Tag: Texas Rangers

Rangers Clinch AL West: Highlights, Twitter Reaction to Celebration

The Texas Rangers‘ dominance of the American League West continued in 2016, with the franchise clinching its second straight division title Friday with a 3-0 win over the Oakland Athletics.

The Rangers provided video of the final play to clinch the franchise’s seventh division title:

The team also showed footage of the ensuing locker room celebration:

Closer Sam Dyson came ready for the party with a mask that was sure to protect his face:

While there is still a few years left for things to play out, the Rangers are putting themselves on the short list for best AL team of the decade with five playoff appearances, four division titles and two World Series appearances since 2010.

After getting off to a slow start in April and May, the Rangers took over first place in the AL West on May 29 with a 6-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. They never looked back from that moment, expanding their lead to a season-high 10 games on June 22. 

The Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros did put together strong runs in the second half, with both teams still threatening in the wild-card race, but those two teams went a combined 11-27 against the Rangers in 2016. 

It’s a testament to the Rangers’ talent and character that they are making another postseason appearance. Their run differential of plus-12 is only eighth in the AL, but they have made up for it with an incredible and historic record in one-run games. 

In a 3-2 win earlier this week against the Los Angeles Angels that got the Rangers’ magic number down to three, Ian Desmond delivered one of those one-run wins with a walk-off single:

Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said that win, which was the team’s 46th come-from-behind victory in 2016, represented who they are as a unit. 

“That has been our DNA this year. We didn’t give up until the last out, until the last pitch, and it’s contagious,” said Andrus, per the Associated Press (via the New York Times). 

Desmond is emblematic of everything that has gone right for the Rangers in 2016. He turned down a seven-year, $107 million extension from the Washington Nationals prior to the 2014 season, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post

After Desmond struggled through 2015 with a .233/.290/.384 slash line, the Nationals’ only offer to him was a one-year qualifying offer to help him rebuild his value. 

Instead, once again betting on himself, Desmond turned the Nationals down and wound up not signing until February 29, two weeks after spring training started, when the Rangers came calling. He turned in an All-Star performance and is once again in line for a huge deal this offseason. 

This season was not all smooth sailing for the Rangers. Yu Darvish didn’t debut until May 28 while still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery the previous year and went back on the disabled list for one month after making just three starts. 

Starting pitchers Derek Holland and Colby Lewis both spent time on the 60-day disabled list with injuries. Prince Fielder was a mess at the plate early in the year and was forced to retire in August after spinal fusion surgery. 

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels did strike gold at the trade deadline, acquiring catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers and outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran from the New York Yankees to boost their lineup. 

Thanks to strong performances all season from Desmond, Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Matt Bush, Dyson, rookie Nomar Mazara and an aggressive front office not afraid to take big swings, the Rangers are celebrating with champagne right now and await another shot to win the franchise’s first World Series. 

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Ageless Wonder Adrian Beltre Leading Charge for AL-Best Rangers

Time waits for no man. It’s mean like that. It’s even meaner to baseball players, systematically robbing them of their skills as they drift further from their youth.

Except for Adrian Beltre, who’s playing like he’s 37 going on 27.

It feels like Beltre has been lost in the shuffle in the Texas Rangers‘ rise to the top of the American League in 2016, but he’s been creeping back into the spotlight since the All-Star break. The creeping continued in a 12-4 thumping of the Houston Astros on Saturday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Beltre pitched in three hits, including his 439th career home run.

So it goes for Beltre in the second half. He was just OK in the first half, hitting .281 with a .778 OPS and 12 homers. But since the break, he’s hit .311 with a .985 OPS and 14 homers. The veteran third baseman has been among the American League’s top hitters.

Just like that, a season that once seemed ticketed for mediocrity is now looking a lot like the other five seasons Beltre’s given the Rangers since he arrived in 2011. He averaged an .872 OPS and 27 homers in the first five. He now has an .852 OPS and 26 homers in 2016.

It would’ve been understandable if Beltre had never gotten to this point. After all, his modest first half came on the heels of a modest age-36 season last year, in which he OPS’d just .788 with 18 homers.

Plus, we know what the usual aging curves say about the progression of offensive skills over time. Per research offered by Jeff Zimmerman at Beyond the Box Score in 2011, hitters normally peak in their mid-to-late 20s and are well below their peaks by the time they hit their late 30s. By all rights, Beltre should be an Albert Pujols-like shell of his former self.

But he’s not. And it’s not as if we’re watching a guy who’s gotten hot because he’s getting little dinkers and duck snorts to fall in.

Compared to the first half, Beltre’s second half has seen him improve an already strong contact habit and make better contact through a higher launch angle and more exit velocity (per Baseball Savant):

This is number-y nerdspeak for stating the obvious: Beltre is locked in.

He usually is in the second half. He has a career .857 OPS after the break, compared to .783 before the break. More specifically, he’s at his best in August and September. 

“I think he is a player who smells the playoffs,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. “The desire to win and advance is what he plays for. Playoff races and opportunities sharpen great players and heighten their drive. That’s why you see great players do great things at big moments.”

Another thing that’s not out of the ordinary is the excellent glovework Beltre is providing at the hot corner. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating both rate him as one of baseball’s elite defensive third basemen. Since these metrics are now taken into account in the voting, it’s possible his Gold Glove collection will grow from four to five this winter.

It’s unlikely any of this will garner Beltre American League MVP attention. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be lost on what he means to the Rangers. They wouldn’t be much worse than their 82-54 record without him, but wins above replacement confirms he’s been by far their best everyday player:

  1. Adrian Beltre: 4.9
  2. Ian Desmond: 3.1
  3. Rougned Odor: 2.2

From where he is now, Beltre is a lock for another 5-WAR season. That would give him 10 of those since 2004, more than any other player.

To boot, seven of these 10 seasons will have come since Beltre’s age-31 season in 2010. Aging curves and rational logic insist that’s not supposed to happen, and it’s not like third basemen have a history of being exempt from the rule. Once Beltre crosses the 5-WAR threshold this season, he’ll become the only third baseman in history to collect as many as seven such seasons past the age of 31.

