Texas Rangers outfielder Carlos Tocci has been on the disabled list since April 22, and has been out on a minor league rehab assignment since May 14. With rehab assignments for position players limited to twenty days, that means that tomorrow — Saturday, June 2 — is the final day Tocci can be out on a rehab assignment. After that, the Rangers will have to make a decision on Tocci.
As a Rule 5 selection, the Rangers can keep Tocci only if he is on the major league roster for all of the 2018 season. He can be on the major league disabled list, as he has been for the past month-plus, but he cannot be optioned to the minors. Once Tocci’s rehab assignment ends, the Rangers either have to put Tocci on the 25 man roster, trade him, or put him on waivers. If he goes through waivers unclaimed, he has to be offered back to his original club, the Phillies, for $50,000 (half the Rule 5 draft price), though if he clears waivers the teams can also work out a trade that would allow the Rangers to keep Tocci.
The big issue the Rangers are going to have to decide is whether they want to keep Tocci on the 25 man roster. He has to be active for at least 90 days in 2018 for Rule 5 restrictions to lift next season — otherwise, he has to be on the active roster in 2019 until the 90 days are reached before he can be optioned. He has been active for 24 days this season, so the Rangers could, in theory, activate him, keep him around for another six weeks, find something wrong with him that necessitates another trip to the d.l. and another rehab stint, and then bring him back when rosters expand in September to meet the 90 day requirement.
If activated, Tocci fills the backup center fielder role, and the Rangers don’t have a true backup center fielder right now — Ryan Rua and Drew Robinson had been filling it, and Joey Gallo is nominally the backup center fielder now, but Tocci is considered a quality defensive center fielder who is much better suited for the role in the field, though it appears he’s not a major league hitter right now.
The problem is going to be fitting Tocci onto the roster at this point. The Rangers appear committed to going with an eight man bullpen, which leaves the team with just a three man bench, which makes it harder to keep a position player you don’t want to actually have play. This situation is exacerbated by Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo both needing to play a good deal of DH right now.
The team’s bench currently is Carlos Perez, Hanser Alberto and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (or, instead of Kiner-Falefa, whichever of Choo and Beltre aren’t starting, depending on your point of view). If the Rangers are going to keep Tocci on the active roster, they’d most likely send Alberto down, which would make IKF your primary backup infielder (at least, until Elvis Andrus returns later this month), Tocci your backup outfielder, and Perez the backup catcher. That limits you somewhat, however, since that means that, when Beltre DHs, IKF is in the starting lineup, and you don’t really have a backup infielder on the bench.
Another possibility would be to send down Ronald Guzman and put Joey Gallo back at first base. This would effectively mean having Shin-Soo Choo be a regular outfielder, with Beltre primarily DHing, and would leave you with a bench of Alberto, Tocci and Perez. From a roster construction standpoint, that at least gives you a legitimate utility infielder who can play all the positions, a legitimate backup outfielder who can play center field, and a backup catcher. Guzman has done a respectable job since coming up, slashing .236/.307/.457 with quality defense at first base, and has improved as his time in the majors has gone on. He’s also, however, probably not ready to be a major league regular, and having him go back to AAA for the time being to get regular at bats there for a while wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing for his development.
The other possibility would be going down to a seven man bullpen. The Rangers have an off day on Monday, June 4, and then off days on June 11, June 14, June 21, June 28, July 2, and July 12 before hitting the All Star Break. After finishing a stretch of 20 days in a row of playing, they have more consistent off days for the next six weeks, and don’t play more than six consecutive days until early July, when they play nine days in a row. If there’s a time when you can drop back to a seven man pen, it would be in this period, given the regular off days. The problem with this scenario, however, is that there’s no optionable arm that’s a clear choice to go. Jose Leclerc has been your best starting pitcher, you probably don’t want to send Matt Bush back down right after bringing him up, and Alex Claudio has righted the ship after a bad start to the season. If you go to the seven man bullpen, its probably because there’s someone who you’d put on the disabled list for a brief period...and that’s before getting into the fact that you have Tim Lincecum waiting in the wings, with his rehab stint ending early next week.
There’s no obvious, easy way to create a roster spot for Tocci, which has me thinking the most likely scenario at this point is Tocci being put on waivers on Sunday. It would presumably cost the Rangers a player they like -- Texas could, of course, try to work out a deal with the Phillies to keep Tocci if he clears waivers, though there’s no guarantee the Phillies would be willing to accept what Texas is willing to part — and leave them with no backup centerfielder once again. But with the current roster construction, and the limitations of Beltre and Choo, they may be stuck.