The step before spitballing.

The Rangers are a mere 3.5 games out of the Wild Card this morning, despite the worst skid over the last week and a half of any team in the league.

There are still 78 games on the schedule to close that gap.

And in spite of every flaw we’re obsessing about in the lineup and in the bullpen, they’ve got the third-best run differential of the 12 AL clubs not leading a division, a metric often looked upon to measure whether a team’s win-loss record is perhaps not so predictive of where things might end up.

And yet . . . .

There are seven teams ahead of the Rangers in the Wild Card standings. Math instructs us that while there are clubs who will advance and others who will retreat over the second half, there are more teams ahead of Texas (seven) seeking those two spots in the Wild Card Game than there are trailing the Rangers at moment (four), and that games-back number can’t be judged without taking into account how many other things would need to break the Rangers’ way for them to settle into a playoff slot.

Texas is marginally closer to the Wild Card than it is to the American League’s worst record, a 36–48 marked owned by Oakland that’s 4.0 games better than the Rangers’ 40–44.

The wild swings that Texas has had this season notwithstanding, and ignoring any run differential-driven Pythagorean projections, the eye test and the gut check might be telling us that there is just too much swing-and-miss and failure to execute in high-leverage run-scoring opportunities in the lineup for this club to not only make a charge to reach 162+ but also make some noise in October, which is really the point.

Too much volatility in the pen to have confidence in a second-half calibration. (Yes, on the scale of things, acquiring relief pitching can come at a lesser cost than rotation help or an impact bat, but check those Wild Card standings and ask yourself how many clubs are going to be shopping established bullpen pieces anytime soon.)

Too many defensive liabilities, on most nights involving at least a third of the spots on the field. The ones I’m thinking about are not really correctable, at least not overnight.

Too much inconsistency in the rotation, even in its relatively healthy state, to believe it’s in the kind of shape to put everyone else on its shoulders and carry this club past six of those seven teams better positioned to compete in the one-and-done game that kicks off the post-season.

It’s not all (or even mostly) on Yu Darvish that Texas has one win in his last eight starts. In his seven times on the mound prior to last night’s ugliness, Darvish had held opponents to a .206/.274/.356 slash line, posting a 3.53 ERA. The Rangers’ 18 runs in those games are more accountable for the awful record in that stretch than anything Darvish did or didn’t do.

The Rangers don’t intend to trade Darvish — at least according to Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) and Jeff Passan (Yahoo Sports) — even if they’re in sell mode late this month.

Texas, however, is open to moving Jonathan Lucroy this summer — according to Rosenthal — even if they’re in win mode.

(Evan Grant [Dallas Morning News] has “heard [the] Cubs, Twins, [and] Rockies all mentioned as teams potentially seeking catching.”)

I could be wrong, but I don’t think Mike Napoli would bring enough back in trade to even speculate on possibilities.

As for Carlos Gomez, I’m partial to having at least one everyday outfielder whose range and defense are plus. Could he bring back one interesting prospect? Conceivable, I guess.

(And hey, Joakim Soria once brought back minor league righthanders Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, one of whom helped Texas acquire Cole Hamels and the other of whom has been one of the game’s best relief pitchers this year and is headed to the All-Star Game.)

Andrew Cashner? Tyson Ross? Let’s see how their next couple starts go before thinking about trade value.

Adrian Beltre is not going anywhere and Elvis Andrus is not going anywhere and Nomar Mazara is not going anywhere, because this is not Rotisserie League Baseball.

Could the Rangers gather the inner circle to talk about proposals to move Rougned Odor or Joey Gallo or Martin Perez or Keone Kela or Matt Bush or Jose Leclerc, should any legitimate ones develop?

They always listen.

But those are unlikely to lead to anything that the front office would consider the better option.

Cole Hamels?

He’s expensive ($11 million the rest of the way this season, $22.5 million in 2018, and a $6 million buyout in 2019 to decline a $20 million club option that, at this point, is not going to vest), but could Texas put in enough cash (1) to make it worth it to a contender to part with a couple high-upside prospects and (2) to make it worth it to Texas to move on from a pitcher they hope will be around to help the playoff push next year?

His last start was promising, but the peripherals before that are a concern, and would be to any club looking for a rotation piece designed to put them over the top.

Very unlikely.

But, setting aside specific situations, a note Peter Gammons had a couple days ago stands out for me: “Only four AL teams are more than two games behind the Rays for the second [Wild Card] spot. ‘That will impact the reliever trade mart,’ says [one] NL GM.”

Generalizing that comment beyond the specific bullpen point, maybe the market inefficiency here is to exploit a buyer’s market, when so few others, based on the crowded Wild Card standings, are prepared to.

In other words, maybe there’s another way to “go for it” — but I will readily admit that the idea of selling big ignores two things: the DNA of this front office and the motivation to do everything within reason to win while Adrian Beltre is in uniform.

Darvish, too, yes, but Beltre is a different, unique situation. It would likely take a face-to-face conversation — at the organization’s insistence, not the player’s — with Beltre to make sure he understood the motivation behind trading a winning piece for blue-chip Class A talent that may never suit up next to him, and to make sure he was on board given the commitment he and the Rangers made together for this year and next.

On that market inefficiency thought, is there a team in that Wild Card mix, or even one like Houston or Boston or Milwaukee or the Dodgers who sits atop its division, who feels Darvish could be that final piece to make 2017 its year?

One factor that needs to be added to the analysis: Darvish makes a little more than $5 million the rest of the way this year. He’s crazy-affordable given what he is capable of adding.

There are a whole lot of teams who won’t be able to get in on Darvish this winter, at his expected price tag.

There’s nobody who can’t afford him in 2017.

Texas may not “intend” to trade Darvish, according to reports, but that’s not the same as making him untouchable. The Rangers always listen.

As for how the Shohei Otani situation affects the organization’s game plan with Darvish is something we don’t know. But the front office does.

There just aren’t many teams, at least speculatively, who are looking to sell at this point. If one of those many teams motivated to buy — and preferably more than one, of course — decides that Darvish, of the pitchers in the league that can be discussed, is the final piece, then maybe there’s a loaded offer along the lines of what the Rangers pitched Philadelphia for Hamels and Milwaukee for Lucroy that causes Rosenthal and Passan to write a lengthy piece about the semantics of “not intending” to trade a player.

I hate that I’m writing this today. Nothing would make me happier than to retract all of it two weeks from now, after a 10-game stretch on either side of the All-Star Break that alters the way we view the 2017 edition of this team.

There’s a reason I haven’t mentioned Dodgers righties Yadier Alvarez and Walker Bueller before now, because I’m not yet ready to wrap my head around the idea of specifically spitballing Darvish trades, or any other deals involving Rangers veterans for other teams’ kids. Part of that is my own DNA is to go for it, latching onto hope that inconsistencies are on the verge of ironing themselves out, that approaches are poised to improve, that switches are about to flip for a key player or two.

And part of it is I can’t bring myself to imagine that conversation with Adrian.

But things being what they are, I also know this franchise thinks through every scenario, including some we haven’t even imagined, and among those is probably the one that includes lining two things up: An admission that this team isn’t playing the kind of baseball that would last much longer than a week into the post-season, at best, and the reality that there could be an opportunity, given how many teams are in win mode and how few are looking to sell, to maneuver things in a way that could give this club a stronger outlook for the final year on Adrian’s contract, and maybe even his next one.


Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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