Arguably, the lineup was missing one more big bat.
The defense was missing one regular.
The attack was missing one dimension.
The winter was missing that one last splash.
And then, days after the General Manager told reporters he didn’t expect to make any more major acquisitions, he did exactly that, reminding us to never count Texas out as long as this ownership group and front office team are in charge of this thing, to pay close attention to verb choice, and to recognize that, while the biggest flag doesn’t yet fly in Arlington, these continue unquestionably to be the Good Old Days for Texas Rangers fans.
Shin-Soo Choo at seven years, seven very expensive years, makes the Rangers significantly stronger on paper going into 2014. That doesn’t speak to 2018 or 2019 or 2020 — and paper strength doesn’t really mean a whole lot for 2014 itself — but we all ended the 2013 season knowing there were several roster itches that needed scratching, and with one move, one very big and possibly scary move, the Rangers are taking the chance that a player not necessarily thought of on a superstar level can make an impact-level difference for this club, for at least half the term of the lengthy commitment.
* * * *
The Rangers are one of the best teams in the AL, and Choo will push them toward the World Series the next few years. Flags fly forever and Choo could still surprise and excel for his entire contract, but history has an annoying way of getting the last word.
— Dan Szymborski, ESPN
Between the [Ellsbury], Choo & Cano deals, I think [the Choo/Texas] contract will look [the] best in five years. On-base tool will still play. Good for [the] Rangers.
— Gabe Kapler, Fox Sports 1
[T]here’s justification for overspending some of the revenue from a massive new local television contract in an attempt to keep the team in the pennant chase over the next few seasons despite the potential damage to the bottom line in the few seasons after that.
— Cliff Corcoran, Sports Illustrated
Szymborski published those thoughts on Monday.
Kapler tweeted his on Saturday.
Corcoran wrote his almost three years ago – when the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre.
He’s not a superstar, they said of Beltre. He’s a winning player, a tremendous talent, but isn’t going to carry a very good team. In fact, he hasn’t been on many very good teams.
All the same things can be, and have been, said about Choo. Did he land 7/130 only because he was among the best options in a relatively weak free agent lot, like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth in 2011? Maybe. Was it because, right now, he fits what Texas needs perfectly and therefore you bite the bullet and pay a bit of a premium? Possibly.
But do years 5, 6, and 7 have to be as productive as the four before them for Choo to be “worth it”?
If Beltre has a disappointing 2014 and 2015 and fails to lock in his 2016 salary, was the five-year, $80 million guarantee Texas gave him three winters ago worth it?
Take a look at 30-year-old Hunter Pence’s career. And then the 31-year-old Choo’s career. In September the Giants guaranteed Pence the next five years at $18 million per. You want to trade Choo’s seven years at $18.6 million per, right now, for Pence?
On the one hand, you might decide that, free agency has become an exercise in giving the best players at least one more year than he should get, if you want them. (Especially looking ahead at what will be a really weak free agent hitter class next winter.)
On the other, maybe — as it’s basically always been — today’s bad contract agreement will become tomorrow’s norm. With the territory that TV money is heading into, maybe this is just where Shin-Soo Choo contracts and Hunter Pence contracts and Scott Feldman contracts are going. The entire salary scale is changing, and there are economic reasons that it should be.
Beltre’s contract seems like a bargain now. Nobody viewed it that way in January 2011.
And here’s the other thing, the point about this seven-year commitment that eventually got me hoping Texas would land Choo as other rumored suitors started to turn to other players the last few weeks: The idea of the untradeable contract is fading fast. There’s money to spend in the game, with more and more teams coming into those extra piles of cash, and one team’s albatross deal can turn out to be another team’s buy-low opportunity. Alex Rodriguez’s contract was traded, as was Crawford’s, and Adrian Gonzalez’s and Prince Fielder’s and Vernon Wells’s — and they all had some level of no-trade protection (as Choo reportedly does) presumably making things even tougher. Sometimes you have to chase the player with an injection of cash, but in many teams’ cases that’s becoming a bit easier to do.
You can find spots for them to go to — especially when you’re heading into a TV deal that will enable you to kick in a cash subsidy if needed. More than ever, there’s evidence that no contract is irreversibly crippling.
Which is certainly not to suggest that it’s inevitable that Choo will head into the back half of his contract as a player Texas would be better off without. I’m guessing some of the writers decrying the length of Choo’s deal — and there are lots of them — threw up red flags about the five-year Beltre deal as well, and there’s at least some chance they will have been wrong about both.
We’re now in a day and age in which you often have to guarantee more years than you’d like in order to get your guy, effectively committing really crazy money to buy what you expect to be the player’s best years early on in the deal and amortizing the rest while he’s still around.
And if those early years are crazy-great, not just for the player but also for the team whose attack he helped elevate, maybe helping to elevate a flag or two in the process, then the price of that year or two on the back end you weren’t crazy about paying will have been worth every single million.
* * * *
Rangers GM Jon Daniels expects payroll for 2014 to be similar to 2013, but maybe a little lower.
— Anthony Andro, Fox Sports Southwest
Daniels said that on October 3.
Forty-eight days later: Fielder.
Thirty-one days after that: Choo.
There’s that verb choice again.
* * * *
Heard NYY/Choo agreed at 7/140. Then [Scott] Boras asked to make it $143, $1 million over Carl Crawford. Angered NYY, [who] agreed with [Carlos] Beltran instead.
— C.J. Nitkowski, MLB Network Radio
Source says [the] Rangers were Choo’s 1st choice, [and he] didn’t want to move fast with [the] Yankees without knowing what [Texas] would do.
— Joel Sherman, New York Post
[I]f the money was anywhere close, I’d have chosen [the] Rangers over Yankees too, based on which organization has a plan and some pitching.
— Jay Jaffe, Sports Illustrated
Yeah, but what about #behooves?
Whether or not you believe Choo preferred Texas all along, he wouldn’t have taken 70 cents on the Yankee dollar to play in Arlington. The Rangers had to be prepared to play ball in that financial stratosphere to compete for Choo and ultimately land him, and that preparation starts with the TV contract that the Rangers negotiated three years and three months ago. Thanks for that, Chuck Greenberg and Ray and Bob and whoever else was instrumental in those negotiations, and to Fox, and to Ray and Bob and Neil and the whole ownership group that greenlighted the recommendation Daniels made this winter to spike the payroll that he “expected” would recede from last season in order to go big on Choo, and to offer the type of package designed to persuade the veteran to tell New York no.
You just can’t underestimate how huge that ability to pay — and the willingness to then capitally invest, aggressively, which doesn’t always follow automatically — is for this organization. Armed with tremendous depth in minor league talent assets, this winter Texas has acquired Fielder and Choo and J.P. Arencibia and Michael Choice, and retained Geovany Soto, Jason Frasor, and Colby Lewis, and who is the one minor leaguer the club has parted with in recharging its roster?
Journeyman Josh Lindblom, age 26.
(Yes, the Rangers surrender their 2014 first-round draft pick for signing Choo, but they’ll get the supplemental first-rounder they would have lost the right to if they’d signed Nelson Cruz instead. And let’s face it: Texas needed another bat at that level, and to trade for one on that tier or better would have cost far more in prospect value than one draft pick.)
All that minor league ammunition remains for whatever opportunities might be available next.
Jonah Keri (Grantland) wrote that as with “Robinson Cano’s 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners, Choo’s terms will probably end up looking like an overpay when we examine his total production over the life of the deal. But as with Cano, we need to rethink what constitutes a good or bad value . . . in fact, we need to rethink the whole concept of value. A good deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates isn’t the same as a good deal for the Texas Rangers.”
The Pirates aren’t even halfway through a 10-year local TV contract that pays them about $18 million per year. The Rangers are a year away from the start of a 20-year deal with Fox Sports Southwest that will pay somewhere between $75 million and $150 million per year, depending on the source. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, they’re deferring $5 million of Choo’s 2014 salary to 2016-17, because they can.
The very good Pirates would need to dip into some of that Polanco-Taillon-Glasnow-Kingham wealth to add a bat of Choo’s stature, because they can’t afford to pay enough in cash to go to war with the Yankees.
And Texas — because it can pay — and overpay — can afford to add bats like Choo and Fielder without touching Profar or Perez, or Rougned or Jorge or Chi-Chi, or Gallo or Sardinas or Williams, or Brinson or Guzman, or Luke or Nomar.
* * * *
[T]he Rangers have acted quickly this winter to tend to business as far as their American League future goes, to start taking advantage of every opportunity they can to help their chances to win going forward. That’s the part that has me fired up about Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and $30 million, a deal that reportedly came together in the span of about 24 hours.
And about whatever’s next, because Texas isn’t done.
— Newberg Report, November 21, 2013
I don’t expect any more substantial, big moves. That’s not to say we aren’t looking at some things, but I don’t expect any more major moves.
— Jon Daniels, December 12, 2013
[The] Rangers played [the] market perfectly, to [the] point that Choo or Cruz almost had to land there.
