In 2011, Andres Blanco was Mr. Irrelevant. Blanco, signed at the end of Spring Training in 2010, was just what the Rangers needed in their first World Series run. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was on the disabled list on two separate occasions and, especially the second time, Blanco played steady defense and contributed some key hits as the Rangers steamrolled their way to an AL West title, their first since 1999.
In 2011, Blanco was still around, but Kinsler stayed healthy, as did shortstop Elvis Andrus. Blanco was with the club the entire season but played in only 36 games, only half of which were starts, getting only 76 at bats the entire season and, in one stretch, went 25 says between game appearances. The Rangers sported a potent 11-player line-up that year. Michael Young acted as a “Super Utility” player and Blanco’s services were seldom needed. He was not even placed on the post-season roster, though he did get a share of the post-season money.
Fast forward now to 2015. Our last spotlight looks at the Rangers bench. Like most teams, Texas will have four men on the bench to start every game. Once upon a time, teams carried 15 offensive players and 10 pitchers on the 25-man roster. This was back in the day of the 4-man rotation and before the era of the Designated Hitter. Now most teams have 12 man pitching staffs, leaving room for only 13 hitters.
For most teams, the bench consists of a second catcher, a utility infielder and two outfielders. The only position definitely filled on the Rangers bench is Carlos Corporan as the second catcher. His acquisition from Houston was for the express purpose of being Robinson Chirinos’ back-up. Beyond Corporan, the picture is murky. Here are some of the contenders:
If there’s such a thing as a utility incumbent, it would be Adam Rosales. He provided some pop with the bat and can play just about any position on the infield. Last year, he offered up a .262/.328/.378 slash line with 4 home runs in 56 games. Rosales won’t just be given the job, though. There are several other contenders out there looking to grab the pine for more than 50% of the Rangers’ games. There’s Kyle Blanks, a corner infielder/outfielder who showed promising power for the Padres but injuries have slowed him down the last few years. He’s already behind the other players in camp as he’s still getting over issues with both feet. Elliot Johnson has played with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Atlanta and Cleveland in five major league seasons. He offers more speed on the basepaths than Rosales. In 2013 he was successful on 22 of 24 steal attempts and twice swiped 43 in the minors. Ed Lucas is another candidate. Just two years ago he played in 94 games with the Miami Marlins, and in both of his seasons there played all four infield positions as well as a few games in the outfield. His versatility gives him a shot. In fact, all three candidates here have played both the infield and the outfield in their major league careers, but it’s likely they won’t play much in the outfield. A very longshot candidate would be Tommy Field, a minor league free agent pick-up who played college ball for Texas State in San Marcos. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels but doesn’t offer the versatility, having never played first base. His signing was more for minor league depth than a serious look at helping the big league club.
This got covered a lot in the look at the left field battle. As mentioned in that post, there are no less than ten candidates vying for the left field starter position and there’s no doubt the 4th and 5th outfielders will come from that group. You can read that post here. Since the Rangers were so injury-prone a year ago, I’m guessing the Rangers brass would really like to see the positions filled by the home-grown talent that hasn’t had injury issues, such as Michael Choice and Ryan Rua, both of whom could outright win the left field battle. Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. is in the mix as his Rule 5 status requires him to be with the club all year or be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. Ryan Ludwick’s recovery from shoulder issues also will play a factor. Again, the club wants reasonable assurances of health so Ludwick has to show he is a productive and healthy player again. Jake Smolinski is also in the mix.
The question is, what is Jeff Bannister looking for in his club? If he thinks the Rangers’ best chances to win include speed, Elliot Johnson and Delino DeShields both have great opportunities to earn roster spots. If Banny wants for bang from the bats, the likes of Rosales, Choice and Ludwick become the favorites. And don’t count out another player getting signed at the end of Spring Training to put all of them out of a job. It’s how Blanco and Matt Treanor became Rangers in 2010 and it could happen again in 2015.
