The 2021 MLB trade deadline is Friday, July 30, 2021, at 3 p.m. Central time. With off days on Monday and Thursday of this week, the Texas Rangers have just two games remaining before the deadline, and when Texas faces off against the Seattle Mariners Friday evening, there’s a good possibility that several players on the active roster will have departed, and need to be replaced.
The pitching staff, in particular, could see significant turnover. Ian Kennedy has done quality work as the Rangers’ closer, and as a veteran who is a free agent after the 2021 season, he almost certainly will be moved to a contender in the next few days. In addition, as I mentioned last night, Spencer Patton was great while in AAA Round Rock at the start of the year, and has done stellar work since being promoted to the big leagues. Patton, having signed as a free agent after having gone to Japan, most likely is eligible for free agency after the season, and given that, I suspect the Rangers will look to move him and get him to a contender as well. I don’t know that Patton is going to bring a big return, but relievers are always in demand, and I would expect that Patton is dealt by the deadline.
As far as the rotation guys, Kyle Gibson is under contract through 2022 for a relatively small amount. Gibson’s solid 2021 season, together with a general lack of real good starting pitching options on the trade market, has led to talk that Gibson has a pretty decent chance of being dealt. And while Mike Foltynewicz and Jordan Lyles are currently manning rotation spots, Foltynewicz is clinging to his spot by a thread, and Lyles is a free agent after the season. If a contender has any interest in either of them — which is questionable — I expect they’ll be on the move, and Foltynewicz, in particularly, could be DFA’d at some point after the deadline passes.
The upshot is that the Rangers are going to most likely have one or more open spots on the active roster for pitchers, and an equal number of open 40 man roster spots available. There are currently only four healthy pitchers on the 40 man roster who are in the minors — A.J. Alexy, Wes Benjamin, Brock Burke, and Yerry Rodriguez — and I doubt any of them will be up at any point this year, other than possibly Benjamin, although I expect the priority with him is going to be getting him regular innings at Round Rock rather than sporadic innings in the majors.
So if there’s a pitcher on the 40 man roster right now who should be in the majors, he is already in the majors. That being said, there are certain pitchers in the minors that I think the Rangers will want to get a closer look at over the final couple of months — guys who are eligible for free agency at season’s end if they aren’t on the 40 man roster, and who the Rangers therefore might want to get some innings with the big club against major league competition to better evaluate them and determine if they are worth a 40 man roster spot this winter, or if they are worth making a priority minor league free agent signing this winter.
The first name that comes to mind is Jharel Cotton. The 29 year old righthander was a well regarded prospect in the Oakland A’s system after coming over from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade, and made 29 starts in the majors for Oakland in 2016-17 before Tommy John surgery de-railed him. After missing all of 2018, he had a 7.16 ERA in 18 appearances covering 27 innings between high-A and AAA in 2019 (also missing time due to hamstring surgery). Cotton was traded to the Chicago Cubs after 2019, was DFA’d in August, 2020, then released in September.
Signed by the Rangers to a minor league deal, Cotton had a solid training camp, and was discussed as a possible option for the Opening Day roster. He was someone I was following at the start of the minor league season this year, but after several bad outings I stopped paying attention and assumed there was nothing there.
Through June 13, 2021, Cotton had a 5.85 ERA in 20 innings of work, though that was with a .259/.348/.395 slash line, as well as 27 Ks against 10 walks, so it wasn’t as bad as it appeared on the surface. Since then, however, Cotton has thrown 21 innings, struck out 28 of 75 batters faced, walked six, and allowed 0 runs and 8 hits. His ERA on the year is 2.85, with a 12.1 K/9 rate and a 3.5 BB/9 rate. That is very good.
If Cotton comes up at some point this year he would have three years of team control remaining, and he is also out of options. According to David Laurila’s interview with Cotton back in early June, Cotton is throwing 92-96 mph. Laurila noted that “his command has lagged a little behind,” which is not unexpected, though it sounds like it may have taken a step forward since then. He’s someone who, if he keeps this up, I’d be surprised not to see in Arlington at some point this season.
Another guy who was getting run this spring as a possible Opening Day roster member is righthanded pitcher Luis Ortiz. The 25 year old former first round pick of the Texas Rangers back in 2014 was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016 in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, then was shipped to Baltimore in 2018. Ortiz made two starts for Baltimore in 2018, one in 2019, wasn’t good, and was released after 2020.
Ortiz came to camp with the Rangers and generated buzz early on, though an Achilles issue slowed him. He has a 3.23 ERA in 30.2 IP over 20 games, with 34 Ks against 13 walks and 4 home runs allowed. YMBP wrote about Ortiz’s repertoire earlier this year. Given his youth and control situation — even if called up today he likely wouldn’t be arbitration eligible until after 2024 — I think he’s someone strongly in the mix for a big league tryout at some point in the coming weeks.
Joe Gatto you may remember as the guy the Rangers signed to a big league deal this winter, prompting lots of Joey Gallo/Joe Gatto jokes. Then he had major control issues — like, extreme extreme control issues — this spring, was waived, went unclaimed, and was outrighted. I then forgot about him.
Well, whatever was ailing Joe Gatto appears to have been fixed. The 26 year old righthander put up a 0.98 ERA in 18.1 IP for Frisco, striking out 25 of the 68 batters he faced while walking just four. He then moved up to Round Rock and has a 4.00 ERA in AAA, striking out 16 in 18 IP and walking seven. He has three options remaining, which makes him more attractive than most of the guys on this list, who can’t be sent down without clearing waivers, and he’s big and throws hard, which everyone likes. I’m not sure if he gets a promotion, but if the Rangers liked him enough to give him a major league deal last winter, I wouldn’t be surprised if they added him to the 40 man to keep him from being a free agent this winter.
Jimmy Herget put up a 3.20 ERA in 19.2 IP out of the bullpen for the Rangers in 2020 (despite a 17:14 K:BB ratio), was talked up by the beat guys as someone the Rangers liked as a pen arm, was non-tendered in December, then was re-signed to a minor league deal, then was waived in spring training and outrighted. The 27 year old has a 2.14 ERA in 33.2 IP over 25 games for Round Rock, with 43 Ks against just 11 walks. I have no idea what’s going on with him, but he’s on the “could be in the majors shortly” list.
Drew Anderson. He was one of the random NRIs the Rangers signed this winter that I shrugged off as rotation depth in AAA and have largely ignored. He has 10 games and 22 innings in his major league career, from 2017-20, and has allowed 25 runs in the big leagues.
Anderson has appeared in 14 games for Round Rock in 2021 — 12 starts and two relief appearances — and in 68.2 IP he has a 3.15 ERA. He’s struck out 85 batters against 28 walks. His BABIP appears artificially low, which impacts the ERA, but still, a low-3 ERA in the PCL as a starter isn’t nothing. I wouldn’t expect him to come up, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he did.
Jacob Lemoine was the Rangers’ fourth round draft pick in their ill-fated 2015 draft class. A righthander out of the University of Houston who they picked out of high school in 2012 in the 21st round as well, Lemoine struggled with injuries that cost him most of his 2015 season with the Cougars and all of 2016. Since then he has been a solid if unspectacular reliever, methodically making his way up the organizational ladder.
Lemoine has a 3.55 ERA in 33 innings over 25 games for Round Rock this year, though his RA/9 is 4.91. He’s struck out just 26 batters while walking 20. He gets a lot of ground balls, which is useful. The Rangers have reportedly always loved his makeup, and given he can be a minor league free agent if he isn’t added to the 40 man roster its possible he’s someone the team would audition out of the pen in August or September, but he seems like a longshot.