— Jon Morosi, Fox Sports, December 21, 2013
Based on the emails and tweets I was getting, and some of the questions at the Paranoid Fan event a week ago, it was apparent that lots of Rangers fans, having gotten a taste of late-October baseball followed by two disappointing 90-win seasons and the loss of players like Hamilton and Mike Napoli and possibly Cruz, were frustrated with the off-season, even though we weren’t even past mid-December. History would have preached a bit more patience.
The day that news broke of the Choo signing, the shortest day of the year, was the six-year anniversary of the trade for Josh Hamilton.
In 2010, Texas didn’t acquired Beltre and Napoli until January.
In 2011, Texas learned on December 19 that it won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish. The Rangers signed him in mid-January.
The headlines aren’t always made at the Winter Meetings.
But there’s usually groundwork being laid then, if not before.
According to Rosenthal and others, Daniels and Thad Levine and Ron Washington flew to California before the Winter Meetings to visit with Choo and Boras. But, Rosenthal reports, the Rangers didn’t offer Choo seven years until after the Winter Meetings.
Did the early winter commitment to Soto as a potential starter behind the plate fire you up? Did the signing of the underachieving Arencibia to back him up make sense?
Maybe it does now, given what the next step in the plan was.
The tactic is subject to change each year. The Rangers signed Beltre and traded for Napoli as January fallbacks, reportedly, once they determined they were out on Cliff Lee. The next off-season, they signed Joe Nathan less than three weeks after the World Series ended, wanting to beat the market and send a quick message to Neftali Feliz about the role they planned for him. The winter after that, they were labeled the team that would dictate how the Winter Meetings would go, but Plan A and Plan B and maybe Plan C fell short and instead it was the winter of A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman.
This winter has been more methodical — and successful — as early moves paved the way for impact moves in November and December.
Maybe they’re done.
Maybe they’re not.
* * * *
Since he became a regular in 2008, there have only been nine qualified players who have posted a better OBP than has Choo, and three of them — Manny Ramirez, Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones — are either retired or semi-retired. Of the other six, only one is an outfielder — Mike Trout. Put another way, the only outfielder in the past six years to get on base at a better rate than Choo is the best player in baseball. That’s nothing at which you should shake a stick.
— Paul Swydan, FanGraphs
The Rangers, in their 42 seasons, have had three players reach base at a greater rate for an entire year than Choo’s .423 on-base for the Reds in 2013: one in the 1980’s (Toby Harrah, .432, 1985), one in the 1990’s (Will Clark, .431, strike-shortened 1994), and one in the 2000’s (Milton Bradley, .436, 2008).
Not a burner on the base paths, Choo may not profile as the prototype leadoff hitter, but in many years neither did Kinsler. Choo’s elite base-reaching ability, however, a tremendous separator between the two, stands to create more early pressure on the opponent, especially if Elvis Andrus can build off his second half in 2013. Choo has hit for a higher average than Kinsler lifetime (.288 to .273) and, though he has never hit 23 home runs (Kinsler has done it four times), he’s outslugged Kinsler over his career (.465 to .454). He averages 20 steals (in 27 tries) for every 162 games (compared to 26 of 32 for Kinsler).
But the real difference is in the key leadoff stat, the frequency of getting on base. Choo has a career .389 on-base percentage, Kinsler .349. Since 2008, the only active players with a higher OBP than Choo are Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols.
Last year, the two best on-base percentages in baseball against right-handed pitchers were Votto (.464) and Choo (.457). Think about that: against righties, Choo reached based nearly half the time, for an entire year.
In raw number of times on base, only Trout and Cabrera have outperformed Choo the last two seasons. Right after Choo is Fielder, and then Andrew McCutchen and Votto.
Stated another way, the two best players in the American League are the only players to reach base more often than Choo and Fielder the last two years. And the two best players in the National League (at least arguably) reach base a whole lot, too — but not as often as Choo and Fielder.
While we’re talking about Choo and Fielder, consider this:
In 2013, Texas leadoff hitters posted a collective slash line of .266/.336/.386.
Compare Choo’s 2013 (.285/.423/.462), or his career slash (.288/.389/.465).
Number two hitters slashed .258/.311/.340 for the Rangers last year.
Andrus, batting second, was mildly better than that on his own (.278/.329/.348), but he had such a good second half (.313/.369/.405) after his slow start that there’s at least reasonable hope that, in his age 25 season, he can extend that stretch of production.
Ranger three-hole hitters hit .262/.327/.398 in 2013.
Fielder hit .279/.362/.457 last year — in what was without question his worst season in the big leagues. His career slash is .286/.389/.527.
The first inning could be fun again. (And, as Boras bullet-pointed, according to Peter Gammons: Texas had a .780 win percentage when scoring first last year. Not sure how that compares with league average, but it’s cool to think about.)
Merry Christmas, Adrian Beltre.
While we’re talking about Choo and Andrus and Fielder and Beltre:
Merry Christmas, Scott Boras.
Think back to July 31, 2007, when the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira. The idea that the Ranger offense, six years later, would be anchored by four Boras clients at the top, playing under contracts worth $558 million, sort of blows the mind.
(And you can bet Boras is not done trying to convince Texas that his client Kendrys Morales would fit nicely at DH — at number five in the order.)
Among National League hitters, only Jayson Werth (4.24) saw more pitches per plate appearance in 2013 than Choo (4.23). He was eighth in that category overall, but none of the seven hitters ahead of him (Napoli, Adam Dunn, Carlos Santana, Mauer, Werth, Jose Bautista, or Brett Gardner) was particularly close to Choo’s 263 total bases.
Three Rangers have ever had a season seeing more pitches per trip than Choo saw last year: Jose Canseco in 1994 (4.45), Mickey Tettleton in 1996 (4.38), and Tettleton in 1995 (4.34). Choo’s career mark of 4.03 trails Rusty Greer’s 4.03, the best lifetime number for a Ranger, by milli-fractions.
Here’s a sickening set of numbers: After pitchers got to two strikes on Choo in 2013, his on-base percentage was .348. After two strikes.
Choo (.348) reached base with greater frequency after two strikes than Kinsler (.344) did all year long.
In fact, the only Rangers hitter who reached base more frequently in 2013, regardless of count, than Choo did with two strikes was Beltre (.371).
Choo drew 112 walks in 2013, more than any Ranger other than Harrah (113 in 1985) ever has. In fact, the most a Rangers hitter has walked in a season since Rafael Palmeiro’s 104 free passes in 2002 was Kinsler’s 89 in 2011.
The walks, plus the unusual tendency (at least in 2013) to get drilled, fueled a crazy park-adjusted Choo OPS (OPS+) of 143 — which was still only the third-highest OPS+ season of his career. In fact, Choo’s OPS+ over his nine-year career is 134. Kinsler has had only one season at that same level.
And here’s another Choo/Kinsler note, which if nothing else may have some aesthetic value: According to FanGraphs, Choo has popped up on the infield six times in the last three seasons combined (compare that with 249 line drives). That includes one pop-up in 2013.
Kinsler? Over the last three years, 90 infield pop-ups.
(Granted, Choo will strike out a lot more than Kinsler, and an out’s an out. But there you go.)
The idea of adding Choo’s elite approach to the lineup goes well beyond his impact at leadoff (if that’s where he hits). The thought that the plate discipline and the tough, grinding at-bats that he and Fielder bring might rub off on Andrus and Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin — for years . . . .
Oh, man, that fires me up.
Especially when I think about the late innings, if things do start to really come together for the two younger players, and opposing bullpens are faced with the task of seeing Profar and then Martin and then Choo and then Andrus, before getting to the big bats.
Choo is such a good fit here, at least for now.
Another Swydan comment to close out this section, if you don’t mind: “FanGraphs has Choo as having been worth more than $20 million in three of the past five seasons, and those estimates may be conservative. Having so many big contracts on the books for so long isn’t great, but if there is one skill I’m willing to bet on experiencing a slower decline, it’s OBP, and Choo and Fielder have that in spades.”
Such a good fit.
* * * *
If you wish Choo were better against lefties, you’d just be wishing he were better, and everyone wants every player on their team to be better. Choo is what he is, and he’s good, and he happens to just pile up his biggest offensive contributions when there are righties on the mound. Righties throw a lot more innings than lefties do.
— Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs
Here’s a fascinating note from Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info: On June 24, 2011, the Indians fell to the Giants, 4-3, a game in which San Francisco starter Jonathan Sanchez wasn’t very sharp. The lefthander held Cleveland to just two hits over 4.2 innings, but he walked six batters and drilled another, Indians number five hitter Shin-Soo Choo, with a 2-1 fastball up and in. It broke Choo’s thumb, and cost him seven weeks.
From 2008 (Choo’s first relatively full season in the big leagues) through that trip to the plate against Sanchez, according to Havens, Choo hit .266/.346/.383 against left-handed pitching.
Since then, he’s a .217/.337/.296 hitter against southpaws.
Meanwhile, his overall numbers, against all pitching (.293/.388/.477 before, .286/.399/.457 since), haven’t changed all that much, indicating that he’s gotten significantly better against right-handed pitchers, to counterbalance the dip against lefties.
