When I left for Round Rock on May 19th for vacation, the Rangers were 16-27 and 9 games out of first place.
Today, they're 19-34, 13.5 games out of first place and half a game better than the worst team in baseball, the Kansas City Royals. And on Monday, they had the title all to themselves, as they sat at 18-33 after a 5-3 loss to Oakland.
In fact, as Jamey Newberg noted in his report this morning, it was the first time the Rangers held the worst record in baseball since June 1st, 1990, when they began the season 19-29.
I don't think there's any question that this team's playoff dreams are effectively over. I'd be ectastic if Texas can finish at .500. I'm not going to openly advocate rebuilding this entire ballclub like my writing partner Chip Orton, but there are certainly players on this team which can bring a useful return for 2008 and beyond. I'll probably be focusing a bit more on trade rumors surrounding the Rangers in the weeks to come.
According to Evan Grant, Nelson Cruz's big league job is in serious jeopardy, as Jerry Hairston Jr. will likely come back from the disabled list Friday or Saturday. Cruz put together a nine game hitting streak after his dramatic walkoff home run on May 13th against the Angels, but is mired in a 1 for 19 slump right now. Manager Ron Washington had this to say about Nelson:
"I don't see him making the adjustments he should be making," said manager Ron Washington, who added that the club has made no decisions on what the roster move will be. "He's not hitting off-speed stuff. He's not been able to use the ability that we see. We'll get a gauge on where Jerry is and then we'll talk about any decisions."
Matt Kata is named by Grant as the other option to be sent down to the minors. Kata put together an excellent April after his monster spring, but has a horrific .158/.238/.211 line in 38 at-bats in May. His versatility may keep him on the roster, though.
In late February, I wrote a piece where I predicted a .270/.330/.470 line and 20-25 HR for Cruz this season, and I said I'd be surprised if he fell much below that mark. Yeah, I'm surprised. And I'm also concerned that I was completely wrong about Cruz, and maybe he truly is a AAAA type player. Perhaps Oklahoma City is the right place for Cruz right now, because he's got to get things ironed out, and fast - he turns 27 on July 1st.
According to Jayson Stark, the Devil Rays are floating the name of Elijah Dukes to rival executives, and are seeking a decent bullpen arm in return. Adam J. Morris of Lone Star Ball thinks a deal could get done in exchange for Scott Feldman, or Joaquin Benoit.
The 22-year-old Dukes comes with a ton of baggage - since 1998, he has been arrested six times on charges varying from possession of marijuana to assault to resisting arrest. A week ago, his wife filed a restraining order against him after Dukes threatened to kill her, and on Wednesday she filed for divorce. In early August 2006, Dukes threatened to quit baseball.
At the same time, Dukes is loaded with talent - he has a .223/.347/.473 OPS as a rookie with Tampa Bay, along with 10 home runs., and some scouts feel he could evolve into one of the game's best players. In many ways, Dukes reminds me of Oakland's Milton Bradley, another highly talented outfielder with off-field problems. If you're the Rangers, with a surplus of relief arms but a shortage of young, talented outfielders, do you make a trade if all it takes is Feldman or Benoit?
Despite the risks involved, I'd probably do it. I'm not real proud about that stance, but if it would help the Rangers win ballgames, I'm on board. Of course, if trade discussions start entering C.J. Wilson and Frankie Francisco territory, that's where I hang up the phone.
And finally, the feel-good story of Alex Rodriguez's great start to the season is coming unglued. After hitting .355/.415/.882 with 14 HR and 34 RBI in April, Rodriguez has a much less stellar .782 OPS in May. Earlier this week, the New York Post came out with a story that Alex was touring various strip clubs with an unknown woman, and his wife allegedly packed her suitcases and left their Park Avenue apartment.
And today, Alex is coming under fire for verbally interfering with a Toronto infielder while he tried to make a catch during last night's game, with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons calling it a "bush league" move. It's hard to pass judgment without knowing the full story, but then again, it wouldn't be the first time Rodriguez pulled a cheap move - remember the "Chop-Rod" incident in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, when Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's hand?
Needless to say, the odds of Rodriguez opting out of his contract at the end of this season appear to be growing, which would free up about $8 million per year in payroll from 2008-2010 for the Rangers. That's money that could be spent on Torii Hunter, or another member of an incredibly strong 2008 free agent class.
Or perhaps, a contract extension for Mark Teixeira?
Thursday, May 31st Game Preview
Texas Rangers (19-34) at Seattle Mariners (26-26)
Vicente Padilla (2-7, 5.77 ERA) vs. Cha Seung Baek (2-2, 4.60 ERA)
9:05 PM CST in Seattle, Washington (Safeco Field)
TV: KDFI/My27 | Radio: KRLD 1080 AM
P.S. - Sorry for the long absence, and I should be back for regular Rangers coverage.