This will be just the latest feather in the cap of a career that will merit consideration for not just induction into the Hall of Fame, but also induction on Beltre’s first ballot when his time comes. Cooperstown is picky with third basemen, but WAR rates him has one of the five best to ever play the hot corner.

The one thing missing from Beltre’s career is a World Series ring. He came close to winning one in 2011, hitting .300 with an .889 OPS in a World Series the Rangers (famously) lost in seven games. He’s played in only four postseason games since then, including three in last year’s American League Division Series against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he was badly beaten up.

But now, Beltre’s red-hot bat is just another reason to like the Rangers’ chances of getting it done this season. He’s part of a deep lineup that can do it all. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are a deadly one-two punch in the Rangers’ starting rotation. In their bullpen is a parade of hard-throwers no team will want to face in October.

Beltre will need to defy age for a couple of more months to see the Rangers’ quest through to the end. But hey, since he’s already made it this far…


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Jeremy Jeffress Arrested: Latest Details, Comments on Rangers Pitcher

Texas Rangers relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress was arrested early Friday morning on a charge of driving while intoxicated in Dallas County.

Rebecca Lopez of WFAA first reported the details. Chris Siron of the Dallas Morning News said Jeffress was jailed at around 5:15 a.m. local time.

Further details about the incident weren’t immediately released.

The Rangers acquired Jeffress from the Milwaukee Brewers ahead of the trade deadline earlier this month as part of the blockbuster Jonathan Lucroy deal. He’s endured a mundane start to his career in Texas, posting a 4.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP across nine appearances.

The 28-year-old former first-round selection was suspended twice for marijuana use during his time as a prospect in the Milwaukee organization. After the second ban, which spanned 100 games starting in 2009, he took a job working at a pizza place in Florida, per Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.

“I literally felt like nobody cared,” Jeffress said. “I didn’t even feel like my own family cared. Now, that was all in [my head], but I felt like, ‘I don’t belong here.’ So I left after two weeks. I should have stayed at home, but I left and got a job. I was 21, 22 years old, and I was still a fool.”

In 2013, while playing with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com noted the pitcher was diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy. The condition helped explain why he dealt with high anxiety levels and unpredictable seizures since 2008. He received new medication to help treat the issue.

Jeffress returned to the Brewers in 2014 and enjoyed the best stretch of his career. He posted a sub-3.00 ERA in two straight seasons and had a 2.22 mark in 2016 before getting traded to Texas.

His status after Friday’s arrest remains unclear. The Rangers just started a 10-game homestand which continues Friday night with the second of four games against the Cleveland Indians.

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Rougned Odor: The Fighting Roots of a Venezuelan Cowboy

One punch

Flashpoints arrive frequently and violently as young Texas second baseman Rougned Odor spars his way through the early stages of a career that teammate Elvis Andrus swears will lead him one day straight into the Hall of Fame. Baseball or boxing Hall of Fame, Andrus doesn’t specify. For now, it’s probably safer that way.

Even at that, the sledgehammer blow Odor delivered to the face of Toronto slugger and bat-flipper Jose Bautista one simmering hot May afternoon in Texas was stunning both in its rapid delivery and brute force.

One punch.

Everyone knew there was no love lost between the Rangers and Blue Jays dating back to their emotional playoff series last October, when Bautista emphasized his crushing Game 5 home run with the flamboyant flip. Everyone knew it wasn’t over. Texas doesn’t cotton to being messed with, no matter the time, place or circumstances.

But when Bautista, still smarting from taking a fastball to the ribs from Rangers reliever Matt Bush a batter earlier, answered with a hard, late slide past second base as Odor turned a double play, nobody could have seen what would come next.

Bautista and Odor started to jaw, the benches emptied and instead of the usual milling about and gentle pushing that normally accompanies an empty-calorie bench-clearing incident in baseball…ka-pow! Odor landed a right hook that undoubtedly made Manny Pacquiao proud.

Even now, as the dog days of August slowly lead toward the stretch run, Odor’s punch remains a signature moment of this season.

Many rival players are wary of Odor (pronounced “ROUG-ned oh-DORE”) and many view him as a punk who undoubtedly will get his. They figure it’s only a matter of time.

“He plays with a lot of emotion. He’s a really good player, and I think that’s why he [rubs] people the wrong way,” Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt says.

“He has a little flavor to his game,” Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre added. “I understand from the other side sometimes it doesn’t look too good. But here, we embrace it.”

Odor’s notorious reputation precedes him. Last summer against Houston, at the beginning of an at-bat, Odor and Astros catcher Hank Conger became engaged in a debate heated enough to, yes, clear the benches.

When he was playing for Class-A Spokane in 2011, Odor ignited another bench-clearing brawl that was so wild it led to a Northwest League-record 51 players being fined.

Through all of this, there is a common theme: While many rivals view him as a punk, Odor’s teammates have his back. Many opponents (and their fans) hate him, but he is beloved in his own clubhouse.

“I don’t think in any part of his play he goes too far,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister told B/R.

“I take offense at those who think that playing too hard is offensive; I really do…A lot of people talk about playing hard for 27 outs; our guys go out and do it. That’s because they choose to. Each one of them. They’re accountable to each other.

Banister says because physical play isn’t part of the game the way it is in other team sports—blocking, setting picks, checking someone into the boards—baseball players have to help their teammates in other ways.

“In baseball, the reality is, hitting is individual. Pitching is individual. Fielding is individual, right?

“Once you put the ball in play, the only gift you can give back to your teammates is what? To run your ass off down the line as hard as you can so you have an opportunity to be safe, so the next guy has an opportunity to drive you in.

“For a guy like Rougie Odor, people call it a chip because it’s not what has become the norm. Our game needs guys who will play the game hard….Why fault him for his style of play?”

Some think Odor carries that chip on his shoulder because he is only 5’8″ and has spent his entire life, 22 years, fighting to measure up to everyone else.

