Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder going on the disabled list with a herniated disk is bad news for Texas fans. That he might need season-ending surgery is even worse. And with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo joining his teammate on the disabled list, it was a bad Wednesday in Arlington.
There’s two ways to look at the Fielder news, positively or negatively, depending on your outlook. Here’s the upside: Fielder is batting .212. and his on-base percentage is a woeful .292. He has just 44 RBIs. For a guy who batted .305 a year ago, this is an epic drop. He’s four for his last 27. Even if he wasn’t injured, a change was needed. This spares the 32-year-old of the embarrassment of a benching.
Here’s the downside: his replacement isn’t much better. Mitch Moreland is batting .231 with an equally bad OBP of .298. Like Fielder, Moreland can hit the long ball. He has 12 so far, and hit 23 last season. But the Rangers are replacing a guy who can barely get on base with another guy who struggles to leave the batting box. Not an ideal situation.
And here’s the other problem: there’s no quality first base option on the trade market to solve the problem. The Rangers are likely to be stuck with Moreland.
It is true that, on first glance, the Rangers are in decent position. Yes, the Rangers are in first and have a four game cushion over Houston entering Wednesday’s games. But Houston is hot. On June 20, the Astros were 35-36. Since then, they’ve gone 16–8 and are now seven games over .500. The Astros are now playing the role the Rangers played last year, insurgents coming after the kings. And we saw how that worked out.
The Rangers are not especially power heavy—they’re led by a former infielder (Ian Desmond) and a current one with a nice right hook (Rougned Odor) in that department. Indeed, without Desmond’s renaissance, the Rangers would be in offensive desperation. Adrian Beltre has just 13 home runs and is not dominating like he did a year ago. The Rangers, dependent on Beltre last year, are now dependent on Desmond. Beltre had a WAR of 5.8 last season. Desmond has a WAR of 3.8 this year. Another bat is needed.
The biggest ripple effect from this move might not come from within. The Rangers, who are still contenders because of their strong pitching and the return of Yu Darvish on Friday, need another bat. With Fielder out, it might be the time to make a move for the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy is batting .305/.362/.494 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. He replaces Fielder’s power with the added benefit of getting on-base, while also upgrading the catcher position. A combination of Desmond, Lucroy, Beltre and a resurgent Jurickson Profar suddenly is formidable. Combine that with a strong rotation and you’re looking at a potential deep postseason Texas run.
Of course, the Brewers will ask for Profar or Joey Gallo. The price might be worth it. Cole Hamels and Darvish are a devastating one-two punch in the rotation. Lucroy adds balance to a top-heavy lineup. Above all, it minimizes the damage from Fielder’s potential season-ending injury.
The Rangers have never won a World Series in their history, despite coming oh-so-close in 2010 and ’11. This is probably their best team since then. Fielder hasn’t contributed much to this first-place team, his neck a likely culprit. Lucroy could be the jolt needed, a potential silver lining in Wednesday’s bad news.