Why the Rangers Should Have Traded Adrian Beltre
2014 has been nothing less than a disaster for the Texas Rangers. And I mean all of 2014.
It took just seven days into the new year for Derek Holland to tear cartilage in his left knee, thanks to his dog Wrigley, causing him to miss at least half of the season. He just pitched in his first rehab start on July 30.
The Rangers issues were just getting started, however. They lost Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Prince Fielder, as well as seeing Jurickson Profar re-aggravate his shoulder injury, all in the span of less than two weeks in May. All four of those players are now on the 60-day DL, to go along with Holland, Mitch Moreland and Kevin Kouzmanoff. We also shouldn't forget that Geovany Soto and Alexi Ogando are both on the 15-day DL.
Despite the array of injuries, the Rangers were still a .500 team on June 16th, sitting at 35-35. But since then? 8-33.
Injuries have contributed to this horrid stretch, but we also can't overlook the regressions from players like Shin Soo Choo and pre-injury Prince Fielder, as well as the losses of Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler. These factors, along with carrying a 38-57 record into the All-Star break, should have made the Rangers sellers. However, Rangers GM Jon Daniels sat on his hands and watched the deadline pass, without getting any value from players like Alex Rios, Choo or Adrian Beltre.
In fact, Daniels stated that there were two "untouchable" assets in the system, which were presumed to be Yu Darvish and the aforementioned Beltre. Darvish was a given, but Daniels making Beltre untouchable was a mistake.
The Age Factor
The first (and most obvious) reason why Beltre should have been traded is because he's 35. I'm a believer in getting value for assets, especially when the team isn't in contention. Time after time, we've seen major league GMs hold onto certain players at the peak of their value, watching it backfire as they naturally regress from that peak value.
Daniels had an easy decision. He has a player that at any time, due to his age, could see a rapid decline in his production. Only six players after the age of 35 have a higher OPS+ after their age 35 season as Beltre has this season (142). Given, those hitters had to have a minimum of 2,790 plate appearances after they turned 35, but that proves my point. It's very likely that Beltre will begin to regress at a steep pace in the coming years, and with guys his age, it could begin at any given moment. Players like Billy Butler and Allen Craig have seen that type of rapid regression in their age 28 and 30 year old seasons, respectively. At 35, Beltre is treading on thin ice.
The second reason why Beltre should have been traded is because, despite his age, he still has enormous value. Again, it's important to emphasize that it's becoming more and more common for GMs to side with value over loyalty. Instead of sticking with players because of what they have done in the past, teams are getting what they need out of a player, and then turning him over for value. For a 35-year-old in his 17th season, Beltre was arguably the best bat on the market, had he been on the market. In a league strapped for offense, the Rangers could have demanded top dollar for Beltre, and in the right circumstance, would have gotten what they wanted.
However, Daniels watched the deadline come and go, and not only failed to trade his most valuable asset on a team destined for a last place finish, but he also failed to deal his other coveted assets like Rios and Choo.
Can The Rangers Still Compete?
Now, there's the other side to the argument. One reason why the Rangers could be right for holding onto Beltre was that when the injuries subside, the Rangers should be right back in contention in 2015. However, this idea also has some flaws. To start, the Rangers play in, arguably, the toughest division in baseball. To be a playoff team, they’ll have to top the A’s, Angels and even the Mariners could be thrown into that conversation. With guys like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler no longer in the picture, how good of a shot does this team have to begin with? Hypothetically they could “compete,” but is a third-place finish really what they’re striving for?
To go along with the tough division, the team itself isn’t really anything special, with or without injuries. Choo has been less than impressive, and Rios has hit for virtually no power, despite playing in the launching pad that is the Ballpark in Arlington. We can assume that Fielder will regain his form, but even he was struggling before his injury. There is also the possibility that Matt Harrison won't be the same after his career altering back surgery.
Right now, the only things we know for sure about the Rangers future is that they face a tougher road than most to get to the postseason, and that a 35-year-old Beltre is the guy they’ll be banking on to get them to October again. One thing we know about Beltre, however, is that his value will likely never be higher than it was on July 31st. Come this time next year, Daniels may not be so sentimental about Beltre's place as a Ranger.