This has been an irredeemably lost week from a blogging standpoint, and I'd like to apologize for that, and, hopefully, I don't end up mired in a hole like this again (nor end up posting this late in the day):
● The waiver-period trade deadline will pass late tonight, and as of late Friday afternoon, there is no indication that the Rangers will swing any sort of deal, with one source telling the FWST that the Rangers aren't expected to make any moves, and T.R. Sullivan noting on Twitter that everything is quiet in Arlington right now. There's been a lot of talk about how the Rangers could possibly benefit from swinging a deal for a lefty reliever or a right-handed bench bat or a utility infielder (the last of whom I felt we'd see the Rangers end up obtaining), but at this point in time, it looks like the status quo is going to remain in place, with Michael Kirkman presumably being in line for the No. 2 lefty spot in the bullpen and the plot thickening a little bit on the matter of who will end up being the Rangers' playoff UIF.
● T.R. Sullivan's latest inbox column focuses on the questions of whether the Rangers should have signed Matt Harrison to a long-term extension rather than Derek Holland, why Ron Washington continues to play Michael Young on an everyday basis (hint: because he feels his best lineup includes Young), and whether or not the Rangers should call up Jurickson Profar.
● Kevin Sherrington says that the Rangers can't drop Young from the lineup, because it could "potentially kill the clubhouse." Evan Grant names Elvis Andrus and Jacoby Ellsbury as his surprise subtractions and additions to the roster during this coming off-season, and ponders whether there could be a match on an Elvis for Ellsbury and Lester deal.
● Mike Napoli has still not been cleared to go out on a rehab assignment, and as more time passes, you wonder exactly what his status for the rest of the month of September into October is going to look like.
Well, here you go:
● I didn't catch much of this past three-game set against the Rays (at least not beyond what I caught via the miracle of DVR), and, as such, I'm not going to make a full-fledged special effort to write about events which are now in the rear-view mirror and which I didn't view in person. There is one interesting little wrinkle I do feel compelled to point out, though, and it's the variation in how the Rays fared against Yu Darvish's fastballs on Tuesday and Matt Harrison's fastballs on Wednesday (keeping in mind, of course, that "fastball" is a blanket term tied to velocity, and that each pitcher throws several different fastball variations):
Darvish: 85 fastballs, 4 H, 0 HR, 3 well-hit balls, 16 swinging strikes
Harrison: 53 fastballs, 8 H, 3 HR, 9 well-hit balls, 4 swinging strikes
You can't get much more extreme in terms of disparate pitch treatment than this -- Darvish's heaters were devastating on Tuesday, as he missed Rays bats 18.8 percent of the time (a rate which, on a full-season basis, would rank as the second best swing-and-miss fastball this season behind only Aroldis Chapman) and allowed a minimum of hard contact. Harrison's fastballs, however, were brutalized, as he allowed three homers and nine well-hit balls on his fastballs for the first time in the window comprising 2009-present, which is as far back as the ESPN Stats & Info pitch-tracking database runs.
It's possible that Harrison's fastball was hit even harder back on an occasion or two back in his rookie 2008 campaign, but for all intents and purposes, this was Harrison's fastball at its very worst... and Darvish's fastball at its very best. Make of that what you will.
● The Angels are effectively dead and gone from the standpoint of claiming the division title, but the murmurings about the red-hot Athletics are starting to become audible, as Oakland has climbed within just 4.5 games of first place in the AL West by virtue of winning each of its last five games and 11 of its last 13 games. The Athletics were close to buried at the outset of June (they fell to 22-30 and nine games back of first place on June 1st), and seemed to be on the path to a disappointing 70-75 win season, but now they're in sole possession of the No. 1 American League wild card spot, and the Rays/Tigers/Angels triumvirate that was so vaunted before the season is staring up.