But he still finds a way to reach base with lefthanders on the mound. In 2011 (the year that was interrupted by the Sanchez plunking), Choo hit .269 against lefties and reached base at a .336 clip. Last year, he hit only .215 against same-siding pitching — but had a .347 OBP.
Yes: Choo’s brutal showing against lefthanders in 2013 nonetheless included a higher on-base percentage (.347) than Kinsler put up against all pitching (.344).
That’s not to overlook that Choo is a much different hitter against lefties. Still, quick question: Who are C.J. Wilson, Scott Kazmir, James Paxton, Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs, Dallas Keuchel, and Brett Oberholtzer?
Those are all the lefthanders projected at this point to pitch in the 20 AL West rotations slots outside of Arlington.
Think on that a bit.
As Sullivan puts it, “Choo’s going to help the Rangers score a lot more runs, and for every big plate appearance he gets against a lefty, there’ll be two or three he gets against righties. He’s really very good, against righties.”
Keri notes that, sabermetrically, only Chris Davis and David Ortiz were better against righthanders in 2013. Expand the inquiry to 2009 through 2013, and only Votto, Cabrera, and Fielder have been better than Choo.
The Cubs signed Jonathan Sanchez to a minor league contract last week. They apparently plan to look at him as a reliever. The only time the Rangers are set to face the Cubs in 2014 is in a split-squad exhibition game on Tuesday night, March 18, in Surprise. Maybe Choo will travel to Maryvale for that afternoon’s game against the Brewers instead.
* * * *
[H]ere’s the guarantee the Rangers are getting, and it’s one they’ve no doubt researched in recent weeks: Nobody will outwork Shin-Soo Choo. Nobody will out-hustle Shin-Soo Choo. Nobody will approach the goal of winning a World Series more passionately, more genuinely.
— Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com
Nobody ever questioned Adrian Beltre’s or Mike Napoli’s or Joe Nathan’s motor, but none of them had won a ring or had much of any post-season success at all, and that story line came up when Texas acquired each of them. The hungry Rangers like hungry players.
— Newberg Report, August 10, 2013
That last quote was part of my writeup after the trade for Alex Rios. The hypothesis was that Rios, who was dogged by a reputation of not playing hard in Chicago, but whose career year came in the one season his team was in contention, might thrive in the pennant race Texas was thrusting him into.
Choo has had one big league playoff game in his nine seasons. That was three months ago, when his Reds lost to the Pirates.
(Incidentally, not to cross-pollinate, but in that game he homered off lefty reliever Tony Watson, who has surrendered only four home runs to left-handed hitters in his three big league seasons, spanning 288 plate appearances.)
Castrovince was on the Indians beat from 2006 through 2010, all of which were Choo seasons in Cleveland. His assessment of Choo, and the homework the Rangers undoubtedly did on the player, are good enough for me.
And for those of you brandishing the fact that the 31-year-old Choo has never made an All-Star Team, I offer this in response:
Beltre, in the 13 big league seasons he’d played before signing with Texas, had been an All-Star only once. In the age 31 season he’d just completed with Boston.
* * * *
Jon Daniels has put a lineup together that is good enough to go all the way.
— Jim Bowden, ESPN/XM
Oh, and great signing. Exactly what Rangers needed.
— Joe Sheehan, The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
While they’re not really the same, the Choo and Fielder acquisitions remind me a bit of that week in 1988 that was one of my favorite in Rangers history — that three-day stretch when Tom Grieve traded for Palmeiro and traded for Julio Franco and signed Nolan Ryan. The Palmeiro and Franco adds were a huge step toward revamping an all-or-nothing Texas offense, and maybe we’re about to see a similar facelift with Choo and Fielder.
Choo and Fielder and Matt Harrison, added to a club that won 90 games for a fourth straight season. Choice and Arencibia and Lewis added on the fringes. Profar replacing Kinsler, which for now will probably be a bit of a downgrade — but maybe not.
And not so much as a dent in the prospect war chest.
Four lefties in the lineup (Choo, Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Martin), four righties (Andrus, Beltre, Rios, the catcher), one switch-hitter (Profar).
The Rangers could have spent more on Ellsbury than they did on Choo. But I’ll take Choo’s durability and base-reaching and arm.
They could have signed Cruz instead of Choo. I’ll take the better baseball player, and the younger one.
They could have traded for Matt Kemp or Bautista or Santana or Gardner. I’ll keep the prospects.
With Choo, you can be more patient with Choice, and with Nick Williams. You have less urgency, and more flexibility, when it comes to what to do about Rios’s $13.5 million option for 2015. You have the added dimension of plugging Profar and Martin in at the bottom of the lineup, if you’d like, and that could be huge.
I’m not suggesting the Rangers will be able to use (or interested in using) cash to wallpaper their mistakes (also known in Yankees lexicon as “Whitsoning,” or “Tartabulling”). There are going to be concerns that Texas is committing too much money to Choo, and too many years.
But the landscape in baseball is changing, and given how many clubs are coming into far more money than they used to operate with, we’re at a point in the game where the carefully measured overpay is part of the arsenal. Texas always has a Plan B and a Plan C, but as we saw last winter, sometimes those fallbacks fit the fiscal restraint model yet don’t amount to enough baseball games won.
In hindsight, I’m eventually going to be OK as a Rangers fan with 2012 and 2013 in the large scheme of things, because four straight years of 90 wins and of 162+ is not something to be taken for granted, given how hard it is to win in this sport.
But that’s not to say there’s not that ache — that relentless itch — to get back to that final doorstep this team was on in 2010 and especially 2011, and to blow the door down this time. We’re all as hungry as Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre and JD and Ray and Bob to get there, and with the window still very much open, and this franchise well positioned to keep it that way for most if not all of these next seven years, I’m having a difficult time losing any sleep over the fact that a winning baseball player like Choo is going to be around to help his team grind things out and walk right through that door behind which the biggest flag rests.
I know exactly where I was when Eric Nadel called his first Texas Rangers game.
I was by a radio.
I was 10 years old, but this isn’t recollection by convenience. It’s not 333,439 claiming they were among the 33,439 in attendance at Nolan’s seventh no-hitter. I’ve got proof.
I kept a scorebook that Saturday afternoon.
Because, yes, even at age 10, I knew how to party.
In comparing the actual box score from April 7, 1979 to my own book, it looks like I didn’t yet grasp that walks and hit-by-pitches and sacrifice flies and bunts didn’t count as at-bats, and that I gave the great Johnny Grubb a triple rather than an E-8 on his fifth-inning shot to center before giving Grubb my own Player of the Game nod (and questionable portrait), and that I wasn’t yet the pitching-first baseball fan that I am today, because there’s really no way Grubb should have been singled out ahead of Fergie Jenkins.
But what I do know about that Opening Day contest — which according to the schedule was delayed two days, presumably by weather, resulting in a one-game series in Detroit before Texas would open at home against Cleveland three days later — is that the game was brought to me in part by the new guy Nadel, either with the radio on and the TV muted, or possibly (in those days) by radio alone.
For nearly 35 years, Eric Nadel has (along with Chuck Morgan) been for me the voice of baseball, and one of my most valued teachers. The “Hello, everybody” and “So long, everybody” salutes that punctuate every broadcast, the can’t-miss pre game manager’s shows, the daily description (in exquisite detail) of the opponents’ uniform piping, the vocabulary that changes a little each year based on whose old-school tapes he listened to for hours over the previous winter, the huge moments during which you could hear Eric coming out of his chair, the obvious preparation and professionalism and absolute precision, the perfect balance of baseball wisdom and comfortable, energetic conversation that makes every baseball game a seminar and a sanctuary . . . all of it is Rangers baseball to so many of us.
Eric Nadel and Brad Sham, more than anyone, have consistently elevated the sports that they describe, and have made me the sports fan (and the mute-the-TV guy) that I am.
Eric’s a friend. To all of us. He’s made baseball better, every day, for basically my entire life.
The Ford C. Frick Award that Eric won last week is presented, annually, to one broadcaster for making “major contributions to baseball.”
Every day, man.
I think Eric used to call innings 4, 5, and 6 back in the early days, and if so it was his description on April 7, 1979 that took a 2-1 Texas lead to a 5-2 margin in my scorebook, a three-run edge that Jenkins would easily preserve, giving Texas its first of what would be six straight wins to start that season.
I don’t remember whether Eric told us that (the future Tiger) Grubb’s first-inning blast off (future Ranger) Dave Rozema was “history,” but I know that it’s pretty cool that in his first big league baseball game at the microphone, he got to narrate, for a local fan base that included at least one 10-year-old with a scorebook in hand, a complete-game victory fired by a future Hall of Famer.
There have been thousands more Texas Rangers games that Eric has called since that day, thousands of ballcap lids and sleeve lengths to illustrate verbally, countless instances of the words “whistled” and “replete” and “vomitory” and “American League Champions,” and, as of a week ago this morning, one more Hall of Famer who worked that April 7, 1979 game.
Congratulations, Eric. There’s a smile in my voice as I type this, and I just might be coming out of my own chair.
