And just when we thought we could safely lock in the 13 Rangers position players whose roster spots appeared to be reserved as far back as the date of the Mike Napoli trade, Texas decided to execute the classic last-second trade/waiver claim/signing, and it was back to the editing board. With the organization believing itself to be in need of an eighth reliever at the outset of the season (quantity always compensates for quality, right?), Matt Treanor has been rendered an unfortunate casualty of attrition and circumstance, and will now ply his craft for some indeterminate period of time for a team with a bright future, but little chance of contending in 2011. The baseball gods giveth, and the baseball gods taketh away.
The first and foremost ramification of this trade on the Rangers' playing time distribution should be fairly obvious -- no Treanor means no backup catcher, beyond the questionable backstop defender that is Mike Napoli, and so not only does it assure Napoli of more playing time at catcher than what most would consider preferable, it also shifts a bit more emphasis and attention towards Yorvit Torrealba's durability and health. What's less apparent at first glance is the probability of Treanor's exit benefiting David Murphy's plate appearance totals (if only slightly) by minimizing Napoli's available turns in the designated hitter spot, as big league managers are very rarely ever inclined to roll their backup catcher out as their DH. And, of course, there is a small but discernable ripple effect for Mitch Moreland and Michael Young as well, seeing as how they are both affected by whatever happens to disrupt the C/1B/DH rotation.
Since the 5-7 day window leading up to Opening Day is perenially earmarked by oft-futile-but-fun-to-look-at forecasting and projecting exercises, I figured this would be an opportune time to share my projected playing time matrix, based upon all available information that has been imparted to us up to this point, past statistical data, and my own gut instincts:
The numbers in this matrix all work on a 0-100 scale, where 100 would obviously be a forecast for a player to receive 100 percent of the playing time at a given position; this, of course, isn't a realistiic expectation for anyone outside of the Ichiros and Ripkens of the world, and so nobody in this matrix is projected for a playing time total between all positions exceeding 95 percent, or the equivalent of around 156 starts over the span of a full regular season. And as you would expect, each column adds up to 100 percent, so you can take (X / 100) x 162 to get a player's projected number of starts, or (X /100) x 700 to get their projected number of plate appearances (though this is obviously far more dependent upon team scoring output and lineup position than the former).
I certainly cannot guarantee that this will precisely reflect how Ron Washington elects to deploy his available players, but I feel pretty good that we're going to see something to this general effect -- Murphy and Napoli net their 300-400 plate appearances, Young and Moreland get their regular playing time, and the rest of the infield/outfield pictures end up pretty well squared away. With Julio Borbon, my general line of thinking is that he'll net a distinct preponderance of the starts in center field (at least to begin the season, and into the foreseeable future unless he tanks again), but, like Mitch Moreland, will probably sit against the tougher left-handed starters, and thus will be something slightly less than a true everyday starter.
I do feel that it's possible I overshot the mark on the injury-prone troika of Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz, and possibly underestimated guys like Blanco and Young, but there's no accounting for injuries in what I've done here because, well, those aren't tremendously projectable, and it would throw everything completely out of whack to start docking a bunch of games for no apparent reason. Where the Rangers' prime offensive producers are concerned, you can bet that they're going to play somewhere 95-100 percent of the time provided that they're reasonably healthy, and only scale that workload back when physical issues necessitate that they must do so.
There are some legitimate questions and concerns about the place from where the Rangers plan to launch their 2011 campaign, but the blend of depth and talent here is definitely above average and quite possibly something much bigger than that. Depth, however, is only depth until things go awry performance- and/or health-wise, and then it morphs from an asset into a deficiency. It's easy to be seduced into thinking that the depth will be there all season long acting as a comfort-inducing security blanket, but we know all too well by now that that won't be the case. A lot of things will go right this season, but some won't, and in this moment of time at least, I'm hoping that the first of those things comprising "some" won't be found behind the plate.