I'm not especially unnerved by the Athletics' rise in the standings, given that a 4.5-game deficit with a month left to go in the season is vastly more difficult to overcome than a same-sized deficit back in May/June, and given that the Athletics aren't nearly as threatening as the Angels from a true-talent standpoint (their third-order winning percentage in 2012 is some 30 points lower than the Angels' mark, and some 80 points lower than the Rangers). The fact that the Athletics just haven't gone away is meaningful to the Rangers, though, because in the minds of the players and the coaching staff, the division title isn't secure as of yet, and they're going to approach the game from the mindset of needing to hold off a surging and dangerous Athletics squad. That isn't a bad thing, either.
● Yeah, I know full well that this subject has been mercilessly beaten into the ground already, but it's worth noting that Michael Young has batted just .258/.310/.333 in the month of August, is once again sitting on a mid-.640s OPS for the season, and, in spite of his handful of big games this past month, has slumped his way back down to a 67 wRC+ and -1.7 fWAR for the season. If you're looking for a bright spot here, it's that his hard-hit contact and walk rates both spiked a bit in August, and maybe, maybe that has some predictive value that will translate into some sustainable level of improvement down the stretch, but it's still a pretty ugly scene on the whole, and that's disappointing.
Of course, as we've talked about before, the quickest and easiest way to bolster both Young's individual statistics and his value to the team is to slash his playing time against right-handers (375 PA, .242/.269/.317, .259 wOBA) while still capitalizing upon whatever value he furnishes against southpaws (146 PA, .333/.377/.415, .350 wOBA) ... but, again, I'm beyond the point of faulting Young or being mad at Young. He's putting in the work everyday to try and get back to where he once was, and, if nothing else, he's still giving Texas positive value against pitchers of a left-handed persuasion. The player isn't useless; it's the manner in which he's utilized that makes him useless.
Well, I've just made peace with the reality that, from Monday-Wednesday every week from this point forward, it's going to be very difficult for me to produce content ... it is, after all, difficult to write something insightful about a game that you didn't actually watch. With that fully in mind, I'll be seeing what I can do as far as filling in those gaps, and with all of that out of the way, here's a bullet point-centric post that will start small and should mysteriously expand over the next few hours:
● Earlier this morning, we received word from FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal that Roy Oswalt had cleared waivers (accompanied, naturally, by some idle Oswalt-to-LAD trade speculation), and now, as of this afternoon, we're hearing from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan that a trade is very much "possible," as the Rangers are actively talking to other clubs about Oswalt and appear to be open to the notion of dealing him if the return is appropriate. Sullivan also notes that the Rangers are seeking utility infielder help, but "would likely want more than that for Oswalt," which suggests that (a) they're not going to move him for nothing (or next to nothing), and (b) there are, as I surmised might be the case, forces inside the organization that are anything but sold on Luis Hernandez, Alberto Gonzalez, or Jurickson Profar being the club's utility infielder solution in October.
This sort of feels like a situation where the Rangers aren't satisfied with what they've gotten from Oswalt to this point, and understand that Oswalt wants to start somewhere, and probably aren't even all that keen themselves on keeping him around ... but they also get that he has some value in terms of being capable of soaking up multiple innings in a relief capacity and functioning as the club's No. 6 starter, and perhaps they still harbor enough distrust of the current rotation as a whole that they're at least somewhat motivated to keep him around. Of course, they don't seem to trust Oswalt very much either, so the whole matter just becomes very murky and complicated to work through.
It's also complicated because of the perception that this was a Nolan Ryan-driven signing, a signing which seemed to be predicated upon Oswalt receiving and keeping a rotation spot, and there have been various and sundry rumblings about Oswalt's state of discontent since he was pulling out of the rotation and slotted into the bullpen. He hadn't requested a trade as of earlier this month, but you have to wonder if Oswalt's clearance of waivers and some dual motivation on the part of both Oswalt and the Rangers to end this relationship is going to result in a trade by the end of the week.