One nice thing to add to the Rangers bench without costing an offensive roster spot? Yovani Gallardo, the #3 starter acquired from the Brewers, is a good hitting pitcher, with 12 home runs in an 8-year career. He loves to hit and Bannister will almost certainly use him as a pinch hitter on occasion. Not many American League teams have that luxury.
The off-season saw Ian Kinsler sent packing to the Detroit Tigers in a straight-up swap for Prince Fielder, a good old-fashioned blockbuster trade. Kinsler was expendable because it was time for his heir apparent to take over, #1 Rangers prospect (and one of the top prospects in all of MLB) Jurickson Profar.
Profar joined the parent club on May 20, 2013 after Kinsler hit the disabled list and ended up sticking with the club for the rest of the season, serving in a “Super Utility” role for Ron Washington’s club and putting up a somewhat respectable .234/.308/.336 line with 6 home runs and 26 RBI in 85 games. While his defense wasn’t on par with Kinsler, the Rangers front office determined the 20-year-old was ready to take over in much the same way Elvis Andrus took over the shortstop role in 2009.
Early in Spring Training a small glitch popped up. Profar was having some throwing issues. The problem was a slight tear in a very small muscle in the shoulder. Rest was the prescription but, as the exhibition season was drawing to a close, it was clear Profar wasn’t able to begin the season in Arlington. As it turned out, Profar wouldn’t see a single inning of big league game action in 2014. He didn’t even see rehab time in the minors.
The Rangers started 2014 with a platoon at second base consisting of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy. The two utility players tried their best but, after a month, it was clear they weren’t the long-term solution for the season.
Which brings us to the real subject of today’s post.
On May 8th, Texas jettisoned Wilson and opened up a 40-man roster position for Rougned Odor, who started the season at AA Frisco. Odor would stay with the Rangers for the rest of the year, playing in 114 games with a .259/.297/.402 line, contributing 9 home runs and 48 RBI to the last place Rangers. Odor had defensive issues and many a Rangers TV pre-game show featured footage of Wash working with the 19-year-old prodigy on the finer points of playing up the middle.
Odor earned a reputation for attitude in the minors and was a focal point of many bench-clearing brawls and the subject of at least one fight-related suspension. Still, that attitude helped keep his fellow teammates’ morale high during a trying 2014 campaign. It brought to mind the 2013 second baseman, Kinsler, who famously followed a big home win over the Angels in 2009 with an audible “Get the f*** off our field!” and followed up his trade to the Tigers by telling Sports Illustrated “I hope the Rangers go 0-162 this year” (he wasn’t that far off). Odor plays the game with passion 100% of the time.
He’s also improved at every level he’s played. With Short-A Spokane in 2011, he was .262/.323/.352. He followed up with a 2012 .259/.313/.400 for Low-A Hickory, improving his power numbers. Odor began 2013 with High-A Myrtle Beach, putting up an even better .305/.369/.454, earning a promotion to Frisco, where he actually did even better, putting up a slash line of .306/.354/.530. At the time of his May call-up in 2014, Odor was at .279/.314/.450 for Frisco.
Fast forward to today. Roogie, who just turned 20 February 3rd, is unquestionably the starting second baseman for the 2015 Texas Rangers, while Jurickson Profar, who himself turns just 21 in another week, finds his shoulder muscle healed but without a place on the major league roster. This is a good thing. After missing a full season to injury, getting his playing legs back at AAA Round Rock is both prudent and not harmful to the Rangers’ chances of winning at the big league level.
Putting up his 2014 numbers over a full 162 game season would put Odor in line for about 13 home runs and 68 RBI. Injuries aside, I’ll take the over. With his record of consistent improvement, let’s say 14 home runs and 75 RBI (more optimistic than the projections I’ve seen on Fangraphs). Last year, all Rangers second basemen combined hit 10 home runs (9 by Odor) and knocked in 55 runs (48 by Odor). Like first base with a healthy Prince Fielder, the Rangers should get a lot more pop in 2015 at second base. With the slow-footed Fielder at the corner, Roogie needs to increase his range defensively. Do that and Rangers fans are dancing in ecstasy.
