After the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals eight days ago, FanGraphs pegged their chances of making the playoffs at a solid 29.5 percent, an encouraging number for a team that long ago saw the Houston Astros run away with first place and lap the rest of the AL West. With Cole Hamels back from injury, and with Yu Darvish pitching at an All-Star level, it appeared that the Rangers were about to make a push.
But a lot of that hope was turned to rubble during an ugly 96-hour stay in Baltimore, where the Orioles swept a four-game series from Texas. In just one week, Texas’s playoff chances were cut in half, and general manager Jon Daniels signaled to the industry that he would take phone calls on Darvish.
The collapse in Baltimore has accelerated the Rangers toward a decision that has loomed over them all year: Is Darvish a part of their future or not?
Darvish turns 31 years old next month and will be a free agent in November, unless the Rangers shock the baseball world by locking him up to an incredibly expensive extension for something in the range of $150-200 million. The Rangers could try to execute the same maneuver that the Yankees pulled off last season with Aroldis Chapman: New York swapped the closer to the Cubs in a package of prospects that included Gleyber Torres and then re-signed Chapman in the offseason. The Rangers could take advantage of the interest in Darvish from teams such as the Cubs, Astros, Dodgers and Yankees by dealing the right-hander for a high-end prospect now -- and then re-signing him.
But it’s very unusual for a team to trade a high-end player and then sign him in free agency, and as rival evaluators watch the Rangers try to decide what to do with Darvish, some think that the question of trading or not trading him will come down to whether the Rangers think they’ll be able to re-sign him. If they think they’ll re-sign him, some evaluators believe, the Rangers will keep him through the trade deadline and keep him as part of the long-shot attempt to make the playoffs this year.
If the Rangers think Darvish is going to leave, then they’re almost certainly going to trade him, those evaluators believe. One cited the example of the Boston Red Sox’s handling of Jon Lester in the year before he became a free agent: The Red Sox made an offer of about $70 million -- not close to market value in the eyes of Lester and his camp. When Lester said no, the Red Sox moved him during the season to Oakland.
The ripple effects of the Rangers’ uncertainty about Darvish are being felt throughout the market. At least one team wants to wait to see what happens with Darvish before making a move on a starting pitcher. Some evaluators think Darvish’s appearance on the trade market -- at least for discussion -- is muddying the waters for the Oakland Athletics as they try to arrange a suitable deal for Sonny Gray.
• Jorge Mas wants to buy the Miami Marlins, and there are folks in baseball who want to see it happen. Mas is Cuban-American, and some rival executives believe he would give the Miami market the best possible chance for growth in professional baseball.
But sources with knowledge of the bidding say that while Mas’ offer is rock-solid financially, it is not as high as the Marlins’ ownership would prefer -- and the Marlins have kept other suitors in play as they push for a higher winning bid. Meanwhile, Mas is said by sources to be growing impatient with the process, and he wants a resolution sooner rather than later. Other bids for the Marlins could be built on possible bricks of minority ownership, which presents something of a problem when the final price is expected to be higher than $1 billion because it’s difficult to expect folks to kick in a couple of hundred million dollars while ceding control to others.
So Major League Baseball watches and waits, possessing some influence through rules to get the Marlins across the finish line. It might be that though Mas doesn’t have the perfect bid, in the eyes of the Marlins’ owners, he presents the most accessible conclusion.
Meanwhile, the team’s baseball operations are stuck in purgatory, to a degree. There has been speculation that other teams might be interested in a Giancarlo Stanton or Christian Yelich deal, but the Marlins aren't really in a position to seriously weigh offers on either of those players. The contracts of Stanton and Yelich represent a significant amount of the team’s debt that concerns some interested bidders, but they are also the franchise’s most attractive assets, so the next owner will naturally want to weigh in on what should happen -- with Stanton, particularly.
Also, it will be extremely difficult for the next owner to move Stanton under any circumstance without sabotaging a rebranding effort. The Marlins’ history is littered with fire sales, and in the eyes of Miami baseball fans, dumping Stanton while eating some of his enormous contract could represent business as usual. The next owner will probably have to build some equity before seriously considering moving Stanton -- or perhaps ask the current owners to do that dirty work as soon as possible before finishing the purchase of the team months later.