Some think it evolved because he was so determined to battle and scrap his way out of his native Venezuela.

Some think it ossified as he’s risen to become the youngest player in whatever professional league the Rangers placed him in, up to and including his major league debut on May 8, 2014. He was 20 years and 94 days old, the youngest man to appear in the majors that season.

What has become as clear as one of those ringside girls at a championship fight is Odor is as volatile as a lit stick of dynamite and as controversial as a split decision.

That day in Texas, Toronto saw red. Bautista saw stars. And the biggest shock from that dusty infield scene was that, as Bautista’s sunglasses flew off, his knees didn’t buckle and he didn’t crash to the canvas, er, dirt, immediately.

In the end, the Rangers’ veterans banded together to pay Odor’s $5,000 fine, Texas sources tell B/R (he also was suspended for seven games after his initial eight-game ban was reduced on appeal).

“It wasn’t cheap,” Andrus said, grinning. “But it wasn’t crazy, either.”

Justice usually has its price.


One family

Baseball always has been the sweet science to Odor. His father, Rougned, played community college baseball in New Orleans and worked in the Cleveland Indians organization for nine years. His grandfather played in Venezuela. Four uncles also played. And his brother is a minor leaguer in Texas’ system, though he is not considered a prospect.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was three years old,” Odor says. “I come from a family that’s played baseball. I was always playing baseball.

“That’s why I love this game.”

He was raised in Maracaibo, Venezuela, the country’s second-largest city behind Caracas. Maracaibo is stocked with fisherman, given its location on the western shore of the strait that connects Lake Maracaibo to the Gulf of Venezuela.

“It’s hot, like Texas,” Odor says.

Although he enjoys fishing, it never got in his blood. Not the way baseball did.

“I saw him in a tournament when he was five years old,” remembered his uncle Rouglas, now in his 29th season with the Indians organization. Coaches were pitching to kids and he was representing the state of Zulia. The opposing team had the bases loaded, and a kid hit a line drive to Rougned, who was playing second base.

“He caught the line drive and, obviously at that age, kids run when the baseball is hit. So Rougned caught the ball, stepped on second base and then threw to first base to complete a triple play. At five years old.

“I said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that in my life.’ We always said, ‘With that kind of confidence, did he get lucky, or did he know what he was doing?’ Obviously, he knew what he was doing because of watching family members.

“That was the first time I said, ‘Whoa, maybe he will have a bright future if he develops and continues to get better.”

Rouglas had a front-row seat during his nephew’s formative years because, among other things, he was the field coordinator in charge of Cleveland’s Venezuelan baseball academy from 1996 to 2001. He remembers his father—Rougned’s grandfather, Douglas—becoming upset with the coaches because he wanted Odor to play shortstop, but the coaches played him at second base.

The reason was simple: Most of the hitters were right-handed, and at that age they were swinging late and producing a steady stream of ground balls toward second base. I want my best infielder to play where most of the ground balls are going, the coach told Douglas. Doesn’t matter, Douglas would shoot back, shortstop is where the best player should be.

“They went back and forth,” Rouglas says, chuckling. “But the coach had an idea what he was doing.”

Odor just wanted to play.

“All my life, baseball,” he says. “I would go to school in the morning, then after that I would go home and then go to the stadium.”

His English is serviceable, though he often uses a translator to make sure he gets his thoughts across properly. Especially since the Bautista incident made him infamous, he’s leaned more on translators, people around the Rangers say. And the club itself has become more protective. When we speak, it is just Odor and me, no translator, and he is accommodating, friendly and unfailingly polite.

But only to a point. He cuts off the interview after a bit, pleading that he has to go hit in the batting cage. He wonders if we can continue our discussion after that. Which is fine, except later he says he is too pressed for time, and so we agree that I will return the next day to finish the interview.

Then the next day arrives and he continues to make excuses over the course of two hours, stalling until the coast is clear and he safely avoids any of the hard questions about his hot temper and brawling reputation.

“The only times his style of play got him into trouble was because of playing the game hard,” Rouglas says. “There were players who didn’t read that the right way. He always played hard and all out, similar to the way people used to play.”

At times, yes, it would anger his opponents. But Rouglas doesn’t remember his nephew fighting much as a youth.

“Not that I know of,” Rouglas says. “As a kid, I’m sure he had a few in school, but nothing major that I know of.”

On the field, though, sparks could fly.

“If you knew him, you knew that was his style of play,” Rouglas says. “It happened when they were playing a new team from out of state, and the team had no clue. When they were playing in the same state and everybody knew who he was, they knew his style, they accepted he wasn’t being dirty; it was just him playing hard.”

It also was him playing the way he was schooled to play.

“Being around professional people, we always were telling him to respect the game and play the game right way no matter what,” Rouglas says. “You hit a ground ball, a pop fly, you run the bases the right way. You’re down by 10, winning by 10, you run the bases. It’s the way the game is. Respect the game.”

Says Mike Daly, Texas’ director of international scouting when it signed Odor and now the club’s senior director of player development: “He knows how to play the game. He knows how to get a base. He knows how to do a ball read. He knows how to line up on a double cut. He knows a lot instinctually, and I think a lot of that was growing up with his dad, his uncle and his grandfather.”

The edge with which he plays appears to come naturally. At least, he says, it doesn’t emanate from where many believe: his short physical stature.

“I think I’m like everybody else,” he says. “I don’t think I’m a little guy.

“When I play the game, I think everybody is the same.”


One chip

When the major league scouts came calling, Odor was a switch-hitting shortstop. Now, he’s a left-handed-hitting second baseman. For good, it seems.

“I really like it,” Odor says of second base. “I like it more than shortstop. It’s more fun. I like turning double plays.”

He had just turned 15 when A.J. Preller, now San Diego‘s general manager but then Texas’ senior director of player personnel, first saw him at a tryout in Venezuela.

“The more you got around him, you noticed that he was a highly competitive kid,” Preller says. “He was a great kid, he loved to play, loved the game, he was a great teammate. Those things made it easier, as we went to sign him, to go to [Rangers general manager] Jon Daniels and tell him this is a guy we really wanted.”