On Saturday, the LA Dodgers completed a massive trade with the Boston Red Sox where the most noticeable entity trading hands was money. A trade completed after the trade deadline that has so many (former) stars, such complexity, so much money changing hands and two of baseball’s richest organizations is sure to garner a lot of attention and analysis. Despite other more insightful or accurate analysis regarding how bad this deal is for the Dodgers from a value based standpoint, I felt compelled to write about this because of the interesting possibility that the Dodgers aren’t actually crazy.
Honestly, part of the problem in analyzing this trade is separating the difference between the actual (or likely) value that the Dodgers traded for and the perceived value or initial reaction to the Dodgers acquiring half of the most recognizeable stars from one of the most popular teams in the country. Indeed, if this trade was made at the end of 2008, the 3 headlining players the Dodgers traded for would be about to put up a massive 17.6 WAR in value – Adrian Gonzalez-6.2 WAR, Carl Crawford-5.9 WAR, and Josh Beckett-5.5 WAR. On paper at least, that’s enough to take a team from below average to division winner or even home field advantage through the first rounds of the playoffs. However, the year is 2012 and, despite the Dodgers paying salaries concomitant with those elite performances, only one of these three players still has a realistic chance to be elite moving forward.
That player is Adrian Gonzalez, the 30 year old, patient, powerful and defensively elite first baseman that has some familiarity hitting in an NL pitcher’s park, who struggled so much in the first half that he was a below average hitter regardless of position (93 wRC+), but since June has returned to his usual ways with a 150 wRC+ in the second half that looks awfully similar to his previous three years. Owed $106M over his age 31-36 years, it’s certainly not inconceivable that a player who has played at an elite, 6 WAR level for the past 4 years (minus this spring’s rough patch) could end up averaging the All Star level performance (~4 WAR) that it would take to be worth his contract. Josh Beckett, owed $31M over the next 2 years, is probably more average than elite going forward (with the more friendly run environment likely counterbalanced by age-related decline) and thus worth something closer to $20M than $31M. $137M (+ this year’s outlay) is a lot of money for everybody except the Yankees. Regardless, if the Red Sox offered these two players to the Rangers for a pu pu platter of Mitch Moreland plus some non-elite prospects, I would be happy if the Rangers accepted.
Of course, this is avoiding the elephant in the room. Upon signing with the Red Sox, Carl Crawford plummeted from the All Star to elite level that he had maintained for most of his time in Tampa to something…much worse. While his walk and strikeout rates have both gone the wrong direction quite quickly in Boston, the 31 year old has also seen his immense defensive value disappear. The worst part, of course, is the contract. It’s not hard to talk yourself into Crawford returning to be an above average player over the next few years, assuming he can finally get healthy, but the chances of him playing at the All Star level for which he will be paid ($102.5M) over the next 5 years during his age 31-35 seasons seems highly suspect. If he is average over that whole stretch, which is probably generous, the Dodgers are looking at eating a staggering $50M of lost value.
The obvious conclusion from this is that the Dodgers have lost their minds. Even in light of what now looks to be a weak free agency this offseason, the odds that the Dodgers couldn’t find a better way in the next 12-18 months to acquire roughly $230M in guaranteed payroll to be doled out over 5 years seem low at best. That’s probably enough to sign the two remaining elite free agents, Zack Greinke and our own Josh Hamilton, which seems like a better gamble, though I can see how others would disagree.
However, I’m not sure the Dodgers have lost their mind. They have not gotten value based on the analytical tools that were developed by looking at the league as a whole. With the purchase of the Dodgers by Guggenheim Baseball Management for two billion dollars, it was clear that the Dodgers would be looking to use their current and incoming financial might to improve the team as quickly as possible, thus making valuations based on what the rest of the league (minus the Yankees) are paying almost irrelevant. Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, even those who disagree with or avoid advanced baseball analysis seem shocked by this deal. It suggests that taking on this much money for these players is crazy even for a big spending club using a valuation system that is more forgiving.
