Texas Rangers starting pitcher Cole Hamels will start a rehab assignment, the team announced, with a start for Frisco on Friday — and yes, that’s tomorrow.
Hamels has been on the disabled list since May 2 with a strained right oblique, and presumably will be looking at at least three rehab starts before he’s considered a realistic option to return to the rotation. That could potentially mean he would be back in the rotation by the beginning of July.
The Rangers are in a difficult spot right now, as they are just a game and a half back of the second Wild Card spot, but have to pass five teams to get that spot — as well as staying ahead of Toronto, who they are tied with right now. With the Astros running away in the A.L. West, Texas effectively is fighting seven other teams for two wild card spots — nine other teams if you include Detroit and Kansas City, each of whom are 1.5 games back of Texas right now.
Being in a situation where you are have something like a 10-20% chance (due to all the other teams you are fighting and have to pass) of being in a game that you have to win to make it to the ALDS and get to the “real” playoffs is problematic. It doesn’t make sense to give up significant talent and be a “buyer”, since you likely aren’t significantly impacting your chances of making the Wild Card Game anyway. At the same time, if you are a game or two out of the Wild Card, its difficult to tell your fans -- and your players — that you are selling.
Complicating the situation is the number of pending free agents the Rangers have, and the potential uncertainty about 2018 and beyond. Are the Rangers going to try to win in 2018? Or are they in a re-trenching mode, looking to give their young position players some time to gel while shoring up the pitching staff.
And thus we get to Cole Hamels. If the Rangers are going to compete in 2017, they need Hamels. If they are going to compete in 2018, they need Hamels. If they believe they are aiming for 2019 and beyond, however, Hamels becomes someone who is available.
And that gets us back to Hamels’ potential early-July return. Texas can be “soft sellers” in July, moving Jonathan Lucroy (who isn’t coming back after 2017) to a playoff team in need of a catcher, while putting Robinson Chirinos in the starting role, and argue that they aren’t giving up on 2017. They can even move an Andrew Cashner or a Tyson Ross, potentially, especially once A.J. Griffin is back, and say they still have a full staff. That lets the Rangers restore some pieces to the farm system, not go into full sell mode, and have Hamels (among others) to try to win in 2018.
But if the Rangers decide that they are going to be in full-fledged “sell” mode, the aging Hamels is someone who they would seem to need to move. He’s not going to fetch the package the Rangers gave up for him two years ago, but he’s still a desirable veteran who can slot into the #2 or #3 spot in a playoff rotation, and whose contract is reasonable. Dealing Hamels leaves the Rangers with Martin Perez (and, I guess, Griffin) as the only starting pitchers under control for 2018, but if you’re not thinking you’re going to contend in 2018 anyway, it doesn’t matter so much.
And so this rehab start tomorrow could be the beginning of Hamels returning to the Rangers for the foreseeable future, or it could be the beginning of the end of Hamels’ time in Texas. We’ll know in six weeks or so which way it will go.