On August 16th, 2010, Joaquin Arias committed a pair of eighth-inning defensive miscues in Tampa Bay that got Ron Washington hot. Very hot. So hot, in fact, that he resorted to the somewhat out-of-character step of calling out Arias on both of his mistakes through the Rangers' beat-writing types, proclaiming that Arias should not have flubbed either defensive chance and characterizing it as a simple matter of "Baseball 101." Eight days later, the last remaining remnant of the A-Rod trade was designated for assignment, and seven days after that, the Rangers turned Arias into Jeff Francoeur, which didn't pan out especially well in its own right, but that's neither here nor there.
Now, fast-forward ahead to last night's extra-innings tilt, during which Julio Borbon -- who is very much riding along on the edge of the roster bubble, despite being the recipient of some positive reviews earlier this month -- twice attempted to execute a squeeze play with a runner on third base and one out, and twice failed, followed by a doubly cringe-worthy strikeout:
"First time you foul one off, that happens," Washington said. "The second time, there is no excuse. You get a second shot, you're not supposed to miss the second shot."
Washington pointed out that the Rangers work on bunting every morning. He also made his feelings clear to Borbon in a private conversation on the bench.
"There's no excuse for not bunting," Washington said. "That's their job. If they can't do that ..."
I have no interest in turning this into yet another protracted discussion on the merits of bunting; heck, that's not even what this is really about. No, the notable thing about this is Washington again being infuriated by a lack of execution to such a degree that he aired his frustration to the press, which constitutes an even greater warning sign as you think back and recall that Borbon has never really gained any sustainable traction at the major league level, nor any political capital with the manager. He was an unfinished product three years ago, and for all of the talent he actually does boast, he's still an unfinished product now, and the end result appears to be a player who probably isn't even going to receive the opportunity to get back into the manager's good graces.
Translation: If Borbon makes the Opening Day roster, I won't expect to see much of him, and if he doesn't make it (which is my own guess), there's a reasonably good chance that we won't see him in Arlington again as a Ranger. There's a place in the wide world of big league baseball for somebody like Borbon, but it's not in the Rangers' longer-term plans, and his tepid performance combined with the lack of organizational confidence will likely have him packing before August as everybody's favorite change-of-scenery project du jour. I suppose there is still the remote possibility of Borbon picking up one more extended opportunity and making the absolute most of it, but last night was the latest in a long string of events indicating that that ship has effectively sailed out of port.
So, let's go ahead and say that Borbon has been all but eliminated from competition. So, too, has Leonys Martin, at least for the time being. What happens then?
Borbon is bidding to be the club's center fielder, but it is looking more and more like Josh Hamilton will end up there with David Murphy in left [field]. Borbon and Craig Gentry, who has struggled more than Borbon this spring, may both end up as reserves. Gentry was able to reach base by beating out the back end of a double play ball Wednesday. He stole second successfully, but was thrown out trying to take third also.
This, by all written accounts, is not exactly what the Rangers wanted. The reports streaming out of Surprise have consistently conveyed a desire on the part of the Rangers to keep Josh Hamilton in left field as much as possible, and the consequence of nobody stepping up and outright claiming the center field job this spring now appears to be greater-than-expected playing time for Hamilton in center field, with Gentry's role still being undefined and possibly even marginalized if the Rangers can find the elusive right-handed outfield bat that they're seeking on the cheap.
If that's how this all ends up playing out, and if Hamilton ends up functioning as your everyday center fielder, you're probably looking at okay to good -- but not great defense -- in center field, a somewhat heightened risk of further injury relative to what you'd be dealing with if he remained in left field on a regular basis, and no difficulty whatsoever in projecting David Murphy to net more than 400 plate appearances. That could push the Rangers even closer to their ideal run-maximizing lineup, but the quality of the entire idea hinges on how healthy you believe Hamilton is going to remain if he's allowed to roam center field over the course of this season ... and I don't have a definitive answer for that.
[This post was originally intended to go up at 8 a.m., but didn't due to a glitch in the software, and now it's out there later rather than sooner, so there's that.]