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Rangers Trade or Keep: Willie Calhoun and Jose Leclerc

Rangers Trade or Keep: Willie Calhoun and Jose Leclerc

It’s time to sell.

The clock has struck midnight on Texas’ first-half Cinderella run after a 7-3 loss to Seattle Monday that marked the team’s eighth straight defeat and dropped the Rangers back to a .500 record for the first time since May.

Texas peaked at 10 games above .500 on June 30 with a series-opening win at Tampa Bay for win No. 46. Since then, it’s been anything but smooth sailing. The Rangers have scuffled to a 4-14 clip after that high watermark.

Oakland, Tampa Bay Cleveland and Boston have established themselves as the front-runners for the second American League Wild Card spot. Texas had the first spot after that win over the Rays in June. Even if they would’ve kept up that pace, they’d still be on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.

Pressure to keep up with that group almost certainly would’ve forced General Manager Jon Daniels’ hand, and made him more likely to push his chips to the center of the proverbial trade deadline table.

Sure, it would’ve been winning ahead of schedule, which every fan base wants. But it’s a good thing that didn’t happen.

The Rangers weren’t expected to win in 2019. The roster wasn’t constructed to win this year. The team was overachieving as a result of great coaching from first-year manager Chris Woodward and an overhauled approach at the plate. Career years from pitchers Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and Jesse Chavez didn’t hurt, either.

It would’ve been a mistake to buy in on this team and mortgage the future at the trade deadline for a shot at a one-game playoff. That’s less of a knock on them, and more of a nod to the competition ahead of them.

That’s why Texas must keep young talents Willie Calhoun and Jose Leclerc on the roster at next Wednesday’s trade deadline.

Both players’ 2019 haven’t gone according to expectations. Calhoun overhauled his offseason workout routine and diet, and his results in Spring Training improved as a result. After a career year that established him as one of baseball’s premier relievers in 2018, Leclerc signed a 3-year, $14.75 million contract extension ahead of Opening Day.

Calhoun was shockingly optioned to Triple-A Nashville in March and didn’t make the team’s Opening Day roster. Leclerc was removed from the closer role less than a month into the season after limping out of the gate with an 8.44 ERA and a few painful blown saves.

Even then, both players hold value far beyond this season alone.

Calhoun was the main piece acquired from the July 2017 trade that sent former star pitcher Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Leclerc was a true developmental success after being signed as an international free agent and flying up the Rangers minor league system.

Both players upped their value to contenders with solid recoveries. Calhoun was called up in May and played well until an injury sidelined him in June, but was shockingly sent down last week. Leclerc has settled into a versatile low-leverage role in the bullpen.

Compounded with team-friendly, controllable contracts, the Rangers would get a significant return for both players.

Even so, a commitment to playing prospects and sticking with young talent is a more valuable haul than any trade suitor could offer.

Look at how it’s worked with Joey Gallo. After atrocious numbers in 2016, Gallo showed signs of superstardom in 2017 and 2018 and put it all together with an All-Star appearance this season. Texas could’ve traded him for the biggest name on the market when it was contending in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. But instead, they held on to him, and have been rewarded.

Texas needs to and is trying to develop more Joey Gallo’s in both the lineup and the pitching staff. Both Calhoun and Leclerc have strikingly similarities to the Ranger star’s early career.

The Rangers must maintain this direction and build around players like Calhoun and Leclerc instead of contradicting themselves by moving them.

Rangers Trade or Keep series:

Shawn Kelley

Hunter Pence

Mike Minor

Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars for Dallas Sports Fanatic. Sports journalism grad from the University of Missouri. Christ follower, Dallas sports fan living in Houston.

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