On Wednesday, we published a list of nine questions that will shape this year’s trade deadline. One of those questions concerned which fringe contenders are likeliest to sell ahead of July 31. We named a team per league, with the Pittsburgh Pirates “winning” out in the National League, and the Texas Rangers receiving the honor over on the American League side of things. Today, we wanted to focus in on the Rangers, who have the potential to dominate the pitching market if they decide to cash in their chips rather than chase their 2.9 percent playoff odds.
The idea of the Rangers — who rank 20th in rotation ERA and 21st in bullpen ERA — serving as the league’s No. 1 arms supplier may seem silly on its face. But the Rangers have more quality arms than those aggregate ranks suggest. Come with us, then, as we explore who the Rangers could make available and why they would appeal to most contenders.
Do note these pitchers are presented in order of perceived trade likelihood.
We’re beginning with Chris Martin because he’s a 33-year-old impending free agent (his contract stipulates he must be released at season’s end) who has established himself as a quality reliever since returning from Japan prior to 2018. During the first half, he posted a 161 ERA+ and a 12.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 34 innings — for those wondering, no other pitcher with 30-plus innings had an ERA+ over 150 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 10. Martin’s high-velocity, high-spin fastball should make him appealing to analytical teams.
For contenders wanting a vet arm with a longer term, there’s always Shawn Kelley, whose contract includes a trifling club option (worth $2.5 million) for next season. Kelley has been effective for most of the past decade, albeit while dealing with frequent home run and injury woes. He’s on pace to post a new career-best ERA+, and could flirt with a new career-high in strikeout-to-walk ratio as well. Kelley doesn’t throw as hard as Martin does, but he does impart more spin on the baseball. Of course, the heater isn’t the breadwinner here, anyway. Kelley has thrown nearly 60 percent sliders this season, and for good reason: batters are hitting .221 against the pitch, with whiffs on nearly 30 percent of their swings. He’s served as the Rangers closer since May, which would really boost his trade value were this 1999.
Mike Minor would’ve been a reasonable All-Star Game starter based on his 198 ERA+ across 18 first-half appearances. Now, he’s an intriguing trade candidate because of his performance and the affordable year remaining on his contract (he’ll make less than $10 million). Minor has a lengthy injury history, having missed the entire 2015-16 seasons, to the point where it appeared his starting days were over before signing with Texas. He hasn’t required an IL stint in years, however, and looks like a fair bet to continue to occupy the space between a No. 2 and 3 starter.
We’re slotting in Jesse Chavez behind Minor, but you could flip them without much argument on our own. Chavez would fit on nearly every roster and within every budget. He’s split the season between the rotation and the bullpen, and has a history of working multi-inning relief stints. As an added bonus, he’s owed just $4 million next season. Chavez is older (35) and doesn’t have the raw stuff to blow anyone away. He is smart and resourceful though — and valuable.
The Rangers raised eyebrows when they signed Lance Lynn to a three-year deal worth $30 million. Yet Lynn has pitched well, especially as of late: over his last 13 starts, he’s averaged more than 6.6 innings per pop with a 3.09 ERA and a 5.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Rangers may elect against moving Lynn midway through year one, but if he’s made available someone could eye him as an affordable workhorse. (If nothing else, perhaps his durability should add to his appeal as a fleshy relic of the recent past — at least as it pertains to innings counts.)
We’ll end with a longshot. The Rangers signed former closer Jose LeClerc to a long-term extension during the winter. He started the year slowly, perhaps feeling the need to justify their nearly $15 million investment. Since May 1, however, he’s looked more like himself: fanning 49 batters in 30 innings and permitting just 18 hits and a .584 OPS against. Unless the Rangers receive a Godfather-style offer, there’s no real reason for them to entertain moving LeClerc.