And if, for some reason, Odor suffers a sophomore slump, Profar will be big league ready by the end of May. Sure beats Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy.
If you believe in forever
Then life is but a simple dream
If there’s a Rangers DL list
You know you’ve got a hell of a team
Martin gave us shutouts
Derek won Game 4 ‘gainst St. Loo
And Matty won 18 in two thousand 12
He was gonna mash 50 home runs
Remember Prince that way
They’ve all found a spot we rue
And that is on the shelf
If you believe in forever
Then life is but a simple dream
If there’s a Rangers DL list
You know you’ve got a hell of a team
(Sung to the tune “Rock and Roll Heaven” by The Righteous Brothers)
Just a few short days ago, my wish for the week was to get through the next seven days without another injury. No such luck. In one fell swoop Thursday, Rangers fans found themselves greeted with the news that 1) Prince Fielder is gone for the year because of a herniated disc that requires surgery; 2) Jurickson Profar is probably out for the year after re-aggravating his shoulder injury; and 3) 5th outfielder Daniel Robertson could be headed to the DL. And oh yeah, if Robertson DOES go to the DL it’s partly Ian Kinsler‘s fault! It was the ex-Ranger’s pop fly which resulted in the collision between Robertson and Alex Rios that took Robertson out of the game.
Nobody in baseball has used the disabled list more in 2014 than the Texas Rangers. In fact, one could make the case for the players on the DL being a better team than the one the Rangers now have on the field. Let’s do a side by side comparison:
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
RF Alex Rios
SP Yu Darvish
SP Colby Lewis
SP Nick Tepesch
RP Alexi Ogando
RP Robbie Ross
RP Neal Cotts
Texas Rangers DL
CF Engel Beltre
RF Jim Adduci
SP Martin Perez
SP Joe Saunders
RP Joseph Ortiz
We’d have to fill in the DL team with an outfielder and DH from AAA Round Rock, which could be Brad Snyder and Bryan Peterson. If Robertson hits the DL, he’d likely replace Snyder, since Snyder then would probably fill his roster spot on the Rangers. Still, while the healthy Texas Rangers offense, even without Prince Fielder, is the superior team to the Rangers DL offense, a case could be made for the Rangers DL pitching staff being stronger than the Rangers Healthy pitching staff. At the very least, three of the four member starting rotation would more than hold their own against the current healthy Rangers rotation.
What has happened to this team in 2014 is beyond comprehension. If there’s any silver lining in the dark cloud, it is this: the Rangers, like every team, has insurance policies on all their players to cover such things. Thus, even though Matt Harrison and Prince Fielder by themselves command hefty salaries, the Rangers will recoup part of their salaries to the tune of over $10 million. Thus, it is not beyond reason the Rangers could make a play for one significant free agent still out there, Kendrys Morales. The former Angel and Mariner mashed 23 home runs and knocked in 80 runs for Seattle a year ago and has 10 homers in 32 games at Globe Life Park, the most home runs he has in any visitors park. Picking up Morales, a switch hitter, would allow him to DH when a right-hander is on the mound while playing first base against a southpaw so Mitch Moreland, a career .231 hitter against lefties, isn’t exposed.
Of course, knowing the Rangers luck this year, Morales would come in and suffer a season-ending injury within a week, much like Kevin Kouzmanoff when he filled in during Adrian Beltre‘s early season DL stint. Speaking of which, I have a message for Adrian: DON’T DO ANYTHING THAT WILL AGGRAVATE YOUR HAMSTRING!!! I know you’re going to want to play like Superman with Prince gone but you’re 35 years old now. You can only do what you can do and if you try to do more, you just might join the Rangers DL team yourself.