We packed the Twilite Lounge last night with more people than the fire marshal probably would have OK’d, and up above the bar, while we talked Rangers baseball for more than two hours, there was an NFL game on mute. Which seemed appropriate.
Thanks to Agustin Gonzalez and Jamie Kelly of Paranoid Fan for putting on the event, Ben Rogers for doing Ben Rogers things, Danny Balis for opening his place up for us, Grubes and TepidP and the folks from Shutdown Inning for classing up the joint, and all of you who came out (not the least of which are those of you who allowed me to come home with one fewer box of World Series Bound Editions than I arrived with — my wife thanks you). (I can ship more 2011 books [2010 World Series season] and 2012 books [2011 World Series season] immediately if any of you need holiday gifts.)
The Rangers are hosting the 2013 Cowboy Santas Toy Drive Finale today at the Ballpark from 4:30-7:30. You can bring new, unwrapped toys and books (appropriate for newborns through age 12), and your kids can play in the KidsZone and bounce between the face painting, balloon artist, and photo booth stations (with a special appearance by Santa Claus). The Rangers will have holiday movies showing on a video screen in the center field Vandergriff Plaza area, and Sportservice will provide food and drink specials.
These current and former Rangers players, coaches, and media will sign autographs at the event as well:
4:30-5:30: Ron Washington, Bobby Jones, Benji Gil, Jose Guzman, Jim Sundberg, Todd Van Poppel, Emily Jones
5:30-6:30: Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Steve Buechele, Rusty Greer, Tom Grieve, Dave Hostetler, Kevin Mench, Matt Hicks
6:30-7:30: Tanner Scheppers, Shawn Tolleson, Tim Crabtree, Larry Hardy, Mark McLemore, Pete O’Brien, Steve Busby
Thanks again to everyone who helped make last night a really good night of mid-December baseball.
The intended theme of my season-ending Rangers report, following a second straight year that didn’t go past 163, was that if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. That what we should expect (insist on?) from the pro sports teams that we invest our time and money and emotional well-being in is that they’re committed, in whatever ways they’re financially capable, to being the best they can be at every position, on the field and on the sidelines and in scouting and in player development and in the front office.
After years of ignoring my own message when it comes to my football team, I’ve finally had it. I spilled my raw thoughts and emotions on Twitter and on Facebook last night and I’m not going to litter this space with them, as much as I have the urge to talk about fiduciary duty and return on investment and (hat tip: Troy Villarreal) delusions of adequacy. You’re (presumably) a Texas Rangers fan, and that’s a far more healthy place to be.
A commitment to being the best they can be is not a string of empty words at 1000 Ballpark Way. It’s a set example, a measure against which I’m finding it much easier this morning, after sleeping on it, to walk away from the football team down the street, until they demonstrate something 180 degrees different and begin to disinfect, which I expect to be never, not that you should care about the state of my football allegiance.
As if scheduled with purpose, a day after that football mess and a mere two months from Pitchers & Catchers, the folks at Paranoid Fan have lined up a big baseball-fest for tonight, and I wish it started in about 10 minutes.
Ben Rogers of 105.3 The Fan and I will be at the Twilite Lounge (2640 Elm Street in Deep Ellum) to talk Rangers baseball starting at 7:00. (You can show up from noon to 3 when Bob & Dan air their midday show on The Ticket live from the Lounge, though prepare for a Cowboys segment or nine during their three-hour slot.) I don’t know if Grubes will show up for Bob & Dan’s show (after their bitter, messy split a couple years ago), but he’ll be there tonight. More details here.
The bar will be open and the pizza will be free. Ben and I will do a little Q&A and then we’ll open it up to the floor. The folks from Shutdown Inning will be on hand to sell their Rangers book, and I will have Newberg Report Bound Editions from the 2010 World Series season (2011 book) and the 2011 World Series season (2012 book) available for $20 each as well.
Wouldn’t a pair of 360-page books about your favorite baseball team, reliving the two greatest seasons the franchise has had in raw and emotional day-to-day detail, with lots of cool pictures and lots of prospect rankings and commentary, and forewords by Chuck Greenberg and Brad Sham (2011) and Thad Levine and Ben & Skin (2012), make pretty useful holiday gifts for those on your list of people to get holiday gifts for? (You can order them in advance here, as a few have already done, and I’ll have them set aside for you tonight. But you can also purchase the books at the event.)
I’ll sign them if you’d like. I bet Ben will, too.
I bet Brad would, too, once the football season is over.
Which, by the way . . .
See you tonight.
The following, or at least part of it, did not happen.
There are two New York Football Giants fans who live in the Metroplex. They’re really big New York Football Giants fans.
To protect their identity, we’ll call one “JD,” and the other “AJ.”
On September 8 this year, gearing up for the Giants’ regular season opener in Arlington, they saw their favorite baseball team break a three-game skid with a comeback win over the Angels, an outstanding bullpen effort on a day when the team’s relievers were relatively well rested and the club’s ace was set to open a series the next day against Pittsburgh.
The Giants lost to Dallas, 36-31. Very disappointing for JD and AJ.
The next month was worse. The Giants lost to the Broncos, lost to the Panthers, lost to the Chiefs, lost to the Eagles, and lost to the Bears — consecutively — and JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team went 10-11 over that stretch, the final loss of which was in a one-game play-in that their favorite baseball team had to play because of how the previous 20 games had gone.
JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team made a shocking announcement on October 17, involving a major change in the franchise’s executive suite. JD and AJ typically liked to spend the time of the year when their favorite baseball team was finished playing thinking about ways their favorite baseball team could get better, and the shakeup in management probably distracted them a bit from that, but they also had the very welcome distraction of the Giants rattling off four straight wins, from October 21 to November 17.
There was a bye week in that stretch for the Giants, during which JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team extended the contract of its most promising young pitcher, guaranteeing four seasons and giving the club three more years of control after that.
AJ got his own job promotion around that time, too.
On November 24, with the Giants having miraculously climbed back into the playoff hunt with those four straight wins, they were getting Dallas at home, a reeling Cowboys team that had just been destroyed in New Orleans and had its own bye week afterwards to think about it.
Cowboys 24, Giants 21. Gut punch for JD and AJ. But JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team had just traded for one of the game’s premier sluggers, so at least they had that.
The Giants took care of business the next weekend against the Redskins, and JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team made an intriguing trade for a young power-hitting prospect who might be ready for the big leagues. JD and AJ were feeling good.
But then, on December 8, the Giants were blasted by the Chargers, and with it their playoff chances were mathematically extinguished, with three weeks to go. At least JD and AJ’s favorite baseball team wasn’t eliminated until after the regular season had ended.
But JD and AJ are loyal, diehard sports fans. They’re not the type to jump ship.
The Giants’ next game, the first one that doesn’t really matter, is this Sunday afternoon in New York. The Seattle Seahawks come into MetLife Stadium, hoping to pad what’s already the best record in the NFL, led by the most unlikely star quarterback in the game, Russell Wilson, who’s in his second year after being taken in the third round of the draft.
Five quarterbacks were selected before Wilson in that 2012 draft.
Two of them were Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler.
I’m not a Giants fan or a Seahawks fan myself, but I read a bunch of stories about Wilson yesterday, full of words like professionalism and competitiveness and makeup and work ethic and “off-the-charts character and focus.”
JD and AJ hung out in Florida much of this week, and while most Giants fans have probably made other plans for Sunday, you can bet JD and AJ were thinking a little bit about football (when they weren’t thinking about their favorite baseball team and how they were going to help it win that day), and imagining how the Giants could find a way to compete with the Seahawks, to put a dent in that juggernaut team’s charge toward the playoffs, to keep fighting because that’s what you do, to maybe find a way to distract that star quarterback — to throw off that off-the-charts focus, maybe just a little.
JD and AJ have a good friend — who we’ll call “Josh” — who’s a really big 49ers fan. The Niners are chasing the Seahawks in the NFC West, and are just two games back with three to go, having just handed them only their second loss last Sunday while the Giants were in the process of being eliminated. San Francisco really needs Seattle to lose again, and Josh would really like to see that happen, and maybe if Wilson were to lose a little bit of that elite focus of his as he gets set to play the doormat Giants, that could help.
JD and AJ and Josh probably talked about that. Because they’re huge sports fans, and they don’t stop thinking about ways to help their teams win.
Not all of the above happened.
Though I have no proof of that.
