Could the Texas Rangers be a trade fit for the St. Louis Cardinals?
The Rangers are said to be in selling mode as they embark on a rebuild, mired in a last place in the American League West, 17 games back of the Houston Astros. Speculation in the Dallas area is that the Redbirds could be a fit for future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre and ace pitcher Cole Hamels. But as usual, folks in Texas are salivating over the prospect of a huge return in exchange for a short term rental in the 39-year-old third sacker Beltre and a one-year option at $20 million or a buyout for $6 million on the soon-to-be 35-year-old pitcher Hamels. That option becomes guaranteed at $24 million if Hamels pitches 200 innings this year. He's pushing 100 already, so, he has a good shot if he stays off the disabled list the rest of the way in 2018.
If the conversation starts with names like Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Jordan Hicks — and you know it will — the Cardinals need to hang up the phone immediately and then leave it off the hook. If the Rangers are looking for a salary dump and are willing to take less talent, it might be worth consideration. I just don't see Texas selling low enough to make things possible. I believe one of the reasons the Cardinals have had so much trouble making trades to improve the team in recent years is because teams were unwilling to look past the crown jewels of the St. Louis farm system — Flaherty and Alex Reyes — to accept solid but less flashy players in return. When the Cardinals were willing to part with some valuable pieces to make the stretch in effort to acquire Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins eagerly accepted only to have the player exercise his no-trade rights.
Beltre has been a great player. But he's in overtime as far as his career is concerned — and he's likely to re-sign with the Rangers next season no matter where he plays, if the Dallas press is to be believed. When he's been able to get on the field, Beltre has been productive with a .309 batting average and .368 on-base percentage. But he's had a problem with his hamstrings with alarming frequency, playing in only 94 games last season, during which he collecting his 3,000th hit. He's also suffered a concerning loss of power, managing only 4 homers this season in his hitter-friendly home ballpark. It would be awesome to add the .300 hitter with 32 home runs Beltre was in 2016 to be a new Lance Berkman in the middle of the St. Louis lineup. But I don't know if Beltre is that sort of player anymore.
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Hamels was signed to a $144-million contract to be the Rangers ace in 2013. He's averaging a strikeout an inning while surrendering less than one hit per frame. But he's given up 20 home runs to lead Major League Baseball in only 97 innings of work. It would be great to install Hamels in one of the first two spots of the St. Louis rotation to add a steadying veteran presence to the young St. Louis rotation full of hurlers who rack up pitches early and fail to make it deep into games far too frequently. But not at the cost of the future of the rotation.
If the Cardinals were to concede some of their better prospects for Texas, they need to get more than two aging players. I've always been interested in shortstop Elvis Andrus who has an excellent glove, good speed and a potent bat. Signed through 2022 to a contract that would guarantee him $58 million over that span, the 29-year-old shortstop has an opt out at the end of this season and next. Might he try for more money? Sure. But players have paid the price for passing on qualifying offers in recent seasons only to find no one wanted to break the bank for their services. I wonder if the Birds picked up Andrus' 2023 option if he'd agree to waive the opt outs.He's had some injury problems, amassing only 20 games played so far this season. But he's recently returned to the active roster and seems ready to play. Would St. Louis be better off with the younger, more reliable and potentially more controllable Andrus? But what about Paul DeJong, who is nearing a return from the disabled list? Andrus is more capable in the field. So move DeJong to second or third base and improve the defense at the hot corner or the offense at second.
Another place where the Rangers might be able to help the Redbirds is in the bullpen where Texas has Jose DeClerc with a 2.67 ERA. He's allowed 14 hits in 27 innings of work and 36 strikeouts against 15 walks. Jake Diekman has a 2.96 ERA with 22 hits allowed in 27 2/3 innings of work. He's struck out 35 and walked 16.
Still, I just don't see a big deal coming together unless the Rangers would be willing to take Luke Weaver as the centerpiece of a deal. Which I doubt is likely. But even that sort of a swap might be difficult with Michael Wacha's fate unknown as he begins what seems likely to be a lengthy stay on the disabled list.