Only True Rangers Fans Root For Futility In 2014

With a record of 51-80, Texas's 2014 season is mercifully winding towards its conclusion. 

As I write this, here are the bottom-five teams in baseball competing for the #1 pick in 2015's June draft:

1. Texas -- 51-80

2. Colorado -- 53-78 (2 GB)

3. Arizona -- 55-77 (3.5 GB)

4. Houston -- 56-77 (4 GB)

5. Boston -- 58-74 (6.5 GB)

With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez -- the Rockies' two-best position players -- out for the remainder of the season, Colorado stand to be Texas's greatest competition for that top pick. With roughly 30 games left on the schedule, anything is still possible; all these teams are still capable of winning 5 of 6 or 7 out of 10; but if you are a fan of the Texas Rangers, it should be okay with you if your team fails down the stretch. 

I've already outlined the benefits of the Rangers having the worst record in baseball, but if you are -- like I am -- a lazy human being and don't feel like clicking on the link, I'll briefly remind you anyway.

For starters, owning the top pick in next year's draft doesn't only mean Texas can draft some random 18 year-old who they think will be a TORP in 5 years; it means they will have roughly a million more dollars to spend -- compared to owning the #2 pick -- on all draftees in the first ten rounds, giving them the freedom to take chances on more talented players that other teams pass on for signability purposes. It also gives them the first pick in the offseason's Rule-5 draft, the top spot in the waiver order for the entirety of the winter and through April of '15, and a bigger international draft budget. 

Since the Rangers went well over their international draft pool during 2013 -- thus penalizing them in terms of capital to spend this year -- if we didn't know any better we might think they tanked this year by design. 

Further, by owning a top-10 pick the Rangers will be able to sign any top free agent this winter without losing out on their first round pick. By signing Shin-Soo Choo last winter, they surrendered their first rounder to the Reds, though they later recouped one (and used it on RHP Luis Ortiz) when the Orioles signed Nelson Cruz. It was tit-for-tat. This winter, however, with starting pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields on the market -- three arms Texas figure to be heavily interested in -- it's important that they won't lose anything but a 2nd-round pick for their services. 

If you want the Rangers to lose baseball games down the stretch, it doesn't make you a bad fan. In fact, the opposite is true. If you care about the future of the organization, you should be hoping for losses; you should be hoping for the number one pick, and everything that comes with it. The collective bargaining agreement rewards the worst team in baseball far more than it should, but since Texas are in this position -- where earning a playoff berth will be a mathematical impossibility as early as this weekend -- only the purest of Ranger fans will root for futility between now and the end of the regular season. There is simply no other way of looking at it. 

I became a fan of the Rangers when I was six years old, in 1996. I wasn't invested, like, invested invested, until the 2000's, because there is only so much a little boy can process at such a young age. But if you've been a die-hard fan of the franchise since the 80's, or 90's, or early-aught's, you know what it's like to be a hopeless loser year-in, year-out. You know what it's like to have your favorite team be in last place every year. We're lucky, because since 2010 the Rangers have essentially been the standard-bearers of the American League; all they did was win and win and win. It was nothing like anything you were accustomed to. 

Then this year happened. Yesterday Brandon wrote an awesome article on ESPN's main SweetSpot page highlighting the main reason why the Rangers are in the position they are currently in. Injuries. If you think otherwise that's fine; there's infinite comment space below for you to voice your opinion on the matter. 

If not re-signing Nelson Cruz is part of it, okay. If the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade was a mistake, that's okay, too. 

But nothing could have saved the Rangers in 2014. Even with Kinsler and Cruz, you'd still be looking at a team competing for the number one pick in 2015; they might not be the worst team in MLB, but they'd be right there. 

The funniest part of 2014 is that it happens to coincide with Nolan Ryan's departure. It came with perfect timing. He still has roots within the media and fan base -- and they grow deep -- but I guarantee the same fans who have abandoned ship this year, the ones calling for Jon Daniels's head who think the Rangers won't be competitive until 2017 or 2018, are the same ones who will be voicing their opinions the loudest when this team is at the top of the American League West next year. Reactionary fans care not whether their favorite team is good or bad; it's their presence that gives a black eye to the rest of us. 

Personally, I'm not concerned. My love for the Rangers isn't conditional; it isn't contingent on them winning or losing. I can see logically that it was untimely circumstances -- not blundered choices -- that drove this club into the dweller this season. I care about the future of my favorite baseball team, which is why owning the worst record in MLB isn't as much an embarrassment as it is an opportunity. 

Texas will have a top-5 farm system heading into next year. With a #1 pick, a bigger draft budget, a larger international draft budget, the first choice in the Rule-5 draft and the top spot in the waiver order... a smart front office can work with that. The future of the franchise is in good hands, and being at the bottom in baseball for one season can only help aid them in re-reaching the top spot, a place they've been quite familiar with over the last half-decade. 

If you care about the future, you should care about being the worst team in baseball this year.

Own it. 

Why Miles Mikolas is relevant

I've been sitting on the idea of writing about Miles Mikolas for a while now. No, he is not the second coming of Yu Darvish. It's also likely, if not completely probable, that he will never be part of a meaningful, playoff-caliber starting rotation. 

But none of that really matters right now. 

