How good can get better.
Look, the sky is not falling.
Ian Kinsler is hitting .260/.339/.508. It’s fair to expect more.
Josh Hamilton is absent, and hit only .240/.290/.456 when he
was around. When he’s back, he’ll be
Chris Davis is at .208/.266/.431, after .285/.331/.549 as a
rookie. He has more strikeouts in 202
at-bats this year (92) than he did in 295 at-bats last year (88). As big as the 2008 sample size was, it can’t
be viewed as a Kevin Maas-like fluke.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.251/.300/.383) and Marlon Byrd
(.288/.310/.455): The average and the slug look like 2008’s, but the dropoffs
in reaching base have been staggering.
Hank Blalock has fallen from .287/.338/.508 to
Yes, Andruw Jones (.257/.371/.532) and Omar Vizquel
(.322/.355/.424) are giving us more than we expected, but they have the 11th
and 12th most at-bats on the club, each fewer than Hamilton, who has
missed almost as many games as he’s played.
With 100 games left to play, of the regulars, only Nelson Cruz,
Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, and David Murphy are producing at a level that you’d
have taken three months ago. And though
each has had at least one torrid streak at the plate this season, looking at
their overall numbers you probably wouldn’t say any of them is playing out of
his mind offensively.
That’s sort of the point.
Nobody that Texas
counts on every day is hitting out of his mind in 2009. Not one guy.
And yet the club is two games up on the rest of the division,
having survived what was objectively the toughest three-week run of opponents
on its 2009 schedule. You’d have taken that
June 16 position three months ago, without question.
If your cynical response is that the pitching staff is full
of guys playing out of their minds, in truth that can probably only be said
about two, maybe three pitchers. And as
improved as the Rangers defense is, there’s at least theoretical (if not
statistical) reason to believe that there’s a basis for the pitching to have
been producing more without doing more.
If this lineup can figure some things out (and I’m not
suggesting it’s merely a matter of time – there’s clearly work to be done), then
this team, on pace to win 92 games, can get better. The most encouraging thing about 35-27 is not
that we’ve just gotten through NYY-OAK-NYY-BOS-TOR-LAD having seen the division
lead shrink by only half a game (one full game after the Angels held on last
night), but instead that track records suggest that there is so much room for
offensive improvement, on nearly a player-by-player basis, that this good
baseball team has a legitimate chance to very good. This year.
Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours Scot Shields has decided to
undergo season-ending knee surgery, Kelvim Escobar (who was going to replace
Shields as a high-leverage righthander in the Angels bullpen) has gone back on
the disabled list with a shoulder that’s still giving him trouble, Ervin
Santana has been scratched from tonight’s start with tightness in his forearm
(MRI results should come today), and Torii Hunter bruised his rib cage running
into a wall and will miss at least a couple games. The Angels aren’t going away, but Texas has played itself
into a position to take advantage of an opportunity that shouldn’t be going
away anytime soon, either.
For those of you who think I’m about to advocate a launch
into Step Five, I’m noncommittal on that right now. But that doesn’t mean an impact trade is out
of the question. Five words:
Delmon Young for Matt Garza.
Actually, 15 words:
Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie for Matt
Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan.
I was among what I suspect was an easy majority who saw that
November 2007 trade and thought Minnesota had
pulled one over on Tampa
Bay, having stolen the AL
Rookie of the Year runner-up just before he really exploded into superstar
territory. But the Rays probably aren’t
the defending American League champs without that deal, and they’d never undo
it. As for the Twins, they’re rumored just
a year and a half later to be shopping Young and his three extra-base hits in
I’m not going to sit here and lay out a half dozen specific trade
scenarios involving pre-arb players for pre-arb players (yet), but I will
suggest to you that falling into the camp that says there’s a trade or two to be
made that could help fill a hole or two on this contending team doesn’t
necessarily mean taking on significant payroll, or emasculating the farm system. It may just be a matter of reallocating
assets, in a way that Tampa Bay did with more success than Minnesota did 19 months ago. It was a good old-fashioned baseball card
trade, one that had nothing to do with salary dumps or mid-summer rentals, a
trade without which the Rays would probably still be a franchise without a
It was a bold, smart move for Tampa Bay,
who got a lot better right away, without a venture into Step Five.
With the Rangers system as deep in young talent as it is
right now, at both the major league and minor league levels, I wouldn’t be
against the concept of that type of trade to make this team instantly stronger,
trusting the evaluations of my scouts to use a strength to address a weakness.
Getting more production out of the big league lineup, from hitters
who have proven that they’re capable of providing it, would make the club
stronger right away as well.
But those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Nothing wrong with shooting for both.