There's something to be said for exercising patience, but a lot more to be said for maximizing production. With Chris Davis continuing to give Texas virtually nothing from an offensive standpoint at first base, the Rangers elected to accelerate their future into the present -- and hopefully provide a much-needed infusion of on-base percentage to the lineup -- after Thursday evening's series-salvaging victory at Fenway Park by promoting upper-tier first base prospect Justin Smoak from Triple-A Oklahoma City to the majors.
Said general manager Jon Daniels of the changing of the guard at first base (via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News): "We need to get more production out of that spot. Chris isn't the only guy in the lineup off to a slow start, but Justin has had quality at-bat after quality at-bat down there. We want to see if he can continue to do that up here. We want to reward our guys for having that quality at-bat approach. Elvis [Andrus] had quality at-bats; he was promoted to the top of the lineup. Justin's had quality at-bats; he was promoted to the majors."
A surprising turn of events, albeit more so in the timing than in the fact that it actually went down at all. The Davis-for-Smoak swap was always inevitable, but most considered it to be no less than 4-6 weeks -- a timetable undoubtedly accelerated by the growing urgency of upgrading the offense by whatever means necessary. Given that there were really only three positions upgradeable via internal means (first base, catcher, which remains in a state of flux, and second base, which is waiting on Ian Kinsler's activation), it makes sense that the Rangers would opt to make a move now as opposed to later, when they might be forced to overcome a formidable deficit in the standings.
Davis entered Thursday evening's series finale batting a meager .200/.265/.311 (park-adjusted wOBA of .247), which wouldn't be quite so dreadful if poor luck was the underlying cause; alas, despite some peripheral improvement in his walk rate, contact rate and out-of-zone swing rate, he's hitting for neither average nor power, displaying virtually none of his characteristic home run power to center/right field and posting a sub-0.30 walks-to-strikeouts ratio (which, as you might recall, is very bad), and while his defensive ability might be above average, it's hardly enough to justify being retained as a very conspicuous black hole in a problematic lineup. A second chance in the majors this year will be contingent upon getting himself straightened out in the minors yet again and, in all likelihood, Vladimir Guerrero succumbing to injury, or Smoak badly faltering.
And what of Smoak? The switch-hitting 23-year-old still profiles as an impact bat, wielding the most advanced plate discipline in the system (Baseball Time in Arlington scouting guru Jason Parks grades this aspect of his game at 70 present, 70 future on the 20-to-80 scouting scale), an excellent pure hit tool (60 present, 70 future) and above-average power to all fields (55 present, 65 future). There's the requisite adjustment period and all that that implies to traverse, which makes .270/.350/.430-caliber performance -- or thereabouts -- something of a likelihood, but that could still represent a one-plus-win improvement over Davis the remainder of the way. I'll happily take that.
[Couple of procedural notes: First, a 40-man roster move will be required to finalize this transaction (by virtue of the 40-man roster currently being at maximum capacity, but that potential issue can be easily side-stepped by placing right-hander Omar Poveda -- who underwent season-ending Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on March 3rd -- on the 60-man disabled list. And second, assuming Smoak never sniffs the minor leagues again, he will end the 2012 regular season with two years and 164 days of service time -- assuredly enough to gain 'Super Two' arbitration eligibility. However, assuming this, he will also remain under club control through the 2016 season.]