If only John Hart hadn't dealt Travis Hafner.
It's a popular sentiment among Rangers fans these days, as we are all too familiar with the team's struggles to get quality - heck, league average - production out of the designated hitter spot since Rafael Palmeiro's departure from the team after the 2003 season. Since that point, Texas has shuttled various players in and out of the slot - Brad Fullmer was supposed to be the regular DH in 2004, but played just 76 games due to injury. The Rangers received above average production from David Dellucci at DH in 2005, but he only had 237 at-bats there - leaving plenty of ABs for Adrian Gonzalez, Phil Nevin and Chad Allen to drag the team's DH production down to worst in the American League in OPS+, or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. Ouch. Of course, joke's on us: Adrian Gonzalez is now a rising star in San Diego.
2006 didn't bring much improvement, as Texas designated hitters jumped to third worst in the AL in OPS+. More mediocre production from Phil Nevin ensued (who was shipped out of town in May), while Hank Blalock and Matt Stairs pretty much stunk up the place. To sum it all up, the Rangers are in desperate need of a quality DH, especially with the lineup not looking quite as good as it did when it boasted Carlos Lee and Gary Matthews Jr.
And that brings us to 2007, where it appears from all indications that retread Sammy Sosa will get the first crack at the DH job. Of course, it's not going to be as cut and dry as that: even though Brad Wilkerson is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and an abysmal season, he's still a pretty good rebound candidate, and he'll have to get at-bats somewhere. Frank Catalanotto will likely get the majority of the starts in left field, but has no business being in the lineup against left handed pitching. And then, of course, there's Jason Botts.
Botts may be 26 years old now, but has scorched minor league pitching consistently since his 2004 campaign in Frisco. He murdered the AAA Pacific Coast League in 2006 to a tune of .309/.398/.582, along with a 1.035 OPS against left handed pitching. Botts was called up in May after Nevin's departure, received inconsistent playing time over the next month and a half from the genius Buck Showalter, and was sent packing back to Oklahoma City. And now, yet again, Botts is having to face the very real possibility of having to beat out Sosa or Nelson Cruz for a big league job. Let's be perfectly clear here: Jason Botts has nothing left to prove in the minors. He needs regular playing time in the majors. Unfortunately, Botts is not known as a defensive wonder, leaving him best suited to DH. And that's where the Rangers seem to balk so heavily with Botts:
"We just want to get him [Botts] serviceable," Washington said. "Make sure he can run down a fly ball and hit a cutoff man. Everybody loves his bat, but we need to get him serviceable as an outfielder."
Either way, Sosa serves as Jason's biggest obstacle to the big leagues. There's no problem with bringing in a veteran guy like Sosa on the cheap to serve as competition for your young players, but I find it rather disturbing how quickly the organization seemed to decide that Sosa would be the frontrunner for the DH job. And it's all based on his past performance, which serves as the ceiling for what we can hope for out of Sammy, but which is likely nothing near what we'll actually get. Sosa hasn't played since his horrible 2005 season with the Orioles, and while he can probably still be a serviceable hitter against lefties (he hit lefties to the tune of .288/.370/.471 in '05), he has no business getting regular at-bats against right handed pitching. And yet, that's probably exactly what will happen, unless Jason Botts has a monster spring and Sosa looks like he's got nothing left. If Sosa shows any type of competence in spring training, he's probably a lock to make the 25-man roster. And that's troubling, because spring training performance is rarely indicative of regular season performance.
Then again, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Rangers to cut Botts loose and watch him flourish in another organization. They sort of have a history with that kind of thing. Just look at Travis Hafner and Adrian Gonzalez.
- C.J. Wilson and Japanese baseball trainer Kazu Tezuka spoke for an hour Wednesday about the mystical "gyroball." Apparently C.J. also invented a little pitch last year that he calls "The Cork," which is a splitter/cutter hybrid. At least it's not "The Thing."
- Richard Durrett has a piece out about Buck Showalter's role in the Indians front office. Watch your back, Eric Wedge.
39 days until Opening Day.