So let’s say on March 23, 2004 the Rangers chose Robinson Cano over Joaquin Arias and Rudy Guillen and Bronson Sardinha and Jose Valdez, as was their right to do, and if anything it would have been even more likely in that case that Texas would have committed to Michael Young at shortstop, and though maybe Buck Showalter would have been a little more insistent that Alfonso Soriano move to the outfield I’m going to assume that still wouldn’t have happened here and he still would have been flipped to Washington for Brad Wilkerson and Armando Galarraga and Terrmel Sledge after two seasons at second base, but not so fast because that second Soriano season in Texas (2005) coincided with the 22-year-old Cano’s runner-up Rookie of the Year campaign in New York (while the 20-year-old Arias had his career year professionally — for AA Frisco), and maybe after Cano’s standout 2004 in AA and AAA — assuming he would have done same thing at Frisco and Oklahoma that year that he did at Trenton and Columbus — just maybe Texas would have gone to camp in 2005 with Young and Cano up the middle rather than Young and Soriano, and in that case maybe Soriano would have been traded that winter rather than the next one, and instead of Wilkerson-plus, who knows, maybe the Rangers would have gotten someone like Jose Guillen instead and, hmm, maybe the Wilkerson trade was OK after all, but then again if Texas hadn’t picked up Sledge who would have gone to San Diego along with Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young in Sledge’s place, and if Cano played in Frisco and Oklahoma in 2004, what would have happened with second basemen Jason Bourgeois (AA) and Ramon Nivar (AAA), well, Nivar would have just played 90 percent of his games in the outfield instead of just 60 percent and maybe that would have been a good thing, and speaking of middle infielders-turned-center fielders, if the Yankees lost Cano to Texas rather than Arias, maybe Arias never sees the outfield and never hurts his arm and as a result fulfills his crazy potential as a Yankee, and back in Texas while Cano’s double play partner at AAA would have been aging journeyman Manny Alexander, at AA it would have been shortstop Ian Kinsler, at least until he was traded, which he was that July (with Erik Thompson) for Colorado star slugger Larry Walker, who killed the deal with his no-trade clause, but Kinsler, who hit .402 with power for two months at Low A Clinton that spring and then .300 with power at Frisco, would have surely been traded anyway with Texas knowing that Cano was its next second baseman and maybe the Rangers would have jumped in on Kansas City’s Carlos Beltran trade that June, taking advantage of Kinsler’s ridiculous breakout by packaging him with second-year center fielder Laynce Nix and AA righthander Kameron Loe to get the 27-year-old (whom the Royals ended up trading in a three-team deal with Houston and Oakland, netting them third baseman Mark Teahan, righthander Mike Wood, and catcher John Buck [two future Rangers and one who has always seemed poised to be a Ranger]), and where would this team have been in the mid-’00’s with Cano at second and Beltran in center field, which assumes Texas would have spent the money to extend Beltran past that 2004 summer and keep him from going to the Mets that winter for seven years and $119 million, one helluva huge contract that’s less than half the cash that the Mariners committed to Cano today, and maybe if the Rangers had been better than the very average team they were those next few years, they wouldn’t have decided to tear the thing down and trade Cano’s former teammate (and perhaps Beltran’s future teammate) Mark Teixeira, in which case the Rangers would have never gotten Elvis Andrus or Matt Harrison or Neftali Feliz and nevermindforgetIsaidanything and as long as we have power when I wake up tomorrow I’ll probably write something about J.P. Arencibia and please stop asking me what ever happened to Erik Thompson.
One year ago today, I wrote a report about Mike Napoli, focusing on a lengthy list
during the Jon Daniels/Nolan Ryan era of players that Texas acquired at what appears to have been exactly the right time. Players who were picked up just before they exploded, who came at a price that in retrospect seems absurdly light, who reached their big league peaks (or a significant resurgence) here – which doesn’t even count Adrian Beltre, whose contract already seems like a bargain.
The list was headed by Napoli and included Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, David Murphy, Marlon Byrd, Darren O’Day, Milton Bradley, and Darren Oliver.
The departures the last few weeks of Nathan and Murphy, and possibly Cruz, will further prove the point.
Texas paid Nathan $7 million per year in 2012 and 2013 and got spectacular results. Detroit will reportedly pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million annually for his age 39 and 40 seasons.
The Rangers paid Murphy roughly $13 million over six seasons, most of which were pretty productive. Cleveland has agreed to guarantee him almost as much ($12 million) over just the next two, during which he will be 32 and 33, and coming off his worst campaign by far.
Cruz was paid about $21 million for seven Rangers seasons, with a high salary of $10.5 million in 2013. The 33-year-old will blow that number away with his next deal, even though he’s likely to enter his decline phase at some point during it.
Even A.J. Pierzynski, who will be 37, will be guaranteed more in Boston this coming season ($8.25 million) than he was in Texas ($7.5 million).
Craig Gentry was a senior at the University of Arkansas in 2006 when, in that summer’s 10th round, Rangers area scout Jay Eddings (who was promoted last month to a pro scouting position) pounded his fist on the table for a kid who wasn’t even drafted as a junior, due in part to Tommy John surgery, and whose senior season was abbreviated by an infection in his knee. Eddings believed in the player, and pushed until the Rangers used the 298th pick on the outfielder. It took a mere $10,000 signing bonus (where else was a senior going to go?) to bring him on board. He entered the system with all the fanfare ever afforded a college senior, which is to say basically none.
As someone who’s addicted to outfield defense and pressure offense, I’m obviously a huge Craig Gentry fan.
But I’m a bigger fan of building winning baseball teams, and while yesterday’s trade with Oakland can’t be oversimplified as the conversion of a 10th-round senior sign into a 10th overall pick in the draft, this is yet another example, almost certainly, of the Rangers maximizing a player’s value — and in fact getting the most out of him when he was undervalued in terms of payroll impact — and flipping him when the opportunity came up to get younger and less expensive and, given the immediate state of the roster, possibly more balanced.
Gentry turned 30 last week. His game is fully dependent on his legs. Oakland doesn’t care too much whether he’ll be the same player after three more years, when he’ll first have the right to test free agency, because that club’s window, which is framed offensively around 2014 28-year-old’s Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes and 34-year-old Coco Crisp, who will hit the market a year from now, is wide open right now. That’s a franchise that can’t worry about 2017, not coming off back-to-back division titles with over 90 wins and less payroll flexibility than most clubs. The A’s are built to win, and every move they’ve made this winter has been focused solely on 2014.
Which is not to say the trade that sent Gentry and righthander Josh Lindblom to Oakland for 24-year-old outfielder Michael Choice and 20-year-old infielder Chris Bostick was a 2014 sacrifice by Texas with only future seasons in mind. This deal, like last month’s Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder swap, was made because it allowed Texas to take an area of strength and address an area of weakness, giving the roster more balance than it had the day before the trade went down.
Here are the realities:
Texas expects Leonys Martin, who made significant progress in 2013, to take the next step in his development and replace the flashes of impact play with a steadier dose of consistency. He’s this team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter, and not in a platoon.
As a right-handed hitter, Gentry could have gone into the 2014 season as the team’s starting left fielder, or more likely on the light end of a platoon with a left-handed bat like Engel Beltre or Jim Adduci or even Mitch Moreland. But given the Rangers’ objective of resuscitating its offense with some of the run production that was missing in 2013, the likelihood was always that left field was going to be an ideal place to add some punch.
He’s not the baserunner Gentry is, but Beltre is every bit as good an outfielder, and arguably better.
He’s also 24.
And out of options.
With Martin set to play every day in center (and Alex Rios in right), Gentry was in a bit of a lurch here — worthy of more than just 150 at-bats and a bunch of late-inning defensive work, but not enough punch to hold down a corner outfield spot on a contending team. A platoon in left? I’m not sure the Rangers were going to be comfortable giving Beltre or Adduci the heavy half of a tandem arrangement on a corner, or making Moreland an everyday outfielder. And if the plan was (or is) to go out and get a left-handed bat like Shin-Soo Choo (whom Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports Texas met with recently, and who Jim Bowden of ESPN/XM believes will sign with Texas) or Curtis Granderson or the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran, then you’re back to looking at Gentry as a fourth outfielder playing behind three full-time guys. That’s a valuable piece, but perhaps less so than as a trade chip — particularly given what the A’s were offering — and especially when Beltre (who will surely be claimed by another club if he doesn’t make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster) is still around to serve in the lockdown defender role.
Craig Gentry is a bench weapon. He’s very good at his narrowly defined job. Contending teams win with players like that.
But he’s a 30-year-old bench weapon. And when there are options behind him who can serve a similar function (even if less dependably), when you can turn a role player into a talent like Choice, it’s a risk that fearless GM’s are sometimes willing to take.
Jon Daniels was willing to make the deal because his scouts believe Choice, who was born in Fort Worth and played high school ball in Mansfield and collegiately at UTA (where he was teammates with Rangers outfield prospect Preston Beck), could give the club a power bat that’s ready to contribute. He’s going to have the chance to earn the left field job (and though his left-right splits are reasonably even, it’s possible the club could pair him with the left-handed Beltre or Adduci).
He could also be sent to AAA for more seasoning (he has all three options left), especially if an impact veteran is acquired.
He could be traded again, for that matter.
The point is that there’s flexibility — and six years of control — and if Choice’s raw power translates against big league pitching, he could give the Rangers something they’ve lacked, with the negligible type of payroll impact that facilitates much bigger splashes elsewhere on the roster.