But no matter who wins the bidding, no matter if Jeffrey Loria decides to hold the team and no matter whether Stanton stays or is dealt, the process that is playing out with the sale of the franchise is in keeping with its bumpy history.
Trade deadline developments
The sheer glut of slugger types during the previous offseason was the first sign that this summer’s trade market was going to turn into a buyers’ market because so many of those players had to settle for one-year deals, with many now available for trade. Additionally, half of the divisions are being won in runaways -- the Astros, Nationals and Dodgers -- by clubs armed with deep everyday lineups. With little more than a week remaining before the trade deadline, there don’t appear to be any contenders with problematic roster holes now that the Nationals addressed their bullpen problem.
For potential sellers, it’s a difficult market in which to get real value in prospect return, and success might be measured by how much salary is shed. Given this reality, the efforts to dress up trades to make them look more attractive than they actually are could reach new levels of inventiveness.
The other day, the Seattle Mariners picked up David Phelps from the Marlins in a trade for no fewer than four prospects, which seemed odd. The 30-year-old Phelps is having a solid but unspectacular season and is making $4.6 million -- good money. He will be eligible for arbitration again this winter, assuming the Mariners tender him an offer.
Four minor leaguers would seem to be a heckuva return in a market that will soon be flooded by relief options. Brayan Hernandez was the primary prospect in the deal, ranked anywhere from No. 6 to No. 10 on the prospect list of an organization with a relatively thin farm system. The other three?
Pablo Lopez, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher with a 5.04 ERA in the High-A California League
Brandon Miller, a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher and former sixth-round pick pitching in the Midwest League
Lukas Schiraldi, a right-handed pitcher who turns 24 this week and has a 4.58 ERA in 37 ⅓ innings in A-ball.
In the eyes of some rival evaluators, it was a classic case of a team trying to pad a deal to create the illusion that it yielded far more net than it actually did.
• The Indians are hoping to add a utility player, but the fact that they dug into conversations about J.D. Martinez suggests that they might also have explored an alternative to Carlos Santana, who has slogged through a disappointing season -- a .240 batting average with 10 homers. It would be an easy pivot for the Indians to make with no long-term fallout because Santana is in the last year of his contract before he reaches free agency. Given the glut of position players available, there will probably be numerous sluggers available in the last days before the trade deadline, from Jay Bruce to Mike Napoli to Yonder Alonso to others, and the Indians could add somebody else. But Cleveland is expected to get Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis back from the disabled list in the next couple of weeks.
• Speaking of alternatives, the Yankees are prepared to assess the left-handed-hitting or switch-hitting first basemen who could shake free in the market -- perhaps Alonso.
• The Giants player drawing the most trade interest is utility man Eduardo Nunez, according to sources, because of his versatility and athleticism.
• The Brewers have interest in acquiring Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler; the Red Sox and other teams have also inquired.
• The Dodgers are among the teams evaluating Mets reliever Addison Reed.
• Rival evaluators aren’t entirely sure that the Orioles will actually trade Zach Britton before the July 31 deadline because it might be that the package of prospects offered will be less than optimal. Other teams have been trying to gauge how healthy Britton is after he missed two months with elbow trouble earlier this season. It is taken as doctrine by some teams that even when a pitcher heals, as Britton apparently did, an elbow breakdown is a precursor of a larger problem to come.
Baseball Tonight Podcast
Friday: Roch Kubatko of MASN on the Orioles’ plans leading up to the trade deadline; Karl Ravech and Paul Hembekides on the teams that should most covet Zach Britton; and Jessica Mendoza on the re-emergence of David Price.
Thursday: Ivan Nova on the return of Starling Marte and the Pirates’ momentum; Bob Nightengale goes rapid-fire on trade stuff; Boog Sciambi wins the argument on why the umpires should be mic’d; Mike Trout and Bryce Harper on Harper and Trout.
Wednesday: Travis Shaw on his move to the Brewers, his big year and the conversations he has with his former Boston teammates; Tim Kurkjian on the big trades pulled off by the Yankees and Diamondbacks; Rob Biertempfel on the turnaround of the Pirates; John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information digs into what a team would buy with Sonny Gray.
Tuesday: A conversation with Mookie Betts; Keith Law on Carlos Correa’s injury; Sarah Langs and the Numbers Game; David O’Brien on Freddie Freeman’s future at third base, Julio Teheran and the Braves.
And today will be better than yesterday.