Another series, another dose of encouragement, as the Rangers kicked off their very soft 32-game stretch preceding the All-Star break with three wins in four games, outscoring fourth-place Seattle by a 33-10 margin and doing little that would warrant criticism ... and that, compounded by the confirmation that the Rangers still possess serious interest in the White Sox' A.J. Pierzynski, has me thinking about this summer's trade market, but in a different way than usual.
It's generally acknowledged that the Rangers have three -- arguably four, if you include starting pitching in the conversation -- main areas of roster weakness, those being catcher, first base and center field; I'm not going to rehash the season-long issues at those positions, in large part because I've tired of writing about them, and also because I'm guessing you've somewhat tired of reading about them.
What's interesting about these areas of weakness, at least on the surface, is that you don't necessarily have to adhere to the "go big or don't go at all" trading maxim. In theory, you can acquire merely league-average players at positions where you're currently receiving little or no production and add wins at a cheaper price than if you were to attempt to acquire an elite-level player to supplant a league-average player, where there's often a steep prospect premium attached. In theory, it's a more efficient use of resources.
In theory, this all works out nice and neat, but what about in reality? First, let's implicitly assume that any roster-upgrading deal would be consummated right at the July 31st trade deadline, after which Texas has 58 regular-season games remaining; for a full-time position player, this is equivalent to around 230 plate appearances, give or take 10 or so. Using a simplified version of the wOBA formula (in which on-base percentage is valued roughly 75 percent more than slugging percentage), adding one-half of one win over that 230-plate appearance sample would require about 25 additional points of wOBA; for the OPS-inclined crowd, that's around 60-70 OPS points. Obviously, you would double all of these numbers in order to calculate a full one-win improvement.
Let's apply this to the catching situation. A quick-n'-dirty average of the rest-of-season ZiPS offensive projections from the Saltalamacchia/Treanor/Ramirez triumvirate suggests .240/.310/.365 (.303 wOBA) production at catcher the rest of the way, meaning that if it is your intention to add no less than one-half of one win beyond July 31st, you need to find a catching target with an expected .328 wOBA and/or .735-.745 OPS over the remainder of the season (or better). Pierzynski had previously looked to be someone who could possibly furnish that, but the season is growing older by the day and my confidence level in his still non-existent offense showing up is steadily diminishing.
Obviously, there are other considerations -- in center field, for example, you get a little more lenient with that 25-point rule of thumb, since Julio Borbon's offensive floor is almost certainly lower going forward (and there are fewer contingency options) than that of the merry catching trio or Justin Smoak, which renders you a bit more inclined to acquire reinforcements if they're out there. And as far as defense is concerned, you need a player who is approximately 15 runs better fielding-wise over a full season than the incumbent if you desire to add one-half of one win; that's roughly equivalent to the difference between, say, Michael Young and a league-average third baseman.
A perfunctory survey of the market doesn't reveal all that many enticing options, unfortunately; Lance Berkman and/or Adam Dunn could conceivably prove to be full one-win upgrades over Justin Smoak the rest of the way, but would entail heavy asking prices. Victor Martinez falls into this same camp, but is much worse off defensively than the current catching battalion. And while center field is arguably still the most tenuous-looking position on the active roster, this isn't shaping up as a good market for center field talent. Put another way, "go big or don't go at all" actually still holds true, and given positional scarcity, maybe the focus should remain on starting pitching after all.
Remember, in a post-trade deadline context, 25 wOBA points -- or 60-70 OPS points -- equals one-half of one win. Remember those rules of thumb the next time you go flipping through your favorite stat-oriented website hunting for the trade-worthy position player that you're certain is going to put Texas over the top.
[For the rest of this morning's Rangers news, notes and commentary, be sure to check out The Clubhouse.]