Posted on July 21, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The playoff hopes for the Texas Rangers may have taken a serious hit on Wednesday, as the team placed both designated hitter Prince Fielder and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo on the DL. Fielder has herniated disks in his back that may require surgery, while Choo received an injection to help treat lower back pain. Neither player has had an ideal season, but the Rangers, a team that has already endured a slump as of late, are far better off with both players on the active roster.
For Fielder, an MRI revealed a neck injury not far from a similar injury that forced him to undergo surgery in May 2014. “The way it has been described to me is that a fused vertebrae puts added stress above and below,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels explained. “The initial fusion he had is still intact. The new herniation surfaced above it.” Surgery that would end his season has been recommended by Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed a similar surgery on New York Mets third baseman David Wright earlier this season. Fielder will seek a second opinion later this week from Dr. Drew Dossett, who performed his surgery two years ago.
Fielder has been dealing with pain in his neck and left arm for a while, but did not tell the Rangers until Monday. When he dealt with a similar injury in 2014, he was limited to just 42 games and put up the worst numbers of his career aside from this season. The neck issue could explain why this season has been such a trying one for Fielder, who is hitting .212 with eight home runs and has been removed from the lineup at times due to poor performance.
If surgery is suggested on Friday, Fielder will almost certainly go that route and miss the rest of the season. In the short term, the Rangers will likely make Jurickson Profar their regular DH, although they could also call up Joey Gallo at some point if they find a spot for Profar in the field. In the long term, Fielder is owed $24 million per year for four more years beyond this season, making it imperative that he take care of himself and come back healthy.
Meanwhile, Choo received an anti-inflammatory injection to treat lower back pain he’s been dealing with for the past couple of weeks. The Rangers expect him to sit for 10 to 14 days and be fine moving forward. Of course, Choo has already had two separate DL stints this season, although both were related to strained muscles in his legs. Since returning from his last DL visit on June 13, Choo has put up the kind of offensive numbers the Rangers expect from him. Rookie Nomar Mazara figures to shift back to right field while he’s out and get a majority of the playing time there, while Jared Hoying and Ryan Rua figure to share the duties in left field.
Replacing Fielder with Profar may actually be an upgrade at DH for the Rangers in the short term, but not even having a power threat like Fielder on the bench is a loss for Texas. Losing Choo is also a significant loss for the Rangers, even if he’s only absent for 15 days. Texas has stumbled coming out of the break, losing five of six to start the second half, on top of losing nine of their last 12 leading up to the all-star break.
The Rangers maintain a 3.5 game lead atop the AL West, but that lead has dwindled from what it was a month ago. Texas is searching the trade market for pitching help, but Daniels has not pulled the trigger on a deal as of yet. The loss of Fielder and Choo to the DL doesn’t figure to help matters for a team that is already endured plenty of injuries this season and has now lost 14 of their last 18 games.