On the good news side, the Rangers have won consecutive games for the first time since May 8th and 9th. They haven’t had a three game winning streak since April 21st through the 23rd when they swept the first place Oakland A’s, of all teams, in Oakland. The giddiness of that sweep seems so long ago now. To make it three in a row, Scott Baker has to better Anibal Sanchez tonight in his first start of the season. After that Nick Martinez, slated to start the season at AA Frisco, squares up against 7-1 Rick Porcello, while Colby Lewis draws Justin Verlander on Sunday. Let’s just say the Rangers have their work cut out for them this weekend.
And as for the injuries, I repeat the headline today. Please. Make. It. Stop.
Our top story: Jon Daniels is a “sleazeball.”
That, of course, according to the dearly departed Ian Kinsler, now plying his wares for the Detroit Tigers. In a story for ESPN: The Magazine, Kinsler was quoted as calling Daniels a sleazeball and expressed his hope the Rangers would finish 0-162 this season.
Needless to say, it was bound to make the national headlines because of the old axiom: “Thou shalt always complain when athletes and managers use manager-speak but thou shalt complain even louder when a player or manager doesn’t use manager-speak.”
We fans just love to complain about everything and our wonderful media folks are more than happy to feed our appetite for complaining. Ian Kinsler, thus, was a gift from God.
But really? This is all we have to complain about?
Sure, Kinsler said his comments about Daniels were taken slightly out of context. That was proven as bunk when his exact words were played back today on Buster Olney’s podcast. Still, what’s the big deal here? I like the job Jon Daniels has done in building the Texas Rangers franchise to a year-in, year-out contender. Daniels is not 100% infallible, though. He subscribes to the notion you should get rid of a player a year too soon than a year too late. Thus he’s burned bridges with quite a few players over the years: Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, CJ Wilson, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli. All felt disrespected by the Rangers GM when their times came. It’s the nature of the job. So when someone who signed a club-friendly long-term deal, only to get traded in the middle of it, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest to see them miffed at their former boss. Maybe he shouldn’t have called him a sleazeball publicly, but I’ll bet there’s no shortage of players in major league baseball who haven’t felt the exact same way about a GM they once worked with.
Then there’s the wish for the Rangers to go 0-162. So what? I’m a Rangers fan and I would love to see the Angels finish 0-162. The Mariners, A’s and Astros too. Probably the Yankees as well. It ain’t gonna happen but it’s a fun thing to wish for.
Kinsler opened another tempest in the article, putting himself square on the side of Nolan Ryan and against Jon Daniels and said it was Daniels’ ego that caused the rift that eventually led to Ryan’s departure from the Rangers. That brought both sides of fans on that debate back into the open debating each other and calling each other names. For what? Why is it so hard for Daniels fans to acknowledge that Ryan had at least a little to do with the growth of the Rangers organization to where they are today. And why can’t the camp of Ryan supporters give props to the work of Daniels and the scouting department for their role as well? I like Daniels, I liked Ryan. They both did and have done great things for the Rangers. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
If you’re a Rangers fan, what you should really get upset about with Kinsler is the comments he made about Michael Young‘s leadership, the change in the clubhouse in 2013 and his own lack of desire to fill the leadership void left by Young’s departure. I get that there are some people for whom mentoring and leadership come naturally. For others it’s hard. For Kinsler it was hard. Ian won’t ever be a Michael Young type in the clubhouse, but to say he just wanted to focus on playing hit me the wrong way. Josh Hamilton was (and probably still is) the same way. Every team needs at least one person who helps bring the group together. Michael Young was once that player- always mentoring, comporting themselves in a professional manner and even motivating others by example by getting the absolute most out of his physical abilities day in and day out. Kinsler didn’t like that role. The problem with that is, if everyone has that attitude, there’s nothing to help glue it all together. If that’s truly the way Kinsler feels, I’m kind of glad he isn’t a Ranger anymore. I don’t want someone who refuses to switch positions for the betterment of the team. Be upset about it, sure. Even tell us you don’t like it. But be a TEAM player in the end. Someone helped you when you got to the bigs. Pass it on. ESPECIALLY when it’s best for the team.
I don’t blame Kinsler for his feelings about Jon Daniels or his wish for his former team to fall apart without him. Just don’t tell me you don’t want the responsibility that comes with being a veteran. That’s the area where Ian Kinsler needs to grow up.
