The expected-to-contend Texas Rangers are instead the first team to be mathematically eliminated in 2014. So what went wrong in the Lone Star State?
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it's only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait 'Til Next Year series.
Current Record: 53-85 (.384, fifth in the AL West)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 2*
*By simply comparing their games behind in the wild-card race (23) to the number of games left in their season (24), the Rangers would appear to still be alive. But when looking at the schedule, as my former Baseball Toaster colleague and longtime elimination connoisseur Bob Timmermann did here, it becomes clear that it is no longer possible for the Rangers to manage even a tie for the second wild-card spot.
What went right in 2014: Adrian Beltre remained an elite player. Elvis Andrus, Alex Rios and Leonys Martin avoided the disabled list. The Rangers were able to flip Joakim Soria to the Tigers at the deadline for two legitimate pitching prospects in 20-year-old Jake Thompson, a righthanded starter, and 22-year-old Corey Knebel, a righty reliever. The Rangers' season was so disastrous that they should emerge with the top pick in the 2015 amateur draft.
What went wrong in 2014: Everyone got hurt. That's almost literally true. Here's a quick look at the games lost to the disabled list by only the players intended to be in Texas' Opening Day lineup and starting rotation:
|Jurickson Profar||2B||162||Torn teres major muscle in right shoulder|
|Matt Harrison||SP||146||Spondylolisthesis in lower back|
|Derek Holland||SP||141||Microfracture surgery in left knee|
|Martin Perez||SP||120||Tommy John surgery|
|Prince Fielder||1B||120||Herniated disc in neck|
|Geovany Soto||C||110||Torn meniscus; groin strain|
|Mitch Moreland||DH||100||Left ankle surgery|
|Shin-Soo Choo||LF||34||Bone spur in left elbow|
|Yu Darvish||SP||22||Elbow inflammation|
|Adrian Beltre||3B||14||Quadriceps strain|
With the exception of Soto, Darvish and Beltre, all of the above injuries were season-ending, and Darvish's may yet prove to be (if so, his games missed total will climb to 46, not counting the fact that he missed two starts earlier in the season due to a stiff neck).
That doesn't include additional season-ending injuries to Tanner Scheppers and Alexi Ogando. The former was one of the team's best relievers in 2013 before being converted to the rotation this year with disastrous results (appearing in only eight games due to elbow inflammation and posting a 9.00 ERA); the latter was in turn moved to the bullpen due to concerns about his arm (104 games missed, also due to elbow inflammation). Nor does it count season-ending injuries to reserve outfielder Engel Beltre (entire season lost to a fractured right tibia), infield fill-in Kevin Kouzmanoff (he'll end up missing a total of 141 games due to back surgery after hitting .362/.412/.617 in his first 51 major league plate appearances since 2011), or lefty reliever Pedro Figueroa (Tommy John surgery, 141 games missed).
There were also numerous shorter disabled-list stays, the accumulation of which led to the Rangers setting a major league record for players used with 61 and most pitchers used with 38. Both of those totals will increase when September call-up Lisalverto Bonilla makes his major league debut.
Texas' 2014 season was clearly a fluke, but that doesn't mean the team will be able to start all over next year as if it never happened. Matt Harrison, who had two vertebrae fused in his lower back as treatment for his spondylolisthesis, may never pitch again. Martin Perez, who had his Tommy John surgery on May 19, is unlikely to return until June, and likely at a diminished level, at least initially. Prince Fielder, whom the team owes $114 million over the next six years, had two vertebrae fused in his neck; while that's not career-threatening in the way that Harrison's procedure was (Peyton Manning had the same thing done in 2012, and Cubs outfielder Ryan Kalish had it done last year), it is still a significant surgery, a rare one for a professional athlete in any sport, and a permanent physical change. Meanwhile, Jurickson Profar lost a year of development and potential adjustments to major league pitching, and Adrian Beltre, though he has been great as a Ranger, will be 36 in April.
With the team unlikely to pick up Alex Rios' $13.5 million option, Texas enters the offseason in need of an outfielder, a catcher (Geovany Soto, who was on a one-year-deal to begin with, was traded to the Athletic in August) and significant pitching help. Their 2015 starting rotation currently projects as Darvish, Holland and a series of question marks, and that's if Darvish's elbow issue doesn't prove more significant than initially thought.
Simply put, the Rangers are not going to snap back into shape as a contender in the increasingly competitive AL West without significant upgrades this offseason. Given the way they set up their roster last winter to win in the short term, a failure to make those upgrades could reduce what had been a four-year window to win to compete to a two-year window.