By then, Odor was a high-profile international prospect. He also played in some tournaments in the United States in 2010 as his father and Rouglas worked to get him in front of as many scouts as possible. What Preller and others saw was a young, skilled and versatile kid burning with desire. A kid who played much bigger than his size.

That became evident quickly whenever the Rangers’ scouting contingent strategically placed him in tryout games.

“He always seemed to raise his game, always seemed like he had something to prove,” Daly says.

When the Rangers finally signed him in January 2011, a month before he turned 17, he actually was considered a late sign. Some clubs had concerns regarding whether he could survive at shortstop long term in the majors because of his size, according to several scouts. And because of that, clubs weren’t enamored with the money he was asking for at the time.

“Obviously, you look back on it now, and he’s worth every penny, but at the time, his bat was much better than probably we as an industry gave him credit for,” Daly says. “Certainly, he has enough bat to play second base.

“His running times, he was a below-average runner then, too. To his credit, he worked very, very hard. We saw him just after Christmas and he dropped his 60-yard dash time from 7.3 to 6.7, and you asked him, ‘Dude, how do you do that?’

“He said, ‘I kept running and I kept running and I kept running and I kept running. That’s how I got faster.”

With his future about to be decided by the evaluators, Odor worked with his uncle every day in Winter Haven, Florida, where the Indians trained at the time.

“That was a big clue to his makeup; he took something that was a limitation and turned it into a strength by running every day as hard as he could,” Daly says. “He dropped his 60 time, and now you see that bat and the speed and the edge that he played with, and we were lucky enough to be the highest bidders on him.”

Right before Texas signed him, Preller and Jayce Tingler, then the club’s coordinator for instruction in the Dominican Republic and now Texas’ minor league field coordinator, worked Odor out in the Dominican complex, where the ball doesn’t travel much. They flipped well-used (read: dead) baseballs to him. Odor, using a bat made from composite wood material, blasted several balls over the fence.

“He’s swinging a 35-, 36-ounce bat, which is a big bat for anybody, and me and Jayce look at each other and it was like, ‘OK, this guy’s a little different,” Preller says. “We don’t have anybody like this,'” Preller says.

“You could see his work ethic, and as he kept getting better and better you could see he was a hungry player; he wanted to keep proving people wrong.”

The Rangers signed him for $425,000.

Six months later, barely into his first season at Texas’ short-season Class-A affiliate in Spokane, Washington, he threw the punch that started the worst brawl in Northwest League history.

It was similar to the blow he landed on Bautista, though this time it was Odor who was thrown out at second base when things became testy. After sliding past the bag while attempting to break up a double play, he exchanged words with Vancouver Canadians shortstop Shane Opitz as he started to run back to the dugout. Words led to an exchange of shoves and then, ka-pow! Odor connected with a right hook and wound up with a four-game suspension for instigating the melee.

As in Texas following the Bautista punch, Odor’s teammates rallied around him.

“He’s not afraid to stick up for himself or his teammates,” says now-demoted Rangers first baseman Ryan Rua, who was in a Spokane uniform with Odor that day. “He felt the other player did something wrong, and he took it into his own hands.”

The Rangers immediately sent people from the front office to Spokane to see whether they had a problem on their hands. Conclusion: They didn’t.

“Anything like that that happens in the minor leagues, you want to make sure,” says Preller, who went to Spokane. “Were our guys on the up and up? It’s development. You want to make sure you’re not missing a teaching moment or anything like that.

“When we got through with it, we were sure this isn’t a character issue or a character flaw or anything like that. This is a competitive kid who ultimately, we felt…knew the difference between right and wrong and he’s going to be fine and develop the right way.”

Normalcy returned quickly, and Odor, whose time in the Northwest League was fleeting (58 games that summer before moving on the next season), faded back into the picture with everyone else. Bob Richmond, Northwest League president for 30 years before retiring following the 2012 season, says he recalls no other incidents with Odor.

“You never want to condone fighting,” says Daly, “but at the end of the day, you saw all his teammates out there with him and you could tell it was a very close-knit team, and they respect Rougie and it’s just part of baseball.

“These guys are very competitive and they want to win, and he wants to win, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in the major leagues or in a rookie ball game in Spokane; he’s always played with that edge.

“It’s something he learns from, but that edge is something we never want him to lose. That’s something that separates him, something that makes him such a special player.”

Even during winter ball at home in Venezuela, Rouglas says, things have become heated.

“I had a couple of players tell me, ‘Tell your nephew to take it easy,'” Rouglas says. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘He needs to slow himself down.’ I said, ‘You don’t know him. This is the way he plays. We’re not going to tell him to change it.’

“He’s the type of player you want to have on your ballclub. If you’re on the opposing team, you’re not going to like him because he will find ways to beat you and do things the right way.”

Says Preller: “Great kid. One of my all-time favorites.”


One demotion

Where is the line between punching the accelerator and easing up ever so slightly?

Here is where that line is for Odor: Round Rock, Texas, home of the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate.

Racing through the Texas system, Odor debuted with the Rangers in May 2014, less than three years after instigating the brawl in the short-season Class-A league. Over 114 major league games in ’14, playing as the youngest man in the majors, Odor tied for eighth in the American League in triples (seven) and was selected as the Rangers’ rookie of the year.

But in 2015, after just 29 games, he was hitting .144 with a .252 on-base percentage.

Banister was in his first season as Texas’ manager, and this certainly wasn’t the player he had heard so much about. The only thing Banister’s predecessor, Ron Washington, wanted from Odor was fewer strikeouts. In ’14, Odor fanned 71 times in 386 at-bats.

But this?

“I’d heard a lot of different things,” Banister said. “They talked about the energy he played with, how tough he was as a player. There’s no give-in. He’s hard-working. And as I watched him in spring training [in ‘15], he had gotten away from that.