It's easy to see one start -- like tonight's eight shutout inning performance against the Mariners -- and start fantasizing about a serviceable #4 starting pitcher. Small sample size success lends itself to suspending disbelief. However, Miles Mikolas is not a one-trick pony; tonight was not the first time he's thrown a gem, and it's not even the second or third time.

The problem with Mikolas is his ability to tease the senses. In a two-start stretch at the beginning of August, he threw 7.0 innings and 5.0 innings, respectively, allowing 2 runs and 1 run (also respectively). He followed that by getting shelled to the tune of 10 runs in 6 frames against the Rays.

On July 21st against the Yankees, he surrendered 2 runs on 4 hits in 7.1 innings on the bump, probably the best start of his career until tonight against Seattle. Following that, he gave up 8 runs on 7 hits in 4.2 innings against the Athletics. 

He was also crushed in his second start of 2014 -- against Houston -- as he gave up 9 runs in 3.1 innings. 

After shuffling through so many clunkers, it's no surprise why Mikolas, even after a strong performance tonight, has an ERA of 6.44. He's gotten clobbered in 2014 as many times as he's been brilliant, and he's still spent only 57.1 innings on the bump this year. 

To fully appreciate Miles Mikolas, we first have to understand why he's here in the first place, and what the Rangers had to give up to bring him here. 

Heading into the 2014 season, Texas traded 1B/COF Chris McGuinnes -- a player out of options who had no real place in Arlington to begin with -- to the Pirates, who acquired Mikolas from the Padres earlier in the winter. In an ideal scenario, Miles would have been stored at Triple-A for the duration of the year, and the Rangers wouldn't have had to delve into their 10th and 11th-best starting pitcher options. 

But that wasn't the case. 

It goes deeper than that, though, because up until 2014 Mikolas was a relief pitcher. Until making his debut with the Rangers he had never started a major league game, and in fact hadn't been used as a starter since 2009 -- his first year as a professional with the Padres Low-A affiliate. Obviously Texas's front office saw something in him that gave them some semblance of hope that he could handle a starter's workload, even if his helter-skelter results on the mound haven't made believers of anyone just yet. 

When Mikolas has been good, he's been really good, and when he's been bad it's been tough to watch. That, though, is basically the scouting report of any young pitcher. We can't forget that these are the first innings he's thrown as a starter since he was a 20 year-old, and they're not coming in the Midwest League; this is the bigs. It's real. 

He doesn't project as anything more than a depth starter down the road, especially once 2015 gets underway and Yu Darvish and Derek Holland and a cast of other more highly-regarded pitchers are back to health. He isn't a strikeout pitcher (14.4% K rate), but he also doesn't allow many hitters on base via the walk (2.83 BB/9). He's essentially your garden variety back-of-the-rotation starter at best. For the Rangers, who plan to compete next year, he shouldn't be more than the 7th or 8th option, hopefully spending the majority of the season soaking up innings in Round Rock. 

That doesn't limit his significance to this year's club, though. He's one of Texas's soldiers during the bleakest of years, providing a start every fifth day and, on nights like this, shining through. For what the Rangers got him for, and how he has looked -- even if only on mere occasion -- Miles Mikolas has been a steal for the organization, and that shouldn't be overlooked. 

Shin-Soo Choo is out for the remainder of 2014

According to numerous reports from the local beats, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is out for the rest of the season to remove bone spurs in his left elbow. The news has seemingly been inevitable for the last couple of months, because something has clearly been wrong with his performance since June, though most feared it was due to an ankle issue. It brings some degree of peace that there was an actual injury issue and not, well, that Shin-Soo straight-up forgot how to hit a baseball. 

After an outstanding first couple months, Choo has batted just .207/.281/.313 (62 wRC+) since May 27th, which spans 334 plate appearances and no trips to the disabled list. Unironically, since Shin-Soo has been so bad -- both offensively and defensively -- the Rangers may actually stand to gain half of a win while he's out of the lineup over the next month. 

This closes the book on a dreadful 2014 campaign for Choo, who checks out with a .242/.340/.337 (98 wRC+) triple slash line with 13 HRs and a career-low 3 stolen bases. Blame the elbow, blame the ankle, but I'll have a tough time being convinced that this season is a sign of things to come over the next few years of his contract. 

Shin-Soo Choo is still owed $116 million over the next six years.

The Rangers are 50-79

Scott Baker threw 5 innings and allowed only a run, and the Rangers avoided a weekend sweep by defeating Kansas City 3-1 on Sunday afternoon. 

Shawn Tolleson and Neal Cotts combined to work three perfect innings, striking out 4 Royals, creating a nice bridge to Neftali Feliz, who shut the door in the 9th. Tolleson's ERA is down to 2.90 on the season, and Feliz's is a respectable 2.95. Even as makeshift as it's become, the Texas bullpen ain't so damn bad. 

The offense generated 11 hits, which is something, but only three runs; it's not enough to win on most days, but today it was good enough. Adrian Beltre (.327/.381/.506), Robinson Chirinos (.232/.278/.409) and Adam Rosales (.345/.433/.586) each pitched in with two hits apiece. 

In unrelated news, catcher Geovany Soto has been traded to the Athletics for cash considerations. Soto was Yu Darvish's personal catcher during the 2013 season, and his departure opens a spot for the Rangers to get a look at farmhand Tomas Telis down the stretch.