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Rangers Should Keep Soria, Deal Rios with Season Lost

TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 19: Alex Rios #51 of the Texas Rangers exits the game after suffering a leg injury in the first inning as he is led away by manager Ron Washington #38 and trainer Kevin Harmon during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 19, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Will KornCorrespondent IIJuly 23, 2014

Raise your hand if you ever thought at any point this season—let alone 100 games into the season—that the Houston Astros would be two games ahead of the Texas Rangers.

I can imagine maybe one or two diehard Astros optimists way back in the corner of the room have their hands raised.

That's what it has come to with the Rangers this year, folks. This season, derailed by endless injuries, has turned into an utter disaster. It's one freak year the Rangers will forget about as soon as the last regular-season game on September 28 goes final.

This team should be right back on the short list of true American League contenders next year, reasonably assuming that everyone will be back. Even though Texas is done this season, it can still affect its chances to contend in 2015 based on what it does or doesn't do before the July 31 trade deadline.

And that's the point here.

As they look eagerly toward a mulligan in 2015, the Rangers should elect to keep closer Joakim Soria and deal right fielder Alex Rios. They have already dealt Jason Frasor and received a minimal return, which was likely to be expected.

That thinking might be backward in the minds of many Rangers fans. But allow me to explain.

In today's game it is much more difficult to find a proven closer than it is to find a guy who can hit .280 to .300 with a .330 OBP. You remember what happened to the Detroit Tigers once they signed former Rangers closer Joe Nathan. They thought they were getting an A-list closer, but instead, he's blown five saves this season and has turned into a liability, with a bloated ERA and WHIP.

TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 18: Joakim Soria #28 of the Texas Rangers delivers a pitch in the ninth inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 18, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Imag
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Meanwhile, one can argue that Soria has been one of the league's top three closers all year, even as the rest of his team collapses around him. Since it's very likely the Rangers will compete for the World Series next season when at full strength, why not keep a guy who's that effective around? He's only 30 and has a team option for next year for just $7 million.

That's money well worth spending for a guy who has proved he can close games. Championship clubs need an ice-cold closer, and Soria is that guy for Texas.

Could the Rangers get a nice return for him, especially from a contending team? Absolutely. But Soria's value to any other club is the same as it is for the Rangers' season in 2015. Keep him—bottom line.

Now in regard to Alex Rios, he's tradable because he will not be worth the $13.5 million team option he has for next season. He's been great in the 143 games he's played with Texas so far, but he'll be 34 before the start of next season.

True, he's hitting .302 right now. But he's only finished two other seasons over .300 in his whole career. His .330 OBP this year almost neutralizes that high batting average, and he isn't nearly the base-stealing threat he was in 2013. He also isn't hitting for the power he normally does, with just four long balls so far.

However, Rios should be attractive to several teams for his contact ability and above-average defense. So his value now is as high as it ever will be.

I might take some heat for this, but hear me out.

Because of his expensive option, Rios probably won't net a huge return for Texas. But the larger objective with Rios should be freeing up a sizable chunk of payroll rather than worrying about taking back a significant prospect. The Rangers will get who they get. This club is concerned with contending next season.

That is why you may not see it as sensible that I'm saying Michael Choice needs to start playing full time in right field in 2015. He'll go through growing pains, but he does have eight homers and 28 RBI in 198 at-bats this season. If he gets 500 at-bats next year, I expect he could be closer to a 20 and 65 player. If he can hit just .250 next year with those power numbers, he won't be even close to a weak link.

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 29:  Michael Choice #15 of the Texas Rangers bats against the Minnesota Twins at Globe Life Park in Arlington on June 29, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

And then compare his salary to that of Rios. Choice has nothing left to prove in the minors. He hit over .300 in Triple-A. It's time to give him a larger role with this team, especially after general manager Jon Daniels fleeced Oakland A's GM Billy Beane in that trade for him last offseason.

Here's the other thing to consider when thinking about dealing Rios: The Rangers need to sign a quality starting pitcher in free agency to replace Matt Harrison. Harrison's return to a major league game is in serious question, and he was a huge member of a former World Series rotation.

Jon Lester, anyone? He'll be a free agent after this season and would be an excellent addition to the Rangers staff. He's been durable and has a proven track record in the World Series as well as against the always-vaunted AL East.

Jul 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; American League pitcher Jon Lester (31) of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch in the second inning during the 2014 MLB All Star Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Handing Rios a $13.5 million team option isn't conducive to signing an effective starting pitcher in the offseason. I would estimate that it might take just a little more per year than that Rios team option to sign Lester.

In that case Rios, in my mind, becomes expendable, especially for the money.

Also consider the emergence of young outfielder Jake Smolinski in his time with the Rangers. He's only had 36 at-bats with Texas, but he's hitting .389 and boasts a .450 OBP with five RBI. If the Rangers front office believes he could play a role with the team in 2015, Rios' value wanes even more.

This lineup is devastated now. But with everyone back at full health and with a confident Shin-Soo Choo at leadoff re-energized by a new season and a fresh start, the offense will be fine. The rotation needs a capable replacement, however, and that is what the focus of this offseason should be.

 

*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and Texas.Rangers.MLB.com.

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