“I’m not going to say he was passive, but he was not as described. Things didn’t seem to work out for him. He was not aggressive at the plate at times, and things kind of spun out of control for him, [as far as his] numbers. And you could see it start to affect him defensively. You could see it start to crumble as far as his focus and determination.”

So the Rangers unceremoniously shipped their 2015 Opening Day second baseman to Round Rock.

When they sent him down, Banister and the Rangers did so with one order: Go find Rougie Odor. Go summon that edge. Go tap back into that passion.

Instead of pouting or getting angry about his demotion, that is exactly what he did. And six weeks later, in mid-June, Texas called him back.

“We saw a completely different player,” Banister says. “I saw the guy that was described. A tough out in the batter’s box. He would bunt, he would hit balls out of the ballpark, he’d hit balls the other way and he ran hard on everything.

“He was aggressive, and there was no quit in anything he did. That’s the guy we’ve got today. I think he’s going to continue to be that way. He helps bring the energy that the veteran core needs.”

Odor batted .292/.334/.527 with 15 homers and 52 RBI over the Rangers’ final 91 games in 2015. He also helped them storm back from a ninegame deficit to pass Houston and win the AL West.

And he hasn’t stopped since. This season, through Sunday’s games, he was batting .273/.295/.492 and produced 23 homers and 62 RBI.

And, yes, one walloping punch.

“Great teammate, man,” Andrus says. “He’s like my little brother. How much he’s grown up in such a short time, it’s unbelievable. You can see how hungry he is to be a good player. He plays with a lot of passion, and a lot of people take it wrong, but I don’t see it that way.”

Says Beltre: “He’s smart. He’s been awesome for us. He’s the main reason we are where we are right now.”

Back when the scouts were flocking to see him in Venezuela, one of them predicted Odor was either going to be in the big leagues in three or four years or he would be out of baseball completely, depending on how he handled that chip on his shoulder.

Really, the scout said, Odor is reminiscent of one of his Venezuelan countrymen, Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez, who has closed for the Angels, Mets, Brewers and Tigers now for 15 years. Like a young K-Rod, the scout figured, Odor’s edge either was going to rub people the right way or the wrong way. No in-betweens.


One horse

Specifically, a cutting horse. Odor owns four of them, two male and two female, and keeps them at Alex Cabrera’s La Pelotera Ranch in Valencia, the third-largest city in Venezuela, some 107 miles from Caracas.

The horses are used in a popular Venezuelan sport called toros coleados, which, loosely translated, means “bull tailing.” It is a descendant of bull fighting. In this case, cowboys riding the horses work to grab the bull by the tail and flip the animal in competition. The bull is considered flipped when all four legs are sticking up.

Odor loves toros coleados.

“He’s a Venezuelan cowboy now playing for Texas,” Rouglas Odor says of his nephew, chuckling. “That’s what he is. A Venezuelan cowboy.

“He likes horses. He likes cows. He likes bulls. He likes animals. That’s a lot of the reasons why he loves Texas, because you can find cowboys in Texas, and he loves hanging around them.

“He has some friends who will take him around their ranch.”

Cabrera, 44, is a close family friend and played on the same Venezuelan team as another of Odor’s uncles, Eddie Zambrano, years ago. He spent the better part of a decade bouncing around the farm systems of the Cubs, Rays and Diamondbacks. At his baseball peak, Cabrera played in 31 games for the 2000 Diamondbacks. His son Ramon is a backup catcher with the Cincinnati Reds.

“Rougie rides every single day; he enjoys the ranch all day long in the winter,” says Cabrera, who estimates right now he keeps 95 horses at La Pelotera and about 1,000 head of cattle.

During his years playing baseball, Cabrera also came across Bautista several times. Though they were never teammates, their teams played against each other in winter leagues, and when Bautista was playing for the Dominican Republic and Cabrera for Venezuela, they faced each other in the Caribbean World Series.

“Let me tell you something,” Cabrera says over the telephone from his Venezuelan ranch. “I tell Rougned this guy is big in the major leagues. I tell him I’ve known Bautista for a long time, and he’s a big man, and you have to respect him. I say, ‘You’re a rookie.'”

Cabrera pauses and laughs.

“He’s crazy,” he continues. “Rougned said, ‘In the major leagues, we’re the same. I had to do something—he tried to break my ankle.’ I watched—the slide was so hard. Rougned is lucky Bautista did not hit him. If he hit him in the knee, he’d be hurt.”

Still, Cabrera advised caution. He told Rougned he shouldn’t have clocked Bautista. But he understands that in the moment, things happen.

Just as it became the Punch Seen ‘Round the Baseball World, it also became quite the topic for family conversation.

“We all saw what happened,” Rouglas says. “I’d rather talk about Rougned as a person.”

Odor is so adept with his fists that some have wondered whether he boxed as a kid. Even Andrus asked. No, Odor told him. No boxing.

“It was a great punch,” Cabrera says. “But no power. If he had a strong hand, Bautista would be on the ground.”

Still, the Venezuelan cowboy playing for Texas now has a reputation that precedes him. His Rangers teammates get asked about him by opponents during breaks in games, maybe during pitching changes or idle moments on the bases.

“Yeah, guys ask because of the perception from the outside,” Beltre says. “Guys ask, ‘What’s going on with Odor?’ He’s a good kid. He plays hard and he means well. He’s popular because he plays hard.

“He’s a good teammate. He can steal a base, play defense, hit, hit for power. He’s the complete package.”

Says Andrus, “A lot of guys ask me how it is dealing with him every day. I tell them I’m lucky to be playing next to him. He’s a future Hall of Famer, for sure.”

Again, to those who know him, whether on his Texas teams or from his area of Venezuela, Odor poses no problem.

“I don’t know that Odor,” Ramon Cabrera, Cincinnati catcher and son of Alex, says when the Bautista punch is mentioned. “The Odor I know, he’s a nice guy.”

Says Oakland’s Vogt: “He’s kind of in the new wave of baseball player, playing with a lot of passion and a lot of emotion. I like his style.”

