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Hamels Trade 2.0, or, Making the Rangers Beliebers

Could the Rangers make history repeat by acquiring an ace at the trade deadline with a middling club?

Cleveland Guardians Photo Day
Visualize this handsome man in a Rangers uniform
Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Okay...exciting headline aside, I want to preface this post by saying that this is basically me spitballing. This is not a prediction, per se...rather, it is looking at the state of the Texas Rangers ballclub, where the Rangers are right now, where they are trying to go, and what I think they could do to get there. And it is something that parallels what we saw the Rangers do in 2015.

So let’s flash back for a second to the 2015 season. Texas was coming off an awful season that saw them end the year with the third worst record in baseball. They were not expected to be a playoff contender — rather, they were seen as a team that wouldn’t be terrible, but that might struggle to even finish .500, particularly once Yu Darvish went down for the year. Here’s what I said in my season preview on March 16, 2015:

I’m predicting an 82-80 record, in part because I want to think the Rangers will have a winning record.

Which, I think, is probably what I would predict for the 2022 Rangers, for much the same reason.

The Rangers also had a pretty strong, but not elite, farm system heading into 2015. MLB Pipeline had them ranked #7 in their team prospect rankings. The team had a number of really intriguing talents in their system that were moving up the ranks, and there wasn’t going to be room for all of them on the roster in the coming years.

On July 31, 2015, the Rangers beat the San Francisco Giants to raise their record to 50-52, putting them seven games out of first place in the A.L. West.

Also on July 31, 2015, the Rangers acquired Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman in exchange for Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and (for money purposes) Matt Harrison.

The Rangers had been rumored to be in on Hamels for a long time. Nonetheless, the move was largely met by confusion. Why were the Rangers, coming off a horrible season, in the midst of a season where they were well back in the division and under .500, buyers? Why give up a healthy collection of young talent to get a very good pitcher, but one who wasn’t single-handedly going to change the calculus for the Rangers future?

We all know what happened from there, of course...the Rangers came back, won the division, and won again in 2016. Yeah, they didn’t advance past the ALDS, but a pair of playoff appearances is still a significant payoff. The trade worked out for Texas.

Which brings us to the 2022 Rangers. The team was awful in 2021. Big time moves were made this offseason, but the team is still seen as struggling to reach .500. This is a team trying to get to contention, rather than being a contender.

That said, it is also a team whose window is opening. The organization has made clear that intends to let young players develop, see how guys progress in the minors, and make additional moves, with an eye towards being a legitimate playoff contender, a team that can make some noise, in 2023, through a combination of internal improvement, prospects coming up, and outside additions.

Outside additions usually means free agents, and that’s a route the Rangers went heavy on this past offseason, in what was a uniquely strong free agent class. But one of the reasons you build a strong, deep farm system — and the Rangers’ farm system, while not one of the best in baseball, is pretty strong and deep at this point — is so that you can go get impact players via trade without crippling yourself.

The Rangers’ plan at this point appears to be to use the first part of the year to evaluate some young players at the major league level, and get a better handle on who they feel comfortable with going forward. They are also, presumably, going to be doing the same thing at the minor league level — seeing how players perform, seeing who takes a step forward, seeing who fits in the team’s long term plans, and who is better utilized as a piece in a potential trade.

In looking at the Rangers’ roster and the Rangers’ system, there are two particular areas that jump out as being positions where spending big, in terms of prospects, on an impact player under team control for several years especially makes sense. One, of course, is the rotation, because while there are a lot of arms in the pipeline, there are also a whole lot of question marks, and besides, its not like you can have too many quality top of the rotation caliber starters. The other position is center field, where there’s not a clear medium- or long-term option in the system, though Adolis Garcia or Leody Taveras could change that.

So let’s look at a potential deal to land an impact starting pitcher this summer. We could, alternatively, do center field, and this exercise could be conducted with Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins as the target, but given the free agent market for pitchers this offseason, a legit top of the rotation pitcher would seem to be more of a priority.

What starting pitcher, under team control through at least 2024, is on a team that looks like it may be selling in July, and that is good enough for the Rangers to go big for, even if they are hovering around .500 this summer?

How about Shane Bieber?

Bieber is a legitimate top of the rotation starter. He’s under team control through 2024. There is a strong chance Cleveland will be a seller this summer. They just told reportedly agreed to a long-term extension with Jose Ramirez which includes a no-trade clause and guarantees him $150 million, which may mean they’re more committed to spending (and thus keeping Bieber), but could also mean they’ll be less likely to want to devote significant dollars to other players, making them more likely to be dealt.

And Cleveland has shown an ability to develop pitchers internally, which makes it more likely that they would deal a quality starting pitcher still under team control, particularly if they can get a huge haul for him, since they would have a greater level of confidence in being able to replace that player.

So, what would Texas have to give up for Bieber?

We have to make a couple of assumptions. First, we have to assume Bieber stays healthy the first few months of the year, after missing a chunk of 2021 due to shoulder surgery. We also are going to assume that he is pitching well, at a level consistent with what he has done historically.

That’s going to cost a whole, whole lot. Something along the lines of:

Cole Winn or Owen White

Two of Josh Smith, Ezequiel Duran, Dustin Harris and Justin Foscue

Maximo Acosta or Luisangel Acuna

Two other pitching prospects not named Jack Leiter — guys from the Zak Kent/Chad Bradford/A.J. Alexy/Yerry Rodriguez/Avery Weems/Cole Ragans grouping.

So, probably three top 100 prospects at AA or higher, an A ball shortstop who could break into the top 100, and a couple of good, not great, pitching prospects.

That would be a lot to give up. But it is giving up from areas of depth, for an impact player you would have for the medium-term, who fills a need at a time when you are thinking your window of contention will be open.

It doesn’t have to be Bieber, of course. It doesn’t even have to be a pitcher, as I noted above.

But given the state of the franchise, I think a big, blockbuster deal of this sort, dealing from your high quality minor league depth to get a controllable, star level player, makes a lot of sense at some point in the coming months. And maybe Texas waits until the offseason to make it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the deal came down two and a half months from now.