Chosen 10th in 2010 draft (in a deep crop that included Bryce Harper  and Manny Machado  and Matt Harvey  ahead of him, and Chris Sale  and Christian Yelich  behind him — Texas took outfielder Jake Skole with the 15th pick and catcher Kellin Deglan 22nd overall), Choice hit a robust .266/.377/.587 that summer with Short-Season A Vancouver and then .285/.376/.542 (with a league-leading 30 homers) for High A Stockton in 2011, followed by a standout run in the Arizona Fall League (.318/.423/.667). His power receded with AA Midland in 2012 (.287/.356/.423) and came back only a little with AAA Sacramento this season (.302/.390/.445), earning a September look with Oakland in which he went 5 for 18 with a double and a walk, fanning six times.
Despite the drop in game power the last two years, scouts continue to tout Choice’s raw power and plus bat speed, pointing to his aptitude and mechanical adjustments as a hitter — his strikeout rate has improved every season (one for every 2.9 plate appearances in 2010, 1/4.0 in 2011, 1/4.6 in 2012, and 1/5.2 in 2013) and he walked once every 8.7 times up in 2013 after once every 12.2 trips the year before — and most believe he’s ready for the opportunity to hit in a big league lineup.
As with most deals that involve unproven players keying at least one side of it, this is a scouting trade. Rangers talent evaluators obviously feel Choice’s power is not only in there but poised to break out. Scouting decisions don’t always pan out, but this organization has a tremendous track record in that respect, and it’s easy to get behind the idea that Texas has measured the risk against the upside well and is right about what Choice will be.
The right-handed hitter/thrower is built like Marlon Byrd, and many things about his profile might remind you of the former Ranger outfielder. He’s capable of playing center field but is ideally a corner defender. He’s athletic but won’t be much of a basestealing threat and doesn’t throw particularly well. Byrd’s a lifetime .280 hitter who has flashed 20-25 home run power in his good years. Choice could be that same guy, with the chance to clear more fences eventually — especially away from O.co Coliseum as his home park.
Choice may not be ready to produce like Byrd did in 2007-09 with the Rangers or last year with the Mets and Pirates, but with Byrd now 36 there’s certainly no guarantee he’ll continue to produce at those levels himself.
And Byrd is guaranteed $8 million from the Phillies in 2014. And another $8 million in 2015. And another $8 million in 2016, if he plays enough beforehand to lock that third season in.
Choice will make roughly the Major League minimum those three years.
Ben Badler of Baseball America tweeted yesterday that Choice will slot somewhere in the top five among Rangers prospects — presumably along with catcher Jorge Alfaro, middle infielders Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, and one of righthanders Alex Gonzalez and Luke Jackson and third baseman Joey Gallo — but he was number two for the A’s, and without question the player with the highest ceiling in Tuesday’s trade.
According to San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser, “The move has some in the game scratching their heads (I’ve even heard comparisons to the Andre Ethier deal with the Dodgers).”
In December 2005, Oakland traded Ethier, then a 23-year-old who had just torn up the AA Texas League, to Los Angeles for Bradley, who would play the 2006 season at age 28 (plus infield prospect Antonio Perez). Bradley helped the A’s win the West in his one full season in Oakland, while Ethier finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2006, since finishing sixth in the MVP race one year and appearing in the All-Star Game two other times. The mere invoking of that deal eight years later suggests there are folks unsure of why Oakland — cash-strapped Oakland — would move a high-end prospect like Choice for a 30-year-old role player, when nine times out of 10 you find the A’s on the opposite side of that kind of trade.
(One big league scout suggested to Slusser, by the way, that Bostick, the second player coming to Texas, “has upside and is a risky trade” for Oakland. He’s not a high-upside player, and is at least two years away, but Lindblom was probably not going to impact the 2014 Rangers staff any more than he did in 2013, and he’ll be out of options when the season ends. Adding a middle infield lottery ticket like Bostick — more ballplayer than toolbox in this case — is a classic Daniels move. But he’s far from a sure thing, even if some believe his hit tool and feel for the game could carry him a long way.)
I read a lot of A’s-centric material yesterday openly wondering if Billy Beane just isn’t a Michael Choice guy, for some unknown reason — otherwise it would seem fair to assume that (1) reasonable value for Gentry would have been less than a big league-ready prospect with Choice’s upside . . . or that (2) Choice could have brought a more valuable (younger?) asset back. (Grant speculated that the A’s, desperate for a new stadium, have that added reason to go all in for the 2014 season — and perhaps increase support for stadium funding.)
(Maybe Beane thinks that sending Choice to Texas could take the Rangers off the chase for Choo or Beltran or Cruz, increasing his own club’s chances in the division this year. Doubt that was a meaningful factor, though.)
Regardless of the reason, every national column you read today will suggest Texas won this deal, even if the more predictable immediate impact belongs to Oakland.
Gentry’s greatest value is as a part-time center fielder, and the importance of that role is arguably diminished this year in Texas. He had more value to Oakland, whose center fielder is aging, injury-prone, and a year from free agency, and whose need to win right now, even at the expense of the near future, has become apparent.
And that made Choice less valuable to the A’s than he is to Texas, which has made run production a priority this winter, and which has a left field situation that’s immediately open to competition. Oakland’s window may have gotten arguably wider with this deal, but it could shut sooner than the Rangers’ window, which Choice could help extend as he gives the club six years of inexpensive control and the type of raw power that was otherwise at least two years away from arriving off the farm.
The Rangers have had unusually good success in the 10th round of the draft, finding players like Rusty Greer and Doug Davis and Billy Sample and others (including outfielder Justin Maxwell, who didn’t sign, and righthander Matt Nevarez, who was eventually sent to Houston in a trade for Pudge Rodriguez, and outfielder Jared Hoying and righthander Cole Wiper, each of whom have a real chance to get to the big leagues). It’s historically been a more fruitful round for Texas than the second, or the fourth.
Craig Gentry fits near the top of that list of Rangers steals in the 10th round. Even though his unusually long college career was followed by an unusually long minor league apprenticeship, resulting in his first extended big league opportunity coming at age 27 in 2011, he was outstanding in his role here the last few years, providing the type of help off the bench that great teams get, and was a fan favorite (myself included). But he’s 30 years old, arguably situated, given the state of the team, in a position where he was either going to be overexposed or underutilized, and with this trade he enabled Texas to add a recent first-round pick at a position of need — and to potentially address left field without surrendering a future first-rounder in the process.
For now, at least.
Gentry is unquestionably a success story in Texas, but this organization has demonstrated, over and over, that it won’t keep a player too long. The Rangers scouted him well and developed him well, and most likely got Gentry’s best years, and are clearly convinced they have the chance to get the same out of Michael Choice.
And those lie ahead rather than behind.
One fan tweeted yesterday: “First Ian, now Gentry. Who are the women supposed to cheer for?!?”
I responded: “The Rangers.”
Just as the presence of Jurickson Profar and need for left-handed power made Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder a good fit, the development of Leonys Martin and presence of Engel Beltre and need for even more power made the trade of Craig Gentry a sensible one. If Choice becomes what the Rangers believe he will become, one day we’ll look back fondly not only at the very good years the former 10th-round pick Gentry gave this team, but also at the trade that sent a 10th man to a division rival for a hometown kid, the corner bat with a high ceiling, controllable for a baseball eternity, that this club had a serious need for.
I hate Detroit’s trade of righthander Doug Fister to Washington (no matter what happens next), I don’t like A.J. Pierzynski for Boston, I like Oakland’s trade for closer Jim Johnson because I’m a Rangers fan, I’m confused by the Tigers giving Alan Trammell’s number to Ian Kinsler, I’m fascinated that the Angels reportedly offered Howie Kendrick to Detroit for Fister before the Tigers took Kinsler for Prince Fielder, and I’m intrigued by a handful of the players set free by their clubs in advance of yesterday’s non-tender deadline (including righthanders Andrew Bailey, Daniel Hudson, Ronald Belisario, Ryan Webb, and Sandy Rosario, lefthander Wesley Wright, and catchers Lou Marson and J.P. Arencibia), but today I have just two things I wanted to share with you:
Ricky Nolasco’s free agent deal with Minnesota (four years/$49 million) will pay him $12 million in 2014.
Scott Kazmir’s two-year deal with Oakland: $11 million in 2014.
Tim Hudson: $11 million in 2014.
Tim Lincecum: $17 million in 2014.
Dan Haren: $10 million in 2014.
Phil Hughes and Josh Johnson: $8 million in 2014.
Jason Vargas: $7 million in 2014.
Yu Darvish $10 million, Matt Harrison $8 million, Derek Holland $5.4 million, Martin Perez $1 million, and Alexi Ogando somewhere around $2 million.
A complete rotation — and a very good one — for under $27 million in 2014, or less than what the Giants will pay Hudson and Lincecum (their number three and four starters?) alone.
I’ve recommended Joe Sheehan’s Newsletter to you before, and will do it again. He didn’t ask me to plug his work. I asked him if I could share with you guys what he wrote on Sunday. He said sure.
Months ago, before we had a clear idea of when mom’s surgery date would be, I committed to seeing “Betrayal” on November 20. One of the reasons I love New York is that I very much enjoy theatre, not so much the big musical productions but plays, and you have terrific access to those here. I like — this won’t come as a surprise to those of you who know my love of Aaron Sorkin — well-written dialogue. “Betrayal” fit that, and was something of an event here in town, with the married Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig as husband and wife in two of the three lead roles. Despite recent events, I didn’t want to stand up my friend who’d gotten the tickets, so I gathered myself together and went.