Still, I remain unconvinced that the Dodgers have lost their mind. I just don’t think that they made these moves with the sole purpose of winning baseball games. The Dodgers organization have endured tough times over the past couple of years that basically saw Frank McCourt try to beat any and all comers for the title of Baseball’s Worst Owner. Unsurprisingly, fan interest declined, games were significantly less well attended, and the organization lost some of it’s aura as one of baseball’s premier franchises. A new ownership group is obviously the first step towards turning this around, but while it was always folly to expect the Dodgers to adopt a similar long-term rebuilding plan as the Houston Astros, it’s clear that Guggenhiem is interested in accelerating the reversal fan interest trends.
The question, then, is can it work? We have seen franchises try this approach before – Tom Hicks' Rangers, Jeff Luria’s Marlins (with a new stadium), John Henry’s Red Sox, etc – and while there have been varying degrees of initial success, it seems that nobody is able to maintain Yankee levels of spending for long…except the Yankees, of course. Even the Red Sox can apparently get overly weighted down by bad contracts. It doesn’t take many years of following baseball to see why we should be skeptical of this plan. But, what if…
I’d like to take a moment to break with this fine baseball blog’s tradition of talking about, y’know, baseball, to look at how this model has actually been shown to work in a different sport on a different continent. In 2003, Russian business tycoon Roman Abramovich spent £140M to purchase Chelsea Football Club, a soccer team in the English Premier League (EPL) located in West London that had some small degree of success in the Premiership throughout it’s history, but was not on the same level as the teams of worldwide renown that were perennially at the top of standings such as Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. The closest equivalent I can think of would be the New York Mets or Chicago White Sox. Abramovich’s intentions were to turn Chelsea into a club of an elite caliber; a worldwide brand that could attract the top talent from the EPL and other leagues. He immediately spent £100M to bring in better talent, simultaneously enthralling Chelsea’s supporters and making virtually everybody else quite angry. Importantly, he kept investing. Despite fantastic failures that make Carl Crawford look like a bargain, Abramovich continued to spend to improve his team. Almost a decade later, Chelsea has won the EPL 3 times, finishing second 4 times, as well as winning the incredibly highly coveted Champions League last year for the first time. Chelsea is now one of the 5-10 most valuable soccer franchises in the world, valued in 2012 by Forbes at over £470M. More importantly, the decade of success has seen Chelsea establish a reputation as one of the elite franchises that allowed them to recently sign one of the most highly coveted young players in Europe over fellow London rival and (former) heavyweight Arsenal. This ability of Chelsea to sign elite young talent is a more recent phenomenom that did not come after initial English glory, but instead after sustained success (and massive payrolls). They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if so, then Roman Abramovich must be quite flattered these days as this model has been copied by last year’s EPL Champions, Manchester City, and is attempting to be copied by Paris Saint-Germain and their Middle Eastern oil-rich owners.
So the proof of concept exists. An immense bankroll, the likes of which your league counterparts could not dream, an organization with some past history or located in a desirable place to live (or both), and the desire to not just increase the success of the team on the field, but the popularity and public awareness of the team. The key was that the clubs kept spending, even if it resulted in some redundancy of positional talent or embarrassing flops. The Tom Hicks Texas Rangers were not able to do so which, in part, lead to the embarrassing payrolls of the mid-aughts.
If the Dodgers can maintain this, then this trade isn’t crazy. It’s just the cost of doing business. Such is life for the club whose aspiration/inspriation likely lies across the country in a borough containing the game’s most storied franchise. Perhaps they will have the last laugh after all.
I sat here for about 10 minutes trying to think of a morning song I haven't rolled through already, and perhaps I have already burned through this one, but, well, here you go anyway:
● T.R. Sullivan writes about Mitch Moreland's mammoth 463-foot blast yesterday, and how the Rangers' offense is clicking on all cylinders and producing a ton of quality at-bats right now. So does Jeff Wilson. Richard Durrett talks about Ryan Dempster pitching well with a ton of run support yesterday.