In Texas, he lives in the same apartment complex as Rua. Though there are no horses in the residence, there is a pool, and sometimes the two will hang out there or at the mall. They share dinners and sometimes carpool to the ballpark together—especially for day games, so Rua’s wife can sleep in rather than serving as their own personal Uber driver.

This season, Nomar Mazara, 21, has replaced Odor as the youngest player on the Rangers’ roster, and if you look hard enough, there are signs that Odor is getting older. Even at 22, he’s beginning to lose some of his hair, and you can bet that the Rangers give him some heat for that.

Well, not too much.

“He’s 5’8″, 5’9″, but he walks around like he’s 6’4″, 6’5″,” Rua says.

As Odor himself says, when he plays he doesn’t think he’s a little guy. He thinks he’s like everybody else.

“Now that I make it, I want to stay here for a long time,” Odor says.

As long as this Venezuelan cowboy provides this kind of horsepower, energizing the Rangers’ veterans and immobilizing their opponents, he appears on the fast track toward doing so.

As Banister says, “We can talk for hours on the whys—why incidents like those happen—but everyone just sees the incident and wants to talk about it, and yet they don’t understand what led up to any of them.

“So criticize how you may, just understand who the man is.”

Each day, Odor walks by the manager’s office in Texas, and on most of those days he veers in and plops down to chat with Banister.

“I’ve never seen him have a truly bad day. He’s always got a smile on his face,” the manager says. “It’s engaging. It’s captivating. And it’s real.

“That’s a favorite part of Rougie for me, because no matter what you see or what you think you see on the field, this guy just loves to show up to the ballpark. It’s his favorite place to be. And he wears that every day. No matter what happened yesterday.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Jonathan Lucroy Proving to Be Deadline Difference-Maker Rangers Hoped For

Jonathan Lucroy hit his seventh home run for the Texas Rangers on Wednesday in a 6-2 win over the Oakland A’s.

That becomes more impressive when you stack it next to another number: 15.

That’s how many games Lucroy has played in a Texas Rangers uniform. The two-time All-Star catcher, recall, was acquired Aug. 1 in a non-waiver trade deadline deal from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Lucroy‘s Rangers tenure is just getting started. He has an eminently affordable $5.25 million club option for next season that Texas is sure to exercise.

But with scarcely more than two weeks under his belt in the Lone Star State, the 30-year-old backstop is already producing like the elite talent the Rangers hoped he’d be.

The Rangers paid a hefty price for Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress, surrendering outfielder Lewis Brinson and right-hander Luis Ortiz, who became the Brewers’ No. 2 and No. 5 prospects, respectively, per MLB.com.

So far, it’s been a price worth paying. At 72-50, the Rangers hold a comfortable 6.5-game lead in the AL West.

Their plus-seven run differential, however, is easily the worst among serious postseason contenders. By contrast, the Chicago Cubs pace MLB with a plus-206 run differential.

Part of that can be pinned on a pitching staff that hovers in the bottom third in ERA at 4.30. But the offense has been hit by injuries to veterans Prince Fielder, whose career is likely over, and Shin-Soo Choo, who could be lost for the year with a fractured forearm.

Enter Lucroy, who has now clubbed more than half as many homers with Texas as the 13 he hit in 95 games with Milwaukee. Plus, he’s tallied 14 RBI.

He’s also clicked instantly with the Rangers staff, which might be the most important job for a catcher swapping squads at the deadline.

“The Rangers are now 8-4 with him behind the plate,” Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News noted Wednesday. “A bit more advanced: The staff ERA is 2.92 with Lucroy behind the plate; it is 4.43 with any other catcher.”

We’re squarely in small-sample territory, but Lucroy is among the game’s best pitch-framers overall, per StatCorner

He does his homework like a valedictorian hopeful, as Rangers skipper Jeff Banister explained to Grant:

You’d be hard-pressed to think anybody prepares in the same way this guy does. If you want to be great at your craft, there is a price to pay for it. He puts in the work. That type of work gains respect immediately. From what I’d heard and what I’d asked people about him, I knew he was serious about preparation, but I didn’t know that it was this extensive. He’s off the charts.

Lucroy is saying all the right things too, plausibly playing the role of humble contributor as opposed to deadline savior.

“It’s a really fun lineup to be a part of,” he said, per the Dallas Morning NewsAdam Grosbard. “They want to win, they play hard every day, they bring it every day.”

The Rangers have to fend off the Seattle Mariners and in-state rival Houston Astros for the division. The big-bashing Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox lurk in the East. And the Cleveland Indians, who Lucroy spurned before his trade to Texas, could be waiting come late October.

Combine Lucroy‘s steadying presence behind the plate with his eye-opening pop, though, and you have the blueprint for a difference-maker.

Now in his seventh MLB season, Lucroy has tasted the playoffs just once, in 2011, when he and the Brewers advanced to the National League Championship Series.

“I want to go to a World Series,” he said in January, per Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel. “That’s what all players want.”

If he keeps producing like he has been, that wish could be granted.


All statistics current as of Aug. 17 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Shin-Soo Choo Injury: Updates on Rangers OF’s Forearm and Return

Texas Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo suffered a fractured left forearm during Monday’s game against the Oakland Athletics, per TR Sullivan of MLB.com.

Continue for updates.

Latest on Choo’s Recovery Timeline

Tuesday, Aug. 16

Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Choo will be out indefinitely after having a plate inserted in his left arm on Wednesday.

Choo Provides Quality Power Bat When Healthy

This is yet another physical setback for Choo this year. He went to the disabled list with a back injury in July after already spending time on the DL with a strained hamstring and calf ailment in April.

The 34-year-old veteran has struggled some at the plate as a result. He was slashing .250/.369/.421 with seven home runs and 17 RBI this year entering Monday’s game.

He does have a solid track record to fall back on, despite his health concerns this year. He slashed .276/.375/.463 in 2015 for Texas and drilled 22 home runs. It was his fourth season of his career with at least 20 long balls, and he also counts three different campaigns with a batting average of .300 or better.

