The Texas Rangers will be without Prince Fielder for the rest of the season after the veteran first baseman undergoes spinal fusion surgery on Tuesday, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. To add ... well ... injury to injury, second baseman Jurickson Profar is also expected to be out for the remainder of the year after re-injuring his shoulder, per MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan.
Once Fielder is added to the disabled list, the Rangers will have 17 players sidelined in 2014. Somehow, they've navigated their way to a 23-24 start, but having Fielder out for a long stretch -- despite having the worst season of his career -- will make it hard for the Rangers to continue competing.
Texas will likely move designated hitter Mitch Moreland back to first base, but the team's lineup is still compromised. That's because, with the exception of two players, everyone that has been on the major-league bench this season has been awful. The two players who have been above-average hitters -- Kevin Kouzmanoff and Jim Aducci -- are both on the DL and neither appears ready to come back anytime soon. Even if they were ready, they're still Kevin Kouzmanoff and Jim Aducci, neither of whom should be considered a savior.
The Rangers will obviously have to make a move to get another bat or two onto their big-league roster, but who is available? Here's a look.
Morales is the most obvious option because of his track record -- he hit .277/.336/.449 with 22 home runs last year for the Seattle Mariners, while playing half of his games in one of the toughest hitter's environments around. Morales is also a current free agent, so unlike making a trade for a bat, the team wouldn't have to mortgage part of their future to get him -- at least, not in the traditional sense. Signing Morales before the MLB Draft in June would cost the Rangers a pick, but if they can hold off until then, Morales would be a cheap and sensible acquisition. However, doing so might mean big-league playing time for an AAAA type like Adam Rosales, Bryan Petersen or Brad Snyder to bridge the gap.
Schierholtz hasn't been very good this season, but he's a near-average hitter in his career and posted a 107 OPS+ and 21 home runs for the Chicago Cubs in 2013. The 30-year-old outfielder will be a free agent next season, and he won't cost much in terms of prospects going the other way. Assuming Schierholtz would get better by going to the solid hitter's environment in Arlington, he would help fill the Rangers' need for a left-handed hitter in Fielder's absence.
Smith, who was acquired by the San Diego Padres in the offseason and will be a free agent after 2014, is a better version of Schierholtz. He has more dramatic platoon splits during his career, but Smith has always been problematic against right-handers and is off to a much better start than Schierholtz, hitting .339/.437/.598 in 152 plate appearances. Smith has a career 114 OPS+, and that track record will likely result in him commanding a pretty decent return for the 21-26 Padres to part with him.
The Minnesota Twins are currently in second place in the American League Central. If they keep that up, they might not be in a hurry to part with Willingham, who should return to the lineup within the next few days after missing more than a month with a fractured wrist. Willingham, 35, is in the final year of a three-year, $21 million deal. He struggled badly while dealing with injuries last season but posted a 143 OPS+ as a 33-year-old in 2012. If Minnesota begins to spiral out of contention soon, flipping Willingham for a prospect or two seems like a possibility.
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The Tampa Bay Rays aren't normally a team associated with trading away assets at the deadline, but they entered Thursday with the second-worst record in the AL. Tampa Bay seems good enough to turn things around, but the team's issues in the rotation and lineup remain real concerns. If they're not corrected, it could be a long summer for Joe Maddon's club. Zobrist hasn't been himself this year and has recently been dealing with a thumb injury, and those things are part of the reason why Tampa Bay hasn't been good. If Zobrist gets healthy but the Rays continue to struggle, the chances of him getting traded are likely going to be pretty good, according to Grantland's Jonah Keri. The Rangers certainly have the resources to deal for a player like him.
There aren't a lot. Most of the Rangers' good position prospects -- Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Ronald Guzman, etc. -- are too far away to make an impact in the big leagues this season. Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor have already been summoned to the big club, but neither has done anything of note thus far. Both players are still young and could see some improvement as the season goes along, which would help deal with the blow of losing Profar.