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Texas Rangers rumors: Jay Bruce and the Rangers outfield

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The Rangers are rumored to have inquired about Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, as the outfield situation appears a little shakier of late

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers rumors:  Jay Bruce of the Cincinnati Reds is being shopped, and the Texas Rangers have inquired on him, according to Jeff Passan.

My initial reaction to that is that this would be kind of odd, given that the Rangers' needs appear to be pitching, rather than the outfield, where they appear to be fairly well set.  However, there was some discussion on Twitter last night with Jared Sandler about the issue, and giving some thought to it, the Rangers may be in a position where it makes sense to pursue an outfield bat -- something that I've balked at previously.

Looking at the Rangers' outfield situation, its remarkable how much different things are now compared to the start of spring training.  Back when pitchers and catchers were getting ready to report, the Rangers expected to have Josh Hamilton and Justin Ruggiano sharing time in left field, Delino DeShields in center field, and Shin-Soo Choo in right field, with James Jones the leading candidate for the fifth outfielder spot.  Flash forward to today, and Hamilton is out for the year without ever making it onto a major league field, DeShields, Ruggiano and Jones are all in AAA, and Choo has missed a bunch of time with injuries.  Ian Desmond -- originally signed to be the team's left field -- is manning center, with Ryan Rua and Nomar Mazara in the corners when Choo can't go.

While the Rangers have gotten solid performances from every one of those four players when they've been on the field, there are concerns about each of them.  Choo went on the d.l. in the first week of the season with a calf injury, was activated, left in the middle of his first game back with a strained hamstring, returned last month, and now has missed the first four games post-ASB due to a bad back.  Choo has been dealing with this back issue since he came to Texas, and it appears to be something that's likely to hinder him for the rest of his career.  If the Rangers could slot him in at the DH spot, that might help, but of course, Prince Fielder is limited to DH duties (and putting Choo at DH would simply open an outfield spot to be addressed).  Part of the concern the Rangers have to have right now as it relates to the outfield is that, while Choo has been great when he's been on the field, at this point its hard to count on him staying on the field the rest of the season.

That lack of reliability means more pressure, and more responsibility placed, on Rua and Mazara, who have struggled as of late after strong starts.  Mazara was the A.L. Rookie of the Month for both April and May, and his winning the award seemed a foregone conclusion as of Memorial Day.  Since mid-June, however, Mazara has struggled...since June 12 (arbitrary endpoints alert), Mazara has put up a .193/.252/.266 slash line, and his approach appears to have worsened.  Mazara has been much better against righthanded pitchers than lefties, putting up an 820 OPS against RHPs compared to a 549 OPS against LHPs, and with Choo available, Mazara has sat more against lefties, but he's struggling against both over the last 5 weeks or so.

Rua, meanwhile, has also slumped lately, and since July 3 (arbitrary endpoints alert) has just a .148/.233/.148 slash line in 30 plate appearances.  Like Mazara, his numbers are solid overall for the season -- .263/.343/.434 -- but also like Mazara, he's got a significant platoon split, putting up a 934 OPS against lefties, with a 674 OPS against righthanders.  He had excelled prior to this recent two week slump, but Rua's best value is probably as a versatile role player, rather than being asked to play the outfield every day.

And then there's Ian Desmond...Desmond, the Rangers' first half MVP, and someone who has gotten mention as an A.L. MVP candidate.  He's been outstanding this season, moving to center field when DeShields lost his job out there, putting up a .311/.364/.512 slash line, going 15 for 18 on the bases, getting raves for his clubhouse presence.  He's been terrific so far...but he's also not someone who it is realistic to expect seeing an 876 OPS from for the rest of the season.  Desmond's career slash line is .268/.317/.432, which is still good, but isn't "carrying the team/MVP" good like he has been in the first half.  And post-break Desmond hasn't looked like the guy who was named to the All Star team -- having gone 1 for 16 (albeit with a big home run) since the Break, Desmond is having at bats that look more like the guy who got off the awful April start and had to be unplugged and rebooted.

So point being...the outfield hasn't been a problem thusfar this season.  And it won't be a problem, if Mazara shakes out of his slump, if Choo stays healthy, if Desmond doesn't tailspin.  But there's reason to be concerned about production going forward, especially since Texas already went to their best internal option, Mazara, back in April.  If Choo is going to miss time and you're concerned about playing Mazara and Rua every day, who are you going to turn to internally to play significant time in the outfield?  Joey Gallo, who has been handling just 1B and 3B duty this year, and who has had problems at the plate of late?  Ruggiano, who is sporting a .226/.315/.438 slash line for Round Rock?  Jared Hoying?  Drew Stubbs, who apparently has the worst toe injury in the D/FW sports world since Deion Sanders?

There would be cries to turn to Jurickson Profar and put him in the outfield, but I doubt the Rangers would want to jeopardize his surgically repaired shoulder in such a manner.  Really, if the Rangers were to put an infielder in the outfield, you have to wonder if Rougned Odor might be an option.  Yes, he's never played out there before, but it would allow you to put Profar (who is the better defender at 2B, I think) into the lineup every day...and hell, this is the team that put Mike Napoli in left field last year.  I suspect Odor would be better than him.

Really, the Rangers' best option in the outfield if they need someone from inside the organization might be Delino DeShields.  Sent down due to various struggles, DeShields is sporting a remarkable .302/.500/.326 slash line in 61 plate appearances in July, and could potentially give you an option in left field.  Again, I've been saying DeShields isn't an option for a while, but if the Rangers' outfield situation worsens, he might end up back in the mix.

So all this illustrates why the Rangers would seem to at least be exploring options in the outfield market -- especially with the prices for starting pitching, which is the team's biggest need, seemingly being through the roof.  Jay Bruce has been outstanding with the bat this year -- .264/.317/.529 -- though the defensive metrics think he's been a disaster with the glove.  How much interest you have in him likely depends in large part on whether you think he's that bad in the field, but with a $13M option for 2017, he's someone you could acquire, and then hold or deal in the offseason, depending on your needs and what the market looks like then.

Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran are the other names that have been kicked around as potential outfield options.  Both are free agents after the season, with Reddick having a solid year (.296/.377/.438) for the lost cause in 2016 A's, and Beltran tearing up the ball for the in limbo, can't-make-up-their-mind-if-they're-selling-or-not Yankees (.303/.339/.548), though with the same defensive limitations that Bruce potentially presents.  Reddick seems likely to be dealt, but is also the most attractive rental bat on the market, while Beltran could end up staying in New York, and may be a better fit for a team that needs a DH.

So...a lot of ruminating and thoughts and speculation, and not much substance here.  That's the trade deadline for you, I guess.  I'm still not sure that a bat is the way to go, or that it will be worth the price that's going to be extracted from one of the sellers...but at a minimum, I think its more of a consideration, and more of a potential need, than I've been acknowledging.