● T.R. Sullivan's notes include some talk about the club's utility infielder situation, Mitch Moreland playing against a lefty yesterday (a decision which seems mostly borne from his hot hitting of late, although Mike Olt is also dealing with some plantar fascitis), and Koji Uehara's imminent return from the disabled list, which should send one of Tanner Scheppers or Michael Kirkman back down to Round Rock for the time being. I would suspect that Scheppers will end up being sent down, in part because Kirkman has a much better chance of breaking through into the post-season bullpen by virtue of being a lefty ... assuming he is under serious consideration for such a role, the Rangers are going to want to keep throwing him out there to evaluate what they've got in him, and whether they need to go out and overpay for a lefty reliever in the next 5-6 days.
● T.R. Sullivan -- are you noticing a trend here? Yeah, it's Sunday, we're all lazy -- says that the Rangers have placed waiver claims on "a number of players," including Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, but their dead-lastwaiver priority will prevent them from placing the prevailing claim, as every National League club and every American League club is ahead of them at this point. I guess you could call that a #firstplaceteamproblem. There's also a mention of the Rangers pursuing all possible avenues to improve their team, which, at this point, probably boils down to grabbing a veteran utility guy and/or a veteran lefty reliever, if either of those two assets is available at a reasonable price.
● Ken Rosenthal apparently said yesterday that it's "likely" the Rangers will pursue a Justin Upton trade this winter.
● Yu Darvish (tight right quad) experienced no problems during his 30-pitch bullpen session and round of PFP on Saturday, and is on track to make his Tuesday start. Mike Napoli (strained left quad) could go out on a rehab assignment later this week.
● Jeff Wilson says that the Rangers have loved this summer relative to last summer in terms of temperature, with Elvis Andrus affirming that viewpoint:
"Oh, my God. Amazing," Andrus said. "I wish it could stay like this. The last two years nearly killed us."
I've done my fair share of lamenting recently about how this season, on the whole, just doesn't feel like it has been as fun as last year's regular season ... but it's awfully damn fun right now, as Texas has emerged from that nasty BOS/DET/NYY stretch and claimed seven of its last nine games (including five of its last six) while surging to a new high-water mark and the best record in the American League. And I guess the thing that kind of makes it all stand out and visually pop a bit more than it might otherwise is that they're doing it with style.
Matt Harrison gave the Rangers a bona fide gem last night (8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K), a start during which Harrison flirted with baseball history for 6.2 innings before finally being dinged for a hit (which immediately followed his fateful decision to shake batterymate Luis Hernandez off twice), and I don't want to overlook or downplay the enormity of his effort, because it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch him ply his craft out there on the bump last night. Said Harrison afterwards:
"I felt really good. I didn't have as much on my fastball tonight as last game, but I was definitely keeping the ball down and moving the ball in and out and hitting my spots, and throwing my off-speed for strikes. I figured I'd work with that and keep them off-balance and before I knew it we were in the seventh inning and I hadn't given up a hit yet. A lot of that credit goes to Luis behind the plate. His game-calling was unbelievable and my defense behind me and that play Murphy made in the seventh right before I gave up the hit, I thought it was meant to be. But that's what I get for thinking, I guess."
I think every guy in that Texas dugout recognizes and appreciates just how huge Harrison was on the night, but perhaps the biggest corollary to his start was the future-oriented impact -- that is, we're in late August, steamrolling towards October, and Harrison is spinning some of his best baseball of the season right now. We're getting closer to that point in the timeline where, ideally, your best players are humming along at maximum efficiency going into the post-season, and while we're still a little more than a month away from the start of the playoff circus, I'm thrilled by what Harrison is doing right now, and the hope that it engenders as far as how he might be performing down the line.
