MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Win-now Rangers now losing Fielder

AL West leaders press on as their slugging DH's career ends

Win-now Rangers now losing Fielder

DENVER -- After the Texas Rangers swung deals recently to add catcher Jonathan Lucroy, right-handed reliever Jeremy Jeffress and outfielder Carlos Beltran at the expense of several of the game's top prospects, a rival general manager questioned the wisdom of mortgaging the future.

For the Rangers, however, there was never a question.

They have learned the hard way that the future is now, and they were given a reminder of just how fragile long-term planning can be on Tuesday. Prince Fielder, the left-handed-hitting, $20 million-a-year investment they made to handle DH duties through 2020, will announce the end of his career on Wednesday in the aftermath of his second neck surgery in two years.

No official statements were made Tuesday, but it wasn't a secret. It's not officially a retirement because it's health-related, but the result is the same: Fielder has played his last game.

"It's sad if he gets pushed out of baseball, but health and family come first," said third baseman Adrian Beltre.

With that, the Rangers packed their bags, bid adieu to Coors Field and headed home, where the Interleague matchup with the Rockies will continue Wednesday night with the focus on winning the American League West this year.

Suddenly, however, the front office knows it also has to figure out a way to fill a major void in their offensive blueprint for the next four years with the loss of Fielder, in addition to dealing with the pending free agency of Beltran, center fielder Ian Desmond and first baseman Mitch Moreland.

That uncertain future, more than anything, underscores the wisdom to do what is necessary to take advantage of today.

After rallying to pull out a 7-5 victory on Tuesday afternoon against the Rockies, in which Moreland, Beltran and Desmond each played a part, the Rangers have a best-in-the-AL record of 67-47. They held a 7 1/2-game AL West lead on the second-place Mariners, who were to host the Tigers late Tuesday night. If the postseason started right now, the Rangers would play the winner of the AL Wild Card Game in a best-of-five AL Division Series.

Seventeen days ago, Texas had seen what was a 10-game lead dwindle to just 2 1/2 games, a reminder of what could be if the Rangers didn't regroup.

"We have had it slip between our fingers before," said assistant general manager Thad Levine. "It makes us realize how precious the opportunities are."

Think about it. The Rangers lost the World Series to the Giants and Cardinals in 2010 and '11. They lost the Wild Card Game to the Orioles in 2012, and in '13, they lost a tiebreaker game to the Rays for the second AL Wild Card spot. Then came a 95-loss, last-place finish in 2014 that underscored how quickly fortunes can change.

So in the aftermath of an AL West title a year ago, the Rangers aren't about to get smug.

"Nobody is entitled to be in the position [to be in the postseason] every year," said Levine, "and when you are, you feel the need to do the best you can to take advantage of the opportunity."

And Texas has done just that.

The appetizer came in a July 27 deal that brought right-hander Lucas Harrell and a prospect from the Braves to fill a rotation void, and that set the stage for the non-waiver Trade Deadline additions of Lucroy and Jeffress from the Brewers and Beltran from the Yankees.

In the process, they gave up second baseman Travis Demeritte, who became the No. 9 prospect with the Braves; outfielder Lewis Brinson and right-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz, who became the Nos. 2 and 5 prospects in the Brewers' system, and right-hander Dillon Tate, now the No. 11 prospect for the Yanks.

Texas did avoid parting with power-hitting Joey Gallo, who was projected to take over for Moreland at first base, but that goes back to thinking Fielder would fill the DH slot.

Now? Time will tell.

The Rangers could make qualifying offers to Desmond and Moreland, which figure to be around $18 million, but they are only one-year commitments and can be used as a basis for multiyear deals. If the players decline, Texas would at least get Draft choices as compensation. Beltran, however, was an in-season addition, meaning he would be a free agent if he follows that route, and he has made it clear he does want to continue to play next year.

That's something, however, the Rangers will deal with later. Right now, they are focused on this year.

"We believe in this team and want to do what we can to help it win," said Levine. "And we believe in our scouting and player development departments to continue to find and develop prospects."

And they have learned the hard way that there are no promises about what the future holds, so it's best to enjoy the present.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.