Juan Soto turned down Patrick Mahomes money from the Nationals, and that’s all it took to match trade deadline fever to the heat index. Suddenly the game’s greatest hitter, still only 23, is on the market.
A raging bull market, at that.
What the speculation required was a list of suitors with a history of dropping banks on players, which explains how the Rangers got dragged into the conversation.
But just because John Daniels invested a half-billion on his middle infield doesn’t mean he should double down on Soto. He’s got other work to do.
Not every transaction needs to come with so many zeroes. Besides a codicil in Ray Davis’ will, the price of signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien was a second- and third-round choice, and despite that penalty the Rangers still finagled a first-round value in the fourth. This is the problem with baseball’s convoluted, fan-unfriendly draft. That and Harold Reynolds.
Even if Soto is worth more than Seager or Semien, it’s a moot point. Do you really wish two 10-year contracts on the Rangers?
The problem with deals of such length isn’t simply the prospect of players getting hurt (Giancarlo Stanton), old (Albert Pujols) or indifferent (Robinson Cano). Long-term deals leave clubs with little flexibility. Who can say how competitive you’ll be five years from now, much less 10? On a bad team, no one wants to be stuck with even one albatross contract. The Rangers are testing that theory even as you’re reading this.
Soto would also cost a haul in a trade. How much? A suggested deal involving San Diego started with Fernando Tatis Jr., which should tell you how much this is going to hurt.
Early reports say it’ll take at least four top prospects from a good farm system as well as a couple of up-and-comers. Start with Jack Leiter or Josh Jung and hopscotch through the rest of the organization’s top 10. Even that would probably come up short.
Look, no player the Rangers would give up in a trade will ever be as good as Soto, one of the best natural hitters I’ve ever seen. But that’s not the point. Alex Rodriguez was also in Soto’s league, and how much difference did he make on all those kids in Arlington?
The Rangers need more walks and fewer strikeouts, not another high-priced star. They need guys who can score a runner from third without a hit. Guys who can beat a shift or, failing that, beat out a bunt. Guys who take coaching. Guys who won’t mindlessly throw home and give up second base in the process.
Guys who won’t forget that runner on second.
The Rangers need several affordable pieces to finish out what started as a $500 million redo, and Jung, Josh Smith, Ezequiel Duran, Leody Taveras and Dustin Harris might be the answers. We’ll find out soon. But what they absolutely, unequivocally must have right now is pitching, before the bullpen spontaneously combusts.
Daniels and Chris Young found it at the top of the draft again this year as they pile up pitching prospects like firewood. By all appearances, they may be cultivating their best set since Kevin Brown, Bobby Witt and Kenny Rogers. Then again, maybe not. We’ve seen prospects come, and we’ve seen them go. Since the debuts of Brown, Witt and Rogers, the lovely wife and I have raised more children than the Rangers have pitchers.
Even if the prospects pan out, it’s not like any are on the way anytime soon. Sure, it’s early, but Leiter hasn’t given the Rangers an indication he’s ready to join the rotation next spring. Even if he were, the Rangers will need veteran depth, which is why extending Martin Perez becomes a major priority.
But the first priority is finding pitching now, and not just to avoid demoralizing the rest of the Rangers as well as another generation of their fans. Time to find out if Chris Woodward’s message is getting through.
As it stands, the Rangers can’t make a fair judgment of their manager because he spends all his time stomping out fires between the mound and the bullpen. Frankly, I have my doubts. But before anyone arrives at any conclusions, Woodward deserves a better hand of cards.
Just for clarification: The Rangers wouldn’t be adding at the deadline in hopes of making the playoffs. That isn’t happening. Also why they won’t be in the market for Frankie Montas or Luis Castillo, the top pitchers available. But Tyler Mahle, Castillo’s teammate, seems like a reasonable alternative. He’s just 27 and under contract through next season.
Or how about this blast from the past: Kyle Hendricks, now 32 and still Daniels’ biggest regret, is apparently recovered from shoulder issues that have dogged him since last year. The Cubs are in the throes of an interminable rebuild, and Hendricks is signed through next year. Not only would he stop the bleeding, the Professor would be an invaluable mentor to all those young prospects.
It wouldn’t hurt for Daniels to make a call, anyway. Just because the Rangers aren’t contenders or Juan Soto isn’t the answer doesn’t mean they should sit on their hands at the deadline. At least give the manager a hose.
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