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

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 1, 2016

Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy smiles as he leaves the field after celebrating with his teammates, after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in Washington. The Brewers won 5-2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

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."

Jim Mone/Associated Press

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:

Two Big Upgrades for the Rangers
SplitHRAVGOBPSLUGOPS
Rangers Cs15.231.285.419.704
Jonathan Lucroy13.299.359.482.841
SplitHRAVGOBPSLUGOPS
Rangers DHs9.205.285.331.616
Carlos Beltran22.304.344.546.890
FanGraphs.com

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.

Jul 20, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress (21) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Milwaukee won 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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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