"Seems it's inevitable that Mike Olt will play in the majors at some point this season now. The question is when." - Jason Cole, 07/31/12
This, in no way, shape, or form, is an original idea of mine. I want to be clear about that. Cole has talked about it. David Schoenfield has talked about it. Hell, even Jean-Jacques Taylor has talked about it (sort of). But it's August 1st, the Rangers' context-neutral offensive performance has declined every month this season (from a 121 wRC+ in April to a 115 wRC+ in May to a 107 wRC+ in June to a 79 wRC+ in July), and they're coming off one of their worst run-scoring months in a very long time. I hit my breaking point with Michael Young last week, and I've now arrived at a new breaking point: it's time to call up Mike Olt from Double-A Frisco.
In his age-23 Texas League campaign, Olt has amassed 414 plate appearances and hit a league-best .287/.399/.575 with 27 homers and an eye-popping 169 wRC+. To put that in context, no other qualifying offensive player at the AA-ball or AAA-ball minor league levels has produced a better wRC+ this season -- and, yes, I recognize the risks that cross-level comparisons entail, but those don't undermine the fact that Olt has been one of the very best hitters that the upper minors has had to offer in 2012. He draws walks, he hits for power, and he isn't saddled with a huge, alarm-raising platoon split, so he's more than viable against pitchers of either dexterity.
I will also be the first to admit that it's not a perfect solution (ample swing and miss in the bat, some issues against breaking balls, potential rookie struggles upon being called up, etc.), and it's not a complete slam dunk that it would work to the Rangers' satisfaction. I readily acknowledge that. But the reality is that few potential solutions are perfect, and, in light of the position that the Rangers find themselves in at this time, they can afford to take a calculated risk and buy a chance for Olt to produce an immediate offensive impact at the big league level as a CIF/DH bat who can also play in a corner outfield spot if the circumstances on a particular night should dictate that.
So, how do you work Olt into the lineup? Because, clearly, if you're going to go to the trouble of hitting the 'start' button on Olt's service time clock by adding him to the 40-man roster, and if you're going to interrupt his monster campaign at Frisco, you want to play him -- not all of the time, mind you, but ideally 40-50 percent of the time at the lower end, which buys him 3-4 starts in any given seven-game stretch, and doesn't leave him hanging in a Leonys Martin-esque state of active roster purgatory, where he spends the bulk of his time during the games flicking sunflower seeds into the air and contemplating what it would take for him to even be inserted as a late-game defensive sub.
The short version of the answer to that question -- the answer which is making progressively more sense as the season moves forward -- is that you scale back Michael Young's playing time. You don't phase him out completely, but you cut back his playing time, you diminish the drag that he creates on the team's offensive production, and you introduce a new, potentially energizing force to the mix. Yeah, Young went 2-for-4 last night, but, as I wrote last week, the problem is that he embarks upon these brief average-driven streaks, and still fails to make any sort of legitimate headway as far as resurrecting his season, because without any walks or power, he's just going to continue hovering around in the .640-.650 OPS range as a singles-only hitter. A singles-only hitter who's logging the vast majority of his playing time at the most demanding offensive position(s) on the field.
With a distribution of righty to lefty starters that runs about 70-to-30, you can develop and execute a plan where Olt picks up, say, a 15-20 percent slice of that 30 percent chunk against southpaws (Young loses some playing time there, but so does Mike Napoli, who is slogging through a truly abhorrent season against lefties), and then, against righties, picks up a 30 percent slice of that total 70 percent chunk. I don't want to lose any of you on my proposal, so here's a blueprint of what that might look like:
Versus Left-Handers (30% total)
C: Soto (25%), Napoli (5%)
1B: Olt (15%), Young (15%)
DH: Young (10%), Napoli (10%), Olt (10%)
Versus Right-Handers (70% total)
C: Napoli (45%), Soto (25%)
1B: Moreland (60%), Young (10%)
DH: Young (30%), Olt (30%), Player X (10%)
Under a framework along these lines, Michael Young goes from being an everyday player to someone who starts roughly two out of every three games, but loses the vast majority of that playing time against right-handers, against whom he has been a disaster this year anyway. It's too far-fetched to imagine that his playing time would decelerate from 60 to 0 even with his present struggles, but this is a nice step in the right direction. Napoli, meanwhile goes from being somebody who plays in roughly 85 percent of the Rangers' games to someone who plays closer to 60-65 percent of the time -- which, if you perceive him as somebody who could use a bit less exposure, is probably a good idea, and would still leave him on track to start more games in 2012 than he did in 2011.
Geovany Soto, meanwhile, nets 50 percent (or perhaps more) of the playing time behind the plate, and gets a chance to fulfill his career-long reputation as a lefty-crusher. Moreland continues to receive healthy playing time against right-handers at first base. You still have some available DH at-bats to throw at whomever needs them. And, under this scenario, you actually work Olt into the lineup more than half of the time, where his bat hopefully gives you a two-way upgrade against both lefties and righties. Under this scenario, no single player loses an excess of playing time to Olt, which should help mollify any hurt feelings that might develop as a result of a rookie receiving significant playing time, and the team's run production figures to benefit from the shakeup.
Plus, with Olt presumably replacing Brandon Snyder on the active roster, you have a better, more versatile, and more dangerous bench, and with that comes the ability to buy more rest for Ian Kinsler at second base (using Young) or Adrian Beltre at third base (using Olt) if such measures are deemed necessary. The expected production is improved, but so, too, is the flexibility.
Now, obviously, if Ron Washington and the coaching staff refuse to broach the subject of cutting back Young's playing time, then this is a moot subject, and we might as well move on to something else. But in the last 48 hours, the Rangers cut Yorvit Torrealba loose because they felt Soto constituted an upgrade ... even though Torrealba was, by all accounts, a popular guy in the clubhouse. They demoted Roy Oswalt to the bullpen and kept Scott Feldman in the starting rotation because they felt that gave them the best possible chance to win right now ... even though Oswalt had a stated preference for starting, even though he's close to Nolan Ryan, and even though he's the veteran with far more skins and accomplishments on his career wall than Feldman.
The Rangers correctly recognized that changes were required in light of what had been going on of late, revitalized their meritocratic approach, and sent the long-overdue message that if you don't perform, your role is reduced -- or, in Torrealba's case, obliterated completely. I have absolutely no expectation of the Rangers cutting Young out of their rest-of-2012 plans entirely, and I can live with that ... but it's time to give this team a lift by materially reducing the role of the worst everyday player in baseball this season, and the Rangers have both the upper-minors weapon required to bring that plan to fruition and sufficient justification for doing it. It's time, buddy. It's time.