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The Rangers 2012 Off-season Analysis

December 24, 2012

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The Rangers have had quite a frustrating off-season to this point. Some would argue that their inability to re-sign Hamilton was the key, others will point to trading away the face of the franchise (Michael Young) for nothing as the moment things turned ugly, and others were so enraptured by the Justin Upton trade talks or the idea of adding Zach Greinke to their pitching staff that when those deals fell through it was the moment when the off-season turned bad. I agree that this off-season has been a let down yet am in the small minority of people who aren’t pointing to Hamilton, Young, Upton, or Greinke as the reason for this disappointment. I think Upton is a potential superstar but would be hesitant trading away a bevy of prospects for a young player high on potential but low on actual results to this point in his career. I think Michael Young was such a detriment to the Rangers last year that he single-handedly probably cost the ballclub 3-5 games and the idea of him dealt  being a “loss” could only be made by emotional fans who know little of how baseball games are won and lost. I think Hamilton will be more than worth the $25 million he will be paid next year and the national media will rub it in Rangers faces quite a few times in 2013 for their “stupidity” yet by 2015 and for sure by 2016 he will be a shell of his former self either due to drug relapses, the injury bug, or from his inability to focus for 162 games on baseball. The Angels by 2015 will have two players in Pujols and Hamilton making a combined $50 million a year and I’d be surprised if either has an OPS in the 900’s by then. Yes the Rangers will look dumb in 2013 when a motivated Hamilton tears up the AL West but the Angels will look dumb in 2015, 2016, and 2017 when he falls back to Earth as it’s his MO and his inconsistency will only get worse with age. And if Hamilton as a 5x All-Star isn’t worth 5 years at $125 million I don’t think I need to explain to readers why Greinke as a 1x All-Star isn’t worth a 6 year $158 million deal! This off-season will be remembered either as the year everyone went crazy or the year when new television contracts changed the baseball landscape forever. I’m quite comfortable with the Rangers waiting to find out which one it is before shelling out +$100 million deals so they aren’t stuck with overpaid players for the next half decade. Yet I am disappointed that the Rangers haven’t done anything as there have been trades and free agent signings made that have made a lot of sense and appeared to be good value. Below I discuss four off-season moves that I wish the Rangers had been in on.

Jason Vargas for Kendry Morales: Morales is a 29 year old first baseman with a career OPS of .823 and is coming off a down season where his 2012 OPS was only .787. That’s quite similar to Mitch Moreland who is a 27 year old first baseman coming off a 2012 OPS of .789. The fact that Moreland has similar stats, is cheaper, and is younger means that the Rangers probably would have been able to trade Moreland for Jason Vargas. I would do that deal in a heartbeat as with Mike Olt ready to take over at first and there being talk of Ian Kinsler being moved as well to that spot I don’t see where Moreland fits in the Rangers lineup. He’d be a great insurance policy while getting 300 ABs for the season as a part time player but his value wouldn’t be close to Vargas’ as Jason fits a need, starting pitching, and with +200 innings pitched last season on an average ERA (3.85) and a very good WHIP (1.18) he seemed like a good candidate to be a quality #4 pitcher. Trading Moreland for Vargas wouldn’t have been a homerun but I think it would have made a lot of sense as a swap of two similarly valued players with each team getting a more coveted player due to the position they each played.

Melky Cabrera for 2 years $16 million: Yes yes I know, Melky was a steroid user last year. As a previous offender he could get caught again and be out for an entire year ending this contract real quick. Yet he also had a +.900 OPS last season and while most will say that steroids had everything to do with his numbers I think it was only partially a factor. In 2011 he played for the Royals, had +650 ABs, and never tested positive for anything yet had a career high OPS of .809. The steroids can explain his nearly 100 point jump in OPS but he already was a young guy coming into his own before the 2012 season began and I think part of his improved performance was simply him maturing. Teammates with the Yankees said he wasn’t a hard worker and often didn’t pay attention to detail yet both the Royals and Giants talked about how different he was now as a veteran and that he finally was “putting in his time.” I doubt Melky will juice in 2013 so the +.900 OPS is out of the question but a +.800 OPS still seems possible to me and at the age of 28 I could see Melky give the Blue Jays two very good years at a fraction of the cost due to the taint of steroids that he currently has. With the Rangers having one of the most stable clubhouses in baseball I thought that Melky was a risk worth taking.

Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden: I’m not a huge baseball guy so I had to research Jordan Walden to even know who he was. That by itself is a pretty decent reason why getting Tommy Hanson, formerly one of the top prospects in all of baseball, looked like such a steal. Hanson has had shoulder issues recently and the fact that the Braves, the team that would know his medical issues better than anyone, essentially gave up on him was a huge red flag. Yet sometimes it’s worth buying a lottery ticket and I think the Rangers had the right pitching coaches in the Maddux brothers to add a wild card arm like Hanson. At worst he struggles with injuries and is gone after 3 years (one of the biggest reasons I liked Hanson as he was club controlled through 2015) but at best he regains his form, strengthens his arm, and becomes the ace caliber pitcher he was in 2009 and 2010. At the still young age of 26 and with such little needed to be given up, I thought the risk/reward ratio was in the right balance to pull that trade off.

David Price for Elvis Andrus and Martin Perez: No one knows if this deal was on the table but word out of the Tampa Bay organization was that they were ready to trade either Price or Shields for young players and/or position players. Price wouldn’t have been taken without the Rangers giving up either Andrus or Profar but I was always quite comfortable trading Andrus this off-season  Elvis is a young, exciting, and charismatic baseball player who is a fan favorite but the reality is that he’s extremely overrated by quite a few metrics. When looking at OPS, my favorite stat, he’s below average even among shortstops with a career mark at .695. The reason is his complete lack of power as he averages about 4 homeruns a year and this weakness doesn’t appear to be improving as in 2012 he had the 2nd worst season of his career for homeruns with only 3. His defense also has been overrated as he has elite range yet when factoring in his defensive numbers (Defensive WAR places him 16th-middle of the pack, his 16 errors puts him 6th worst among shortstops in baseball) it’s hard to argue that he’s anything more than a slightly above average defender. David Price was only behind Justin Verlander in WAR (wins above replacement) among pitchers and trading Andrus and Perez (or a similarly valued prospect) would have given the Rangers the ace they’ve so badly wanted for years and would have opened up the shortstop position for Jurickson Profar. No one will ever know how much Tampa was demanding or how interested they really were in trading David Price but I would have gladly parted with a package of Andrus and Perez or even Andrus and Leonys Martin as an ace in his prime is far more valuable than an overrated shortstop who seems intent on hitting free agency and getting a huge contract negotiated by his agent Scott Boras.

There has been a lot of talk about doom and gloom around here due to the inability for the Rangers to close the deal on any top level free agents. Yet when looking at this roster I still think the Rangers have the talent to win the AL West. Michael Young had the 2nd worst WAR of any player in baseball last year so him leaving for the Phillies isn’t the negative many in the media make it out to be but is a positive. Josh Hamilton leaving will surely hurt but while his OPS was elite (8th in baseball) his WAR was mediocre (54th) due to it dropping precipitously in the months where he struggled. In May Hamilton had an OPS of 1.186 (a borderline historic number) yet the team only went 14-14 for the month. In June Hamilton had an OPS of only .754 yet the team still went 19-9 that month for one of their best months all year. Hamilton was never the sole reason for the Rangers success or failure and they won regularly when he was injured for large stretches of seasons so I’m not as pessimistic as others about life after Hamilton as some fans are. Baseball has never been about the stars as it’s a game about cumulative numbers and while Josh’s impressive numbers will be close to impossible to be replaced by a single individual it very well could be replaced as a team, especially considering Jon Daniels will now have $25 million more each season to spend on other positions. I like his latest move in upgrading the catcher position going from Geovoni Soto’s .613 OPS last year to A.J. Pierzynski’s .827 OPS. That move only cost the Rangers $7 million of the $25 million they are saving on not re-signing Josh and it’s important to keep that in mind before “judging” the Rangers off-season at this point. I have full faith in Daniels and, even though he didn’t go after the moves I discussed early in the article, I still think the Rangers will be in position to compete this year and for years to come due to his logical and unemotional general managing.

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