When healthy, Choo brings pop to the Rangers order, but they will have to look elsewhere until (or if) he returns as they attempt to maintain their positioning in the playoff race in the American League West.

Nomar Mazara is one candidate in his first full season in the majors. He has brought power of his own to the Texas order when given playing time and has 13 home runs in 2016. Mazara will likely have the opportunity to add to those totals with even more playing time given this injury to Choo.

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Prince Fielder Announces He Won’t Be Medically Cleared to Return to MLB

Texas Rangers slugger Prince Fielder‘s career is over after 12 years in Major League Baseball.

On Wednesday, Fielder officially announced he would no longer be able to play, per TR Sullivan of MLB.com. “I can’t play Major League Baseball anymore,” Fielder said during a press conference. “It sucks to have it taken away early,” he added. 

“It took too much brain to walk in a straight line, that was real…I was thinking, how am I going to hit a fastball,” Fielder said

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first reported Tuesday that Fielder would announce his decision to step away from the big leagues. 

Rosenthal added Fielder is not retiring, but doctors will not clear him to play. Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball noted Fielder will still receive the $100-plus million still owed on his contract because it’s a medical issue.

Fielder’s deal pays him $24 million per season through 2020, noted Rosenthal.

Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram added that Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said the team has insurance on the contract. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News noted the Rangers will be committed to Fielder for $9 million per year through 2020.

Fielder will remain on the Rangers roster for the rest of his contract, according to Wilson, who added he’ll be on the 40-man roster in the offseason and the 60-day DL during the regular season. 

After the Rangers defeated the Colorado Rockies 7-5, the club held a postgame meeting to discuss Fielder, according to Wilson, who added the players still aren’t exactly sure what will happen on Wednesday. 

Fielder’s 2016 season ended in July when he underwent neck surgery to repair a C4/C5 disc herniation, per Rangers executive vice president of communications John Blake

Before Fielder was forced to go undergo surgery, he looked like a shell of his former self. The 32-year-old was hitting .212/.292/.334 with eight home runs in 89 games.

This campaign marks the second time in three years that Fielder’s season has ended prematurely due to injuries. He required a cervical fusion of the C5/C6 discs in his neck in May 2014. He used to be one of MLB’s great iron men, playing all 162 games four times in five seasons from 2009 to 2013, and he only missed one game in 2010. 

In a bit of sad irony, Baseball-Reference.com noted that Fielder’s 319 career home runs are the same as his father, Cecil Fielder, when his career ended. Prince Fielder also had a terrific .283/.382/.506 slash line in 1,611 career games. 

Fielder was a huge part of the Milwaukee Brewers‘ renaissance, in which they made the playoffs twice in 2008 and 2011, reaching the National League Championship Series in 2011. He led the National League with 50 home runs in 2007, played in six All-Star Games and had four top-10 MVP finishes. 

Even though Fielder was never able to consistently recapture some of his early-career heights after leaving the Brewers, he did play in a World Series in 2012 and an American League Championship Series in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers before he was traded to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler prior to 2014. 

Fielder looked like a throwback slugger because of his big body, but he was an outstanding hitter for average and had a keen eye at the plate to go along with his power. The abrupt end of his career does not define his overall legacy of greatness that started with his debut as a 21-year-old kid in 2005. 

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Rangers Shake Up AL Pennant Chase with Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy Haul

Major League Baseball’s 2016 trade deadline passed with a veritable bang. Deals were being made left and right, and many included big names.

In no place, however, was the noise louder than in Texas.

The Texas Rangers approached the deadline sitting pretty with a six-game lead over the Houston Astros in the AL West. But rather than be content with a straight shot at a division title, they declared their lust for the franchise’s first World Series title with a pair of deadline deals:

  1. Acquired OF/DH Carlos Beltran from the New York Yankees for minor league RHPs Dillon Tate, Eric Swanson and Nick Green.
  2. Acquired C Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress from the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league OF Lewis Brinson and RHP Luis Ortiz.

Before anyone asks, yes, the Lucroy trade is official. It’s natural to have doubts after he used his no-trade clause to nix a deal to the Cleveland Indians over the weekend, but the man himself announced he’s happy to be on his way to Arlington:

While we’re on the topic of doubts, it’s also fair to feel wary at the amount the Rangers gave up to do these deals. Tate has struggled in 2016, but he was Texas’ No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft. Brinson and Ortiz, meanwhile, were rated by MLB.com as the Rangers’ No. 2 and No. 3 prospects, respectively.

But in times like these, the words of MLB Network’s Tom Verducci (via Dan Kolko of MASN Sports) must be heeded: “The idea is to win the last game of the World Series, not to brag about your farm system.”

There’s no question the Rangers had a shot at winning the World Series even before their flurry of deadline activity. But there’s also no question said shot looks a lot better after the fact, in no small part because their lineup is legitimately formidable.

The Rangers entered Monday ranked third in the American League in runs scored, but only seventh in OPS. They’re not short on good hitters, but Ian Desmond was their only regular with an OPS over .800.

Not anymore.

Beltran joins the Rangers with an .890 OPS and 22 home runs. Lucroy comes with an .841 OPS and 13 home runs. What’s more, they fit into spots where the Rangers needed help the most:

For his part, Lucroy could also influence the Rangers’ run prevention. 

One thing Rangers catchers have struggled with in 2016 is framing strikes. StatCorner.com’s metrics claim Bobby Wilson, Robinson Chirinos, Bryan Holaday and Brett Nicholas have combined for minus-10.9 framing runs above average. Lucroy has resided on the opposite side of the spectrum, accounting for 5.5 framing runs.

Assuming he can carry that over, that’ll be a boost to a Rangers starting rotation that, led by Cy Young contender Cole Hamels and strikeout fiend Yu Darvish, is already fifth in the American League with a 4.15 ERA. Lucroy’s framing would also help the bullpen, of course. 

But not as much as the other guy the Rangers got from the Brewers.