(Nickel review? Not bad, not great. I imagine it made a greater impression in pre-Thatcher London than it possibly can in a media environment where talky dramas are plentiful and adultery has lost its ability to shock. I did not like the conceit of telling the story in reverse. Also, the Barrymore may be a touch too big for a performance that is quiet, subtle, reserved.)
So i was completely out of touch when the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder trade went down, learning of it — as I learn almost everything nowadays — via Twitter on the 1 train headed home. My first reaction was…no reaction at all. I am a professional opinion generator, and the deal had broken me, the way Flash ads break my Firefox twice a day. i scrolled through others’ takes, sent some text messages and generally tried to figure out how this had happened.
It’s not as it this idea was completely random. Two years ago, when Fielder was a free agent, I beat the drums hard for the Rangers to sign him. They went with Yu Darvish instead, a decision that certainly cannot be criticized. However, their lineup was a bit lacking in 2012 and a real problem in 2013, a fact masked by a home ballpark that inflates run scoring. Darvish has been excellent, but the Rangers could have used Fielder as well. I had a good read on Fielder’s price — “an eight-year, $200-million contract” when he eventually got 9/214 — and foresaw that the Rangers would allow Hamilton to leave via free agency, creating a hole in the middle of the batting order.
“Prince Fielder is the one free agent the Rangers should target. He fills their position of greatest need; he is young enough that they would be buying his peak; he balances their lineup; and he provides a solution to the vexing problem of how to handle Josh Hamilton’s upcoming free agency. Even if it means stretching the budget a bit, the Rangers should make this move — it would swing the AL West back in their favor for now and years to come.”
The Rangers lost the AL West in 2012 by a single game and missed the outright spot in the Coin Flip Game by that much in 2013. Given that Mitch Moreland has failed to develop (.250/.308/.450 at ages 26 and 27), there’s a strong argument that pushing the payrolls the past two years to $140-145 million by signing Fielder could have been the difference between making the real postseason twice and not doing so at all.
The Rangers have now acquired Fielder and the seven years left on his contract in exchange for Kinsler and the four years left on his, with the Tigers sending $30 million over the last five years of Fielder’s deal to help make the trade happen. Fielder is a less attractive property than he was as a free agent, two years older — two peak seasons, ages 28 and 29, gone — and perhaps with more questions about what his performance will be in his thirties. His two years in Detroit were just all right: .295/.387/.491, playing in every single game, hitting 55 homers. Fielder’s 2013 line of .279/.362/.457 was his worst since his rookie season as a Brewer, and Fielder actively hurts any team as a fielder and baserunner, costing a team about a win a year with his glove and his legs. Per baseball-reference’s WAR, Fielder was just a single win better than Moreland in 2013, largely because of how poorly Fielder plays his position. It’s tempting to blame Comerica Park, but Fielder did not show unusual home/road splits during his time with the Tigers, and his poor 2013 stats weren’t any better away than they were at home.
Fielder’s defense may be bad enough that the Rangers can make him a DH and get more value from him than they would by leaving him at first base. Even if he doesn’t hit quite as well as a DH — most players don’t — they’d be getting back eight to 12 runs a year, and quite possibly more that that as Fielder ages. There are soft factors here to consider, as not all 30-year-olds take to becoming designated hitters, and you don’t want to start the relationship with your new #3 hitter by pissing him off. However, the most important things Fielder will do for the Rangers, he’ll do in the batters’ box; the Rangers need him to be the .300/.400/.550 guy they missed last year.
Will he be? Fielder has a very good strikeout rate for a hitter with his power, and excellent command of the strike zone. That’s enabled him to hit .286 in his career, and peak with three years of .299 or better. His strikeout rate has actually declined even as league strikeout rates have risen. His unintentional walk rate is down from its 2009-10 peak. I first thought that might be because he’s batting more with runners on base, but that doesn’t seem to be the difference. Per Fangraphs, though, Fielder does make contact more often now, when he swings, than he did earlier in his career. So the missing walks are the result of an improvement in his game. With his batted-ball data relatively stable, I see no reason to think Fielder’s plate discipline will be a concern. Fielder has never been a Three True Outcome player, which is what has separated him from the Adam Dunn class of batters, and which should be a separator for him — allowing him to continue to be productive — for the next few seasons at least. Fielder’s career slash line of .286/.389/.527 seems like a reasonable median expectation for him through 2016. There’s some downside risk here, because Fielder is a one-dimensional player and he’s signed for a long time, but he’s good enough at the plate now to warrant taking the risk.
The other player in the trade is substantially more risky. Ian Kinsler may have a broader skill set than does Fielder, and he’s signed for fewer years, and he has more positional value…but to my eyes, he’s showing many more markers of decline. Kinsler is a 32-year-old second baseman coming off two of the worst offensive seasons of his career. Never much of a hitter for average, Kinsler saw his power fall off — he slugged .423 and .413 the past two years despite a great home park for power — and his once-vaunted basestealing skills disappear. An 86% basestealer through 2011, Kinsler was 21-for-30 in 2012 and a wretched 15-for-26 last year. His 2013 bWAR was propped up by strong defensive numbers, ones that for Kinsler have bounced around considerably throughout his career. (Defensive bWAR, starting in 2006: 0.0, 0.8, -0.5, 2.6, 1.0, 2.2, 0.3, 1.5. Go ahead, predict the next number in that sequence.) Kinsler is closing in on 10,000 defensive innings at second base. He’s been prone to the kind of minor, nagging injuries that chip away at playing time and performance. Did I mention that he’s 32?
Perhaps the biggest concern is that outside of Texas, Kinsler has been an ordinary hitter. On the road, he’s batted .242/.312/.399, with stark changes in his strikeout rate and K/UIBB as compared to his work in Texas. Now, those road stats are skewed a bit — the AL West parks other than Rangers Ballpark have been excellent pitchers’ parks and the teams Kinsler has faced more with the unbalanced schedule have been good pitching teams — but the idea that Kinsler is a power/speed second baseman is belied by that .399. It’s not like Kinsler’s road stats are weighted by a couple of bad years. His road OPS, walking backwards from 2013: 735, 611, 730, 710, 672. This is who he is. When you add the road performance to the short-term decline to the age to the minor injuries…it’s a very problematic package.
Now, this could work out, but it hinges on Kinsler making fundamental changes to his approach. Kinsler hits a lot of pop-ups. That’s an effect of his being a flyball hitter, which you could argue was his attempt to take advantage of his home park. If Kinsler ports his pull/pop-up style to Comerica Park, he could have a very long season that accelerates his decline. If he changes, though…if he does something similar to what Torii Hunter has done the past two seasons and becomes a line-drive hitter with pop who can put balls in play in Comerica’s expansive outfield, then I think he could have more success than his home/road splits indicate. Projecting whether players will change in mid-career is a fool’s errand, but we’ve seen enough players make changes, even in just the last couple of years, to underline the point that adaptations happen. The current version of Ian Kinsler will get worked in his new home; if he builds a new version, though, he can help the Tigers win and perhaps stave off his decline. There’s a good outcome in which Kinsler hits .310 with 45 doubles and a dozen homers and his usual walk and strikeout rates.
The Rangers now have Fielder for the next seven years at a net cost of $138 million, or about $20 million per year. The Tigers have Kinsler for four years at a net cost of $92 million per year. I don’t think the money really matters all that much — you’re trying to win games and divisions and championships, rather than a wins-per-dollar title — but looked at that way, I think the Rangers did well for themselves. I would rather have Fielder under his terms than Kinsler under his.
Of course, this trade didn’t happen in a vacuum, which is why it’s such a fascinating deal. I’m certain that I’ve made fantasy baseball or Strat-O-Matic trades that were like this, where the fit between two teams was just so perfect that you could make a one-for-one swap that made both teams better the moment the deal happened. It’s extremely rare to see it happen in MLB; the first one that came to mind was the Padres/Blue Jays deal that, similarly, swapped a second baseman in Roberto Alomar for a first baseman in Fred McGriff, with Joe Carter and Tony Fernandez along for the ride. The Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda deal wanted to be this type of trade before it drank battery acid. The allure of the never-was-happening Oscar Taveras-for-Jurickson Profar trade was just this: to make the puzzle pieces fit better.
This trade isn’t about Fielder and Kinsler, really. It’s about Miguel Cabrera and Profar, and Nick Castellanos and Elvis Andrus. It’s about the puzzle pieces. This trade is designed to help the Tigers and the Rangers both align their talent better. So whether Fielder or Kinsler is the better player in 2014 or 2015, or whether one player’s contract commitment is now more or less onerous than the other, isn’t the point. The point is that both these teams expect to be better because of this deal.