Michael Young really bothers people.
I should be a little more specific. Michael Young really bothers a lot of people in the sabermetric community.
For his last few years in a Texas Rangers uniform, not so coincidentally when the Texas Rangers became a relevant team in major league baseball for the first time in over a decade, he was facetiously nicknamed “Face”, as in “Face of the Franchise.” His defensive lack of prowess at third base brought about a new term, PADMY, which stood for “Past A Diving Michael Young”. During the World Series years, he was publicly and unquestionably the leader of the Rangers clubhouse. Thus came the new nickname of derision: Leadership, expressed on Twitter just about every time a PADMY occurred or a double play was grounded into.
Yes, Michael Young was the guy the diehards loved to hate. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, it may not have ever gone there had Young quietly and without complaint moved to third base from the shortstop position when Elvis Andrus first came to the majors. After all, it was Young who volunteered to move from second base to shortstop when Alex Rodriguez departed for New York, opening the door for Ian Kinsler at second. He was a gamer then, the “anything that’s good for the team” guy. When the Rangers announced the 20-year-old Andrus would be the Opening Day shortstop in 2009 and Young would move to third, it only seemed like the right thing to do again.
Only Michael Young changed his mind. After initially agreeing to the move, he decided he didn’t like it after all. He demanded a trade, then backed down. That’s where it all started. From that point on, it didn’t matter how good Young was in the clubhouse, how much time he gave to the media or how hard he played and worked at his craft. Heck, it didn’t even matter if he hit the tar out of the ball. For one segment of the die-hard Rangers fans, Michael Young was no longer someone to be revered. And they turned on him. When the Rangers then signed Adrian Beltre after the 2010 season, things became worse. Now Young was asked to become a fulltime DH and part-time utility infielder. Again Young balked. Again he demanded a trade. Again the same segment of fans turned on him.
In between all this, there was also the potential trade that never happened, when rumor had it Young was being shipped to Colorado. Jon Daniels was the one who initiated those trade talks and Young learned about it in the media the way the rest of us do. Young’s relationship with Daniels was never the same. As for that segment of die-hard fans? They were in Daniels’ corner, because Daniels is the one who built the team into World Series contenders. All hail the GM!
Michael Young’s last two years with the Texas Rangers were not particularly good ones. He had pretty good numbers in 2011 when Texas came within an eyelash of being the World Champions. His 2012 left much to be desired. His bat speed slowed and, while he was never a home run hitter per se, he was no longer hitting very many doubles either. He was traded to the Phillies in the off-season, had a decent year for them before being sent to the Dodgers for the pennant race.
Yesterday, Michael Young decided to retire. Young and Daniels must have mended their differences, because Young will officially retire as a Ranger at a news conference today. Still, even in retirement, the haters still have to hate. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated immediately posted this on Twitter:
Too soon? http://t.co/EAV1SbPsSJ
— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) January 30, 2014
Yep, Michael Young had the second lowest WAR of the 84 players who have a career batting average of .300 or better and over 7000 plate appearances. Haters gonna hate.
Michael Young will not be enshrined in Cooperstown. In a few years he WILL be enshrined in the Rangers Hall of Fame. For all his detractors, Young got as much out of his talent as a player could get. He set an example in the clubhouse with his work ethic. He played the game the right way. By that I mean fundamental baseball, not perfect baseball. During the decade of irrelevance from 2000 to 2009, Young endeared himself to the fans, not just because of his move from second to shortstop but because he was the steadiest player on some very bad teams. He played every day and it seemed he got a hit every day. He was always willing to talk to reporters, even when things for the team were at their worst. And he set an example for the youngsters coming up.
I came across this article yesterday about Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and what his old manager in the Rockies system had to say about him when he gave professional baseball a try (the Rangers now own his baseball rights). In the days leading to the Super Bowl, the article is presented as another example of what leadership is all about and why Wilson deserves praise for it.