Although Jeffress isn’t a big-name reliever, he’s done nothing but dominate since the Brewers picked him up off the scrapheap in 2014. In 158 outings with the Brewers, he put up a 2.38 ERA in 151.1 innings.

It’s not that Jeffress is unhittable. He’s averaged 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, which isn’t great in this time of high-octane relievers. The trade-off is that Jeffress is hard to hit well. His career ground-ball rate is 57.5 percent. And per Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity of 84.4 miles per hour is the lowest in MLB this season.

This makes Jeffress the second savvy relief pickup Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has made in less than a week. Lucas Harrell may have been the headliner in last week’s trade with the Atlanta Braves, but Dario Alvarez could prove to be the key piece. In light of his ability to miss bats, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs sees Alvarez as a potential relief ace.

There should be better days ahead for a Rangers bullpen that’s struggled to the tune of a 4.78 ERA. With Jeffress and Alvarez joining Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Tony Barnette and Matt Bush, Texas skipper Jeff Banister has quite a few options to help shorten games.

How good are the Rangers now? According to Yahoo Sports writer/smart person Jeff Passan, arguably the best of all AL clubs:

Baseball’s great and all-powerful sphere of numbers isn’t too sure about that. Per Baseball Prospectus, the Rangers began the day with a 5.5 percent chance of winning the World Series. That’s compared to 17.9 percent for the Cleveland Indians, who’ve added the monstrous Andrew Miller to a pitching staff that was already loaded.

However, there’s no disputing the Rangers are indeed “damn good.” They now have a lineup that can hit (and field), and it’s backed by a quality starting rotation and a deeper bullpen. These things should make them a shoo-in to finish off their pursuit of a second straight AL West title. After that, they’ll be a good bet to play deep into October.

That didn’t go so well in 2010 and 2011. But in 2016, maybe the third time will be the charm.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Jonathan Lucroy to Rangers: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Milwaukee Brewers traded catcher Jonathan Lucroy after all.

Milwaukee moved Lucroy to the Texas Rangers along with pitcher Jeremy Jeffress ahead of Monday’s MLB trade deadline, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reported Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz would be heading to the Brewers in exchange for Lucroy and Jeffress.

Lucroy commented on his departure from Milwaukee and move to Texas on his Twitter account after being informed of the trade:

This comes after the Brewers already tried to trade the catcher to the Cleveland Indians before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports initially reported on the prospective deal and said Milwaukee would have gotten four players in return for Lucroy.

While Lucroy would have moved from the Brewers to the AL Central-leading Indians in the deal, the catcher used his no-trade clause to prevent it from happening, per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Lucroy wanted the Indians to get rid of the 2017 club option on his contract. Once Cleveland declined, Lucroy vetoed the deal and remained on the Brewers until Monday’s trade.

Cleveland’s loss was Texas’ eventual gain, as Lucroy is one of the better offensive catchers in the league. He was named to the National League All-Star team for the second time in his career this season (he was also an All-Star in 2014) and currently sports a .299 batting average with 13 home runs and 50 RBI.

This year has been a bounce-back effort from his 2015 season, when he slashed .264/.326/.391 with seven home runs and 43 RBI. Injuries held the catcher back last year, and he appeared in only 105 games as the Brewers struggled on their way to a fourth-place finish.

Fortunately for Lucroy’s new team, his 2015 effort appears to be an anomaly. He has demonstrated solid power numbers and the ability to hit for average from the catcher position on a consistent basis:

Lucroy is also a steadying presence behind the plate. He rated as a plus-10 in defensive runs saved in 2014, per FanGraphs, and brings veteran experience and the capability of handling a pitching staff regularly.

The Lucroy trade was the second in a big day for the AL West-leading Rangers. Prior to sealing the deal for Lucroy, Texas announced it had acquired outfielder Carlos Beltran from the New York Yankees.

The Brewers are looking up at the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central and don’t have any realistic hope of contending for a playoff spot this season. Trading Lucroy accelerates their rebuild as they eye the future with a farm system that Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com ranked as the 11th-best in baseball before the 2016 season.

Milwaukee lost an All-Star catcher Monday, but it can at least take solace in its talented crop of young players becoming even more formidable with this trade.

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Carlos Beltran to Rangers: Latest Trade Details, Comments, Reaction

With their season slipping away, the New York Yankees have traded All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers.   

The Rangers announced that they have acquired Beltran and cash in exchange for Dillon Tate, Erik Swanson and Nick Green. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports first reported the trade.

Beltran has been one of the few bright spots for the Yankees in 2016. The 39-year-old was named to his first All-Star team in three years thanks to leading the team in home runs (22), doubles (21), RBI (64) and slugging percentage (.546). 

The Yankees had to make a decision about where they were headed down the stretch this season, with Beltran being a perfect test case. 

Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com reported after the All-Star break that people within the Yankees front office were divided on what path to take:

According to a baseball source who spoke to ESPN on condition of anonymity, the opposing factions are composed of the baseball operations people, led by general manager Brian Cashman, who believe the team should sell off its assets and plan for the future, and the business side, which is led by owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine, who hold to the belief that the club is still in contention.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports later reported that even though there was “nothing certain,” the Yankees would “take offers for both [Beltran] and [Aroldis] Chapman if they [fell] out.” They already dealt Chapman to the Chicago Cubs last week.

Ultimately, Cashman’s side won out. It’s also the right decision for the franchise at this moment. The Yankees have plenty of contracts that aren’t movable, such as Mark Teixeira’s, CC Sabathia’s, Jacoby Ellsbury’s and Alex Rodriguez‘s. 

Beltran is making a reasonable $15 million salary this season, especially given his offensive production, and was likely to net a good return. 

The Yankees will get more salary relief this offseason when Teixeira becomes a free agent. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the team will have $95 million coming off the books in 2017. That may not include Sabathia’s $25 million salary for his vesting option, but at least the team is going to have more money to work with soon. 

Beltran may be nearing the end of his career, but he doesn’t play like someone who is 39 years old. He’s a tremendous hitter for average and still providing plenty of pop to be a great asset for the Rangers’ playoff push.

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