as a true depth bench option.
Seeing as Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Nomar Mazara have all gone down with injuries at some points in the first couple of months of the season, it doesn’t look like getting rid of Forsythe would be a top priority since he doesn't have minor league options.
Not to mention that over 110 at-bats, Forsythe is hitting to a .318/.420/.518 slash with 11 doubles so far and he came to Texas with a full endorsement from manager Chris Woodward after their time together with the Dodgers.
The Texan Hunter Pence
At the beginning of the year, if you had to make this decision, this would be the easy choice. Pence was an aging veteran at the time, having come off one of his worst seasons in his final season in San Francisco, and coming onto a team with a crowded outfield. Then again, the outfield is still pretty crowded. That's kind of the point here.
With Shin-Soo Choo still able to roam the corners when not the DH, the team also features Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo. Delino DeShields is up again for Calhoun, with Danny Santana able to step anywhere in in a pinch. When Calhoun is healthy, most of his at-bats will come as a left fielder even if it isn't in Arlington.
DH, LF, RF. These are all the positions that Hunter Pence finds next to his name when he's in the lineup. But Hunter Pence is making dismissing Hunter Pence difficult and proving that he isn’t just a feel good story with roots in North Texas.
With offensive clout making up a huge part of the 2019 Texas Rangers’ identity, letting go of a player with an excellent clubhouse reputation, while putting up a .307/.363/.644 slash, seems like it would be a bad baseball decision even in a year meant to be about solving the future.
Additionally, the club probably needs to keep showcasing a good Hunter Pence so that other teams who might have a more dire need in the outfield might reach out for a trade.
The Meritocracy of Nomar Mazara
Let’s be honest, from a pure baseball standpoint, sending Mazara down to continue working on his hitting mechanics might makes the most sense. Mazara, just 24, has underperformed all season. With 172 at-bats under his belt, The Big Chill has posted a mediocre .248/.308/.427 slash, with a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Although he’s shown signs of heating up over the past week, at this point, Mazara is the weak link offensively and defensively. But there seems to be a cloud of confidence from the organization over a player perceived as part of the core of the future. The club is content to let Maz figure it out at the Major League level, especially in a season with the expectation of really having nothing to lose.
Rebooting Rougned Odor
The Rangers have done this before. Back in 2015, in May, the Rangers sent Rougned Odor down for about a month to figure things out after struggling and he responded with an OPS of .832 in the second half as the Rangers made the push for an AL West title.
You know the Odor story since then. It's been wildly inconsistent. Odor followed that demotion with that strong second half in 2015 and then had his best overall season in 2016 before signing a long term extension and having a miserable 2017 season.
2018 looked like more of the same but then things began to click for him at the end of May and he had a torrid second half to make it seem like things had finally clicked. That is, until the beginning of this year where thus far he holds an abysmal .165/.237/.362 slash line that would even make that 2017 season blanch.
So, do the Rangers bank on Rougie bouncing back on his own like he did last season? Or should they send him down and give at-bats to other players while he works things out in Nashville like they did in 2015?
The reports are that Odor is putting in all the work and he is still considered a major part of the core for the future like Mazara, so the Rangers will be handling him with care but he's definitely one of the players underperforming thus far.
The Willie Calhoun Conundrum
Continuing the honesty train, this entire article could have just been titled "What to do about Willie Calhoun" which is a problem the Rangers have been kicking down the road for a while now. With Calhoun hitting the IL, that decision is delayed once again.
In the short time that Calhoun – the top-billed prospect acquisition of the Yu Darvish trade – had been up with Texas this week, he'd done nothing but hit. Considering what he's done in the minors over his entire career, this shouldn't surprise anyone.
He’s hit to left, he’s hit to right, he’s hit up the middle, he hits them long, he hits them short – he’s the human equivalent of Green Eggs and Ham. Even with a .476/.476/.810 slash (over just 21 at-bats, mind you), it’s still always easiest to send the “prospect” down.
When Willie is healthy again, the Rangers will be forced to make the decision they've been putting off for a while. Where can they find at-bats in the Major Leagues for a guy who can help them win with his bat but is likely a liability in the field? Where can they find at-bats for Calhoun in a lineup that has several players regularly regulated to the bench already?
Calhoun has done everything he's been asked as far as putting in the work, especially after recommitmenting to his fitness and devotion to the game over the winter, and there's no question about his ability to hit. The question now is, are the Rangers ready to give him a true, long term honest look?
That's the real decision awaiting the Rangers when Willie's quad is healed up, and unfortunately, the timing of the injury might have made it easier for the Rangers to just opt to keep the prospect in Nashville and not risk losing the veteran options who can't be sent down.
Ultimately, the Rangers could opt to remove a pitcher from the roster, but, considering with the state of the Texas pitching staff, there’s no chance at all that they could afford to drop an arm. Even if they could, having another hitter on the bench instead of a pitcher in the bullpen doesn't actually solve how they're going get everyone in the lineup.
Even if the decision looks easy and potentially obvious on paper, it’s not that easy to lose any of the players for various reasons. Andrus is eligible to come back on the 25th – the easy choice right now is to just ship Delino DeShields back to Nashville. After that, however, the next time the Rangers have to make a move, especially when Willie Calhoun is healthy enough to play, the real choices will be made.
For now, the Rangers were unluckily lucky that something happened to make the decision easier for Jon Daniels and Chris Woodward in the immediate present.
Once everyone is healthy for the Rangers, who do you think should be sent to Nashville and who has earned their spot? Share your lineup thoughts with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.