The Texas Rangers could desperately use a left-handed reliever if they are going to push seriously for a playoff spot. Why not turn toward a familiar face currently pitching for the last-place Kansas City Royals?
The Texas Rangers are 7 games above .500 with just a few days left in the month of June. If not for the Minnesota Twins, they would be baseball’s biggest surprise. It is unsurprising, however, the lack of consistent production they have received from their tandem of left-handed relief pitchers.
The Need for a Left-Handed Reliever
This year, the Rangers have used Kyle Bird, Brett Martin, Jeffrey Springs, Drew Smyly, and most recently, Locke St. John, out of the bullpen from the left side. Three of the five (Bird, St. John, and Martin) made their major leagues debut this year. One made his debut on July 31 of last year (Springs) and another had not pitched since 2016 and is no longer with the team (Smyly). Collectively, they have combined to pitch 76 innings while allowing 82 hits and posting an ERA of 6.97. Their BB/9 sits at about 5.3 and is greatly assisted by Brett Martin’s personal BB/9 of 1.4 over 26.2 IP. Strikeouts have also been incredibly hard to come by for the Rangers’ left-handed relievers. In a role that is often used to neutralize left-handed bats in late innings, strikeouts are critical. They have a combined K/9 of about 7.9. The league average for a left-handed RP with at least 10 IP is 9.1.
This offseason the Rangers chose not to spend money on a left-handed reliever. Instead, they opted to see what their youth had to offer. One can hardly blame them as this was meant to be a season of development as well as taking note of what the Rangers currently held in their hand. The Rangers have turned out to be a competitive team, however, and will desperately need to add a left-handed reliever likely to pair alongside Brett Martin who has been by far the best of the group up to this point.
So what deal could Texas accomplish to bring a lefty reliever to Arlington?
Why Diekman Makes Sense
Jake Diekman is no stranger to the Texas Rangers. Currently pitching for the Kansas City Royals, he will almost certainly be traded before the July 31 trade deadline.
Jake Diekman was traded to the Rangers as part of the Cole Hamels trade back in 2015 from Philadelphia. He was a dominant force from the left side for the club in their postseason runs in 2015 and ’16 before missing most of 2017 and then getting traded to the Arizona D’Backs last trade deadline.
On the surface level, some might think Diekman is having a down year given his 0-5 record and 5.06 ERA. The majority of his advanced stats suggest otherwise, though. Diekman is striking out more batters than ever in his career at 13.2 per 9 innings. He is also allowing fewer hits than his career average and his BB/9 and HR/9 numbers are hovering right around his numbers from the past couple of seasons. He is also experiencing a career-best in first-pitch strikes at 61.9%.
Diekman also comes with a mutual option for 2020 and is only making $2.5 million this season. Texas would unlikely exercise his 2020 option, as it would cost them $5 million. The Rangers could conceivably pay his $500,000 buyout, however, and work on a new and restructured deal or simply look elsewhere to fill his shoes after the season ends.
Diekman is not currently among the elite relief pitchers on the trade market and would likely have a similar price tag to what the Rangers asked for from Arizona last season. In that deal, the Rangers got pitchers Wei-Chieh Huang and Joshua Javier. Huang is 25 years old and has moved between AA, AAA and the majors this season while Javier is a starter for the Rangers Short-A affiliate, the Spokane Indians. Neither of these pitchers is among the Rangers’ top 30 prospects according to MLB.com or top 38 according to Fangraphs.
Looking at the Royal Return
In theory, the Royals side of the deal should be simple. The Rangers would not necessarily need any cash considerations though they could hold out and get the Royals to pay for Diekman’s $500,000 buyout. It is unlikely that would change the return much if at all from Texas. One thing that could complicate it, however, would be if the Royals packaged Danny Duffy with Jake Diekman. One of our other Nolan Writin’ contributors addressed Duffy as a trade target in a recent GM Mode article.
In this proposal, the Royals would acquire a pitcher similar to Huang. Sal Mendez has spent a little under half of his minor league career as a starter (41 games started in 100 games pitched). That’s a greater ratio than Huang, but Mendez is 24 and still in A ball. Mendez’s numbers have been good this year. He does an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground and in the park. In addition, he is someone who could be nearing a promotion to AA and a trade to another organization might just make that happen.
As far as a player to be named goes, this could be a number of different players depending on what the Royals are looking for and who their amateur scouts are interested in. It is possible a second player is not needed to complete this deal, but if it were to mimic the Diekman trade from last year that would mean some other additional piece, whether it be a rookie-level minor leaguer, cash, or a small amount of international pool money.
The Royals are going to trade Jake Diekman. This is all but guaranteed. What remains to be decided is how aggressive the Texas Rangers will be in adding pieces around and before the July 31 trade deadline. At 7 games above .500 and in the thick of the Wild Card race, they are certainly doing their scouting homework on potential upgrades to the team. If the Rangers are still in a similar position or better 2-4 weeks from now, why not add a familiar face and personality to the clubhouse?