For the Rangers, the immediate gain is obvious: After a year of being mishandled, Profar can now get on with his life as a second baseman. There’s some cost there, as Profar would be about a half-win more valuable per season, all things equal, as a shortstop, and he absolutely can be a major-league shortstop. However, simply being able to play him every day at a single position is worth that cost. Health allowing, the Rangers now have a championship-caliber middle infield locked in for the next six years, a combination that should be worth six or seven wins next year and could peak at 10 to 12 wins above replacement. Just putting an average team around Profar and Andrus makes the Rangers a contender. They also fill a hole; in the first year post-Josh, Rangers’ left-handed batters slugged .389 with a .300 OBP, numbers Fielder will certainly help improve.
The Tigers’ gains aren’t quite so obvious, but this trade should cancel everyone’s favorite show, “Miguel Cabrera, Almost Third Baseman”. Cabrera was a poor defensive player at full health, and when injuries limited his mobility in the second half of 2013, he became one of the worst defensive players we’ve seen in a while. The Tigers’ roster construction left them no solution other than to keep playing Cabrera and hope for the best. While the Tigers put on a good face for two years, trading Fielder concedes the point that Cabrera can’t continue playing third base. With Fielder gone, Cabrera can not only move back to first base, he can spend time at DH when his body demands time off the field. The Tigers stand to gain 20-30 runs just by putting a capable third baseman on the field. Add that to the upgrades at second base and first base, and it becomes clear that this deal is going to make the Tigers better in the short term.
The Tigers fill a hole at second base that was opened by Omar Infante’s free agency, and they’ll have the option to move Castellanos, originally a third baseman, back to the hot corner. Castellanos was moved to the outfield as a downstream effect of Cabrera’s initial move to third in 2012, but his bat will play considerably better at third base. His defense at third did not warrant the initial position switch, and frankly, after two years of running Cabrera out there, the Tigers don’t get to tell anyone they can’t play third base for reasons of defense. Castellanos hasn’t exactly raked above A ball — .271 with middling power and a 176/65 K/UIBB in a bit more than 900 PA — so he’s got a much better chance of having a career if he’s not a corner outfielder.
I think back to that train ride home, and my inability to form an opinion on this deal. It’s because this trade, this bolt from the blue, doesn’t fit what we do any longer. It’s a baseball trade — forget the $30 million. It’s a baseball trade that aligns the talent of two teams better, that should make those two teams better, that makes sense no matter how you look at it. You can’t snark it, you can’t reduce it to 140 characters, you can’t make a sound bite out of it. You can just sit back and appreciate the creativity and the craft of Jon Daniels and Dave Dombrowski, two men who do their jobs as well as anyone in the industry. Who won? They both did.
The Twins have a beast of a minor league system, possibly the best in baseball. It’s headed by two potential monsters in center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, followed by righthanders Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart, and backed up by a solid supply of kids up and down the system, all over the field and particularly heavy on the mound.
There’s an outside chance that Buxton, Sano, and Meyer could all arrive in Minnesota sometime in 2014. But realistically, that franchise’s window is at least two years from opening. It’s a club coming off seasons of 99, 96, and 96 losses, twice the most in the American League and once out-awfuled by only the Astros, and even with this week’s signings of righthanders Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, an over/under of 90 Twins losses in 2014 would probably draw fairly even play.
To convince a free agent in November to take himself off the market, you typically have to overpay.
That’s triply true when you’re a non-contender like the Twins.
Minnesota is reportedly committing $49 million over four years to Nolasco, who will be 31 next week, and $24 million over three years to Hughes, who isn’t very good at pitching. That’s $73 million in obligated cash for a club whose payroll in 2013 was around $76 million.
It’s the latest example of the shifting contract landscape, as free agent classes get annually thinner at the same time as franchises lock in exponentially more lucrative TV deals. It stands to reason that heavier competition for fewer arguably reliable veteran players would result in contracts that look crazier — but which, as always, won’t look so crazy in most cases, if we just give it a couple years.
One upshot of all this is that contracts that clubs entered into a year or two or more ago, even if they seemed like significant step-outs back then, tend to look like team-friendly deals now, assuming all other things (performance, health) are no worse than roughly equal.
And one baseball synonym for “team-friendly” is “tradeable.”
Who do you want: Nolasco at 4/49, Jason Vargas at 4/32, Hughes at 3/24, or Derek Holland at three years and $24.3 million — with club ability to control the 27-year-old at four years and $34.8 million or five years and $45.3 million?
Assuming Matt Harrison is healthy, you have him at 4/49 for the remainder of his year-old deal (or 5/60.25 if Texas picks up a 2018 option). Would you trade the 28-year-old Harrison today for a 31-year-old Nolasco? Of course not.
Yu Darvish: Locked up for 4/41 at this point (or 3/30 if he earns a player option via Cy Young finishes).
Let’s see what Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Bronson Arroyo get — but then again, even including Darvish in any affordability examination is sorta silly.
Some have suggested that Elvis Andrus’s contract extension, which commits Texas to $124.475 million over the next nine years ($13.8 million AAV) — or $139.475 over 10 seasons if the Rangers pick up a 2023 option — unless Andrus opts out after another five years and $66.475 or six years and $81.475, is a bad deal.
Who would you rather pay: the 25-year-old Andrus between $13 and $14 million a year for the prime of his career — or more than $13 million a year, for the next four seasons, to 31-year-old Jhonny Peralta?
If Nelson Cruz gets the four years and $75 million he reportedly seeks ($18.75 million AAV), how’s Adrian Beltre’s three years and $51 million ($17 million AAV) — which will be two years and $35 million ($17.5 million AAV) if he fails to reach 1200 plate appearances in 2014-2015 or 600 plate appearances in 2015 — looking now?
Beltre is 34.
Cruz is 33.
Cruz at 4/75 (or something close to it), or Alex Rios at the club’s choice of one year at $14 million or two years at $27 million?
Regardless of where you fall on Cruz vs. Rios as baseball players, you’re talking about a shorter commitment for Rios, and substantially less per year, assuming Cruz gets something close to what he’s asking for.
If Joakim Soria’s arm comes back in the second year after Tommy John surgery like they often do, is he worth the $6 million the Rangers will owe him in 2014 if they don’t pick up his 2015 option, or the two years and $12.5 million if they do?
Before you suggest he’ll need to be closing games to make the contract a good value, recognize that set-up men Joe Smith and Javier Lopez each just got three years guaranteed, for $15.75 million and $13 million, respectively.
Ian Kinsler’s contract was arguably as untradeable as any on the Rangers, until Texas moved it for Prince Fielder’s arguably unmovable deal.
All these other affordable contracts — plus the $15 million AAV saved the next few seasons at second base — presumably made assuming the Fielder contract palatable.
Especially with the $30 million subsidy from Detroit, which effectively makes the Texas commitment $19.7 million annually for the remaining seven years on Fielder’s deal.
Fielder is 29. Hypothetical: You can trade the seven years left on his contract, right now, for the six years at $11.3 million annually that the White Sox have guaranteed Jose Dariel Abreu. Wouldja?
You read all the time about the Rangers’ flexibility, from their depth at key positions to the waves of prospects in the pipeline to ownership’s demonstrated willingness to step out on payroll when key opportunities present themselves.
But there’s flexibility too created by locking up key pieces before they need to be locked up, and in spite of the fact that Texas regularly posts a top-third payroll, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find much of anything approaching albatross salary on this roster. Given the way this winter’s free agent market has developed — not unexpectedly — you might take a look at the Texas roster and ask yourself how many attractive trade pieces this club has, and not only in terms of its robust farm system.
Something I was thinking about as our own season of overindulgence gets rolling this week . . . .
There are a few interesting things about the Baseball Prospectus list of the Rangers’ top 10 prospects, published a couple weeks ago by Jason Parks:
- Rougned Odor, 2B
- Jorge Alfaro, C
- Alex “Chi-Chi” Gonzalez, RHP
- Luis Sardinas, SS
- Nick Williams, LF
- Joey Gallo, 3B
- Luke Jackson, RHP
- Nomar Mazara, RF
- Lewis Brinson, CF
- Ronald Guzman, 1B
You have international free agents from Venezuela (two), the Dominican Republic (two), and Colombia (one), and five draft picks — two first-rounders, two supplemental first-rounders, and a second-rounder.
There’s a 22-year-old, a 21-year-old, four 20-year-olds, three 19-year-olds, and an 18-year-old.
Which, of course, does not include 20-year-old Jurickson Profar or 22-year-old Martin Perez.
From strictly a “tools” standpoint, the player who would probably chart lowest is the also the one who received the smallest signing bonus of the 10.
He’s the Rangers’ number one prospect.
There are three players who finished the 2013 season in AA. Two in High A. Four in Low A.
Of the hitters, two hit from the right side, five from the left, and one from both sides of the plate.
And maybe coolest of all:
A catcher, a first baseman, a second baseman, a shortstop, a third baseman, a left fielder, a center fielder, a right fielder, and two pitchers.
It goes without saying, but this sort of depth — vertically and horizontally — is how you can afford to spend big on Major League free agents, and trade for impact players.
There’s a reasonable chance not all 10 of the above players will still be Rangers when camp breaks around 80 sleeps from now.
But if that’s the case, it means the big league club will have added immediate impact in the process — and there are plenty more where those 10 come from.