With the long-overdue arrival of Major League Baseball's hot stove season comes the expected awakening of the rumor mill, which squandered absolutely no time on Thursday in identifying White Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye -- whose 2010 team option seems likelier to be bought out than not -- as a player "of interest" to the Texas Rangers. Sound familiar? If not, it should.
Dye, much like Sidney Ponson did before his abortive 2008 pit stop in Texas, carries a unique distinction in that the Rangers have been infatuated with him at some level for five-plus years, spanning multiple managerial regimes -- from John Hart to Jon Daniels and from Buck Showalter to Ron Washington, Dye has consistently found himself featured prominently in the off-season conversations, which strikes me as an unusual quality for a solid, but hardly spectacular player to possess.
[How serious were the Rangers about bringing Dye to Arlington after the 2004 regular season? In late November of that year, team management personally convened with Dye in what amounted to a futile sales pitch, and were alleged to have tendered a more lucrative offer than the two-year, $10.15 million pact that he would ultimately sign with the White Sox. Texas would settle for disastrous consolation prize Richard Hidalgo, whose bat speed and plate discipline both went missing shortly after Opening Day 2005 and were never seen again. Rumor has it that they're now living underneath the Harry Hines Boulevard overpass.]
The conundrum facing the Rangers is that there's measurable risk in attempting to address the void at designated hitter through internal means; sure, Max Ramirez could start channeling those absurdly optimistic Bill James-calculated projections, or Justin Smoak could terrorize the Cactus League next spring and force the Rangers' hand, but hope isn't a strategy. Re-signing Marlon Byrd greatly lessens the urgency of finding such a player (if only because you're running out of roster space and playing time by the time you reach that juncture, barring the divestiture of Nelson Cruz/David Murphy/Julio Borbon), but he's gearing up to test the free agent market and, even if retained, isn't really much of a solution regardless.
And upon further review, perhaps Dye isn't really much of a solution either. Ultimate Zone Rating, the 2009 Fans' Scouting Report and the plus/minus defensive rating system all concur that Dye -- with whom I share a birthday (January 28th), although I'm thankfully not on the verge of turning 36 -- is somewhere between below-average and atrocious as a defender, rendering even emergency outfield assignments unnecessarily adventurous; moreover, does his up-and-down offensive nature really make him that much better of a bet than, say, Milton Bradley?
Dan Szymborski's brand new 2010 ZiPS player projections have forecasted a .265/.334/.474 age-36 campaign for Dye; assuming a 600-plate appearance campaign spent entirely at the designated hitter spot, he would be worth approximately 1½ wins above replacement, which is below the league-average baseline. Entrusting him with more outfield playing time would improve his positional bonus (or penalty, as it were), but would summarily compromise the outfield defense that was so integral to that fantastic 2009 run prevention. Start him solely against southpaws, and you've saddled with a $5 million platoon player with zero defensive versatility to speak of; heck, you might as well go out and sign Fernando Tatis for half as much, and avoid the potential multi-year commitment to boot.
It seems readily apparent that the Rangers are going to have to do something this winter to bolster their lingering offensive deficiencies, and I can't profess to have the answers as to what that something should be (yet), but Jon Daniels would be prudent to tread more carefully with Dye than his predecessor did. He's hardly a useless player, but I suspect that even in a depressed winter market, he'll end up making out quite nicely -- more nicely than he deserves, in all likelihood, which should serve as a warning beacon for a team that needs to smartly leverage every available dollar now more than ever before.
[By the way, check out Szymborski's 2010 Rangers ZiPS projections here. Controversy-eliciting line of the day: "[...] While there are a lot of things good about the team, especially Andrus and Feliz, I don't think they're good enough to seriously compete for the division without some luck." And so it begins.]