It’s likely Michael Young approached baseball the same way throughout his career, yet there is a very vocal segment of fans out there that berate him for it.
For one day, today, let’s just appreciate Michael Young for the gamer that he was for 14 big league seasons. He wasn’t the best, but he was better than most.
How can you not go for the Seahawks when their quarterback looks like he’d fit right in with the Rangers?
As a second baseman, his talent level may not approach the recently departed Ian Kinsler, this year’s starter Jurickson Profar or even up and coming minor leaguer Rougned Odor. his leadership qualities are through the roof!
By the way, the above will be available as a limited edition card by Topps this year. Hopefully, I’ll score the real one.
Here’s the good news. The Texas Rangers have addressed the offensive malaise that was 2013 by going out and getting 1) one of the best FA bats available in Shin Soo Choo; and 2) engineering a trade that brought Prince Fielder over from the Detroit Tigers. This pretty much guarantees the Rangers will improve greatly on the number of runs they scored in 2013, when they were smack dab in the middle of the AL pack.
Here’s the bad news. As formidable as the pitching staff for the Rangers might be, they will almost certainly be to a man a little worse off in 2014. This is the trade-off on improving the offense. The defense is going to suffer.
The infield is who will have it the worst. Prince Fielder takes over at first base from Mitch Moreland. Moreland wasn’t any great shakes defensively, but he did have a better 2013 than Fielder. Moreland’s UZR rating was 3.6, Fielder’s a -5.2. Using Baseball-Reference’s Range Factor, Moreland was an 8.73 to Fielder’s 8.49. Both were below league average, but Fielder more so.
Moving on to second base, the Rangers gave up Ian Kinsler, who was outstanding in defensive metrics with a 6.5 UZR, a +51 in Defensive Runs Saved and a Ranger Factor of 4.78 (League Average 4.64). He’s replaced by Jurickson Profar, whose rookie season consisted of 32 games at second, with a UZR of -7.1, a Defensive Runs Saved of -4 and a Ranger Factor of 4.32. Profar probably won’t be THAT bad in 2014 and should benefit from playing the position full-time but he still won’t match Kinsler’s performance, at least not yet.
Add in the fact Adrian Beltre is a year older and a millisecond slower and one can only reach the conclusion the Rangers’ infield defense will be considerably more porous in 2014 than they were this past season.
In the outfield, things are a lot more fluid and require more guesswork. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs look diametrically opposed on outfield play. Take Alex Rios vs. Nelson Cruz. The Rangers had both a year ago, with Rios replacing Cruz when he got suspended. By Fangraphs take, Rios was the better outfielder with a 3.7 UZR vs. Cruz’ -4.3. Yet in the Defensive Runs Saved category, Cruz was a -3 and Rios a -5. In other words, DRS shows Rios as worse (though he did play more games overall on the year). Baseball Reference has Rios as an above average Range Factor of 2.21 vs. Cruz’ 1.95 (league average is 2.07). Rios appears to be a better choice overall in right.
Left field is where the difference between the two web sites is most noticeable. Shin Soo Choo played mostly center field for the Reds last year. By Baseball-Reference, Choo was a pretty decent outfielder last year. A Range Factor of 2.39 compared to an NL average of 2.13. By comparison, David Murphy was below average at 1.87 compared to the AL league average of 2.24. Go over to Fangraphs and the picture completely reverses. There Murphy checks in with a UZR of 11.0 and 7 Defensive Runs Saved, while Choo is given a -15.3 UZR with -17 Defensive Runs Saved. Two diametrically opposed stats tell me maybe it will be a wash at best defensively.
Still, the takeaway here is Texas is bulking up on offense at the expense of defense, something sure to drive Ron Washington, a defensive-minded manager, nuts. Even if you don’t see the number of errors rise dramatically, the odds are pretty good you will see ERA’s rise on the Rangers pitching staff across the board. The gamble Jon Daniels is making is the number of runs the Rangers score will be more than the increase in runs the defense gives up and that it will be the difference between first and second place. We shall see.