He also has, by virtue of his supreme standing, a direct line to General Manager Jon Daniels. So Beltre’s take on the Rangers’ direction absolutely matters, and here, offered up in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards late Wednesday afternoon, it is:
“We don’t want our team, our players or the GM to think that somehow we’re out [of contention], or looking like we’re going to be out,” Beltre said. “… This is a time when teams become buyers or sellers, and right now we’re not helping [our cause]. But me, I’m a buyer. I’ve always been a buyer.”
About six hours after Beltre spoke those words, the Rangers wrapped up an ugly, 10-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, dropping them to 45-49 for the season, 3½ games out of a wild-card spot — with four teams ahead of them. In the first three games of their four-game series in Baltimore, the Rangers have dropped three straight, by a combined score of 25-4, to an Orioles team that had just been outscored 27-11 in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs.
After acknowledging that he has spoken to Daniels about the club’s direction (though “not recently,” he added), Beltre essentially outlined what his message would be: “I hope he understands and believes in this team,” he said. “I do not want to see this team dismantled. It’s been on my mind that I hope he doesn’t think about that. We don’t want anybody to think we’re out of it.”
Of the many teams occupying the gray area between buying and selling this month, the Rangers are perhaps the most intriguing. The defending American League West champions, they haven’t played anywhere close to their potential and have been remarkably consistent in their mediocrity, going 11-14 in April, 15-14 in May (despite a 10-game winning streak), 13-13 in June and (so far) 6-8 in July. They can forget about a successful division-title defense, with the Houston Astros now 17½ games ahead of them. Their path to the playoffs, such that it is, resides in the muddled wild-card race, where they are one of six teams within four games of the current leaders for the second wild card, the New York Yankees.
“It’s a congested field,” Daniels told reporters as the season’s second half got underway. “When we look at the team lined up against the competition, we like our chances — on paper … We’re just healthier than we were early on. There’s no guarantee that’s here to stay. But I do think there’s reason to believe we’re going to play better.”
As potential buyers, the Rangers would be among the hordes of teams in search of bullpen help, as their relievers have a combined ERA of 4.58. Since Matt Bush was removed from the closer’s role in late June, following three blown saves in five tries, the team has been using light-throwing lefty Alex Claudio in that role.
But things could get really interesting should the Rangers decide to sell, a possibility that seems to grow stronger with each ugly loss to the Orioles this week. Among the intriguing trade pieces in that scenario would be starting pitchers Yu Darvish and/or Cole Hamels. Though Darvish, a free agent after this season, would be the more likely to be dealt — Hamels is signed through 2019 — either would immediately vault to the top of the list of available starting pitchers, and could bring back impressive hauls.
For now, Hamels and Darvish — who start Thursday night in Baltimore and Friday night at Tampa Bay, respectively — represent the Rangers’ best chance at staying alive for a playoff spot.
“They’re both studs. They can carry you,” Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “And believe me, nobody would want to face that in October.”
But time is running short on convincing the front office that this is a team worth keeping together, and even bolstering, for the stretch run.
“We’re still contenders — there’s no doubt,” Beltre said before Wednesday’s loss. “We haven’t played the way we’ve been wanting to play, and we’re still right there. We believe we have the team to do it, but we’ve got to find a way to be more consistent winning ballgames.”
Sometime in the next few weeks, barring anything unforeseen, Beltre will collect another hit and become the 31st member of baseball’s 3,000-hit club. Asked about that pursuit on Wednesday, Beltre said it’s still too far away to think about. “Once I get to single digits,” he said, “then [the talk] is more legitimate.”
What Beltre hopes is that hit No. 3,000 is just a small distinction within the larger context of a late-summer playoff race, as opposed to the overriding focal point for a downsized team with nothing else to play for. There is plenty of work to do for both Beltre and the Rangers, in a season that could go either way.