The other big story on the night, though, was once again Adrian Beltre, who became just the second player in baseball history to muster both a three-homer effort and a cycle within the same week (joining Joe DiMaggio in that most exclusive and arbitrary of clubs), and who is now 12-for-18 with three doubles, a triple, and a homer over his last four games, all of which has elevated his triple-slash line from .302/.340/.478 back to .316/.352/.528 ... in a span of four games. Beltre (4.5 fWAR) has now overtaken both Elvis Andrus (4.1 fWAR) and Josh Hamilton (4.0 fWAR) for the team lead in wins above replacement, and, by virtue of his performance this year, has now rallied to the fringes of the AL MVP race, where he should manage to pick up his fair share of top-10 and perhaps even top-five votes.
One of the big concerns that was bandied about at the time of the Beltre signing was a concern that is frequently tied to large-money contracts -- that is, the concern about the back end of the deal, when Beltre would be playing out his mid-to-late-30s seasons, facing a potentially steep decline (though certainly not as steep as what we've seen with Michael Young this year), and providing diminishing and/or negative value in relation to his steadily escalating salaries. The concern there, I think, is that with all of that fully in mind, you either wanted to see Beltre hold up better than expected over the entire life of the deal, or provide some huge surplus value at the front end of the contract to counteract the loss of value at the back end of the contract.
And, yeah, we're only on year two of the deal, and things could still turn sour as he moves further along the aging curve ... but, to this point, Beltre has churned out 10-plus wins above replacement over the first couple of years of this deal, and is well-positioned to collect his third consecutive five-plus-win season in 2012. And given the magnitude of his early-contract performance, Beltre is now in a position where he needs to average only 2.75 wins above replacement per year over the final four years of his deal -- assuming the sixth-year vesting option kicks in -- for Texas to "break even" on this deal. If he performs at a level above and beyond that mark, it's all icing on the cake.
The more recent annals of baseball history are littered with contracts where the signing team in question ended up ten, twenty, third, fifty million dollars in the hole in terms of value generated by the player in relation to his salary. The Beltre contract is looking more and more like one that will finish in the black than in the red, though, and that's something that we, as value-conscious fans, should be really excited about. We've all seen enough bad contracts where the Rangers captured only a fraction of the value they expected to receive to last us several lifetimes. It's about time that the tables were turned.
Alright, well, here you go:
● Michael Young has been placed on paternity leave for the weekend, which will buy him a 72-hour respite from baseball to be with his wife and family (which now boasts a third son), and Luis Hernandez has been summoned from the minors as the Rangers' short-term utility infielder. Alberto Gonzalez was bypassed for the weekend assignment after injuring his hand earlier in the week, and his status is reportedly uncertain. Hernandez will likely head back down to Round Rock on Monday afternoon once Young is activated. Jurickson Profar, meanwhile, will apparently remain at Frisco for the time being due to the Rangers' desire for him to play everyday, although he could still be in line for a call-up after Frisco's regular season ends.
● The far bigger story right now, obviously, is that the Red Sox and Dodgers are reportedly "close" to a trade that would send Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in exchange for what would apparently be a five-player package of unknown composition. There are still details to be hammered out at this point, including the fact that the deal requires both Beckett and Crawford to waive their respective no-trade clauses, the medicals, and the fact that it's a potential nine-player blockbuster trade with more than one-quarter of a billion dollars being freighted from one team to another, but this deal -- or some form of it -- seems to have serious legs at this point. Stay tuned.
I was going to write something about Jurickson Profar, but then I didn't. The Rangers discussed bringing Jurickson Profar up as far back as 11 days ago, but then they didn't. And since that point in time, Michael Young has nabbed a few middle-infield spot starts without all the world being plunged into darkness and shadow and despair. Sometimes bad processes lead directly to bad results, but sometimes everything works out just fine. It happens.
It also happens that I've been thinking some more about the running 'Ron Washington balks at trusting young players' line of discussion that's swept through the Rangers blogosphere of late (particularly since Mike Olt got the call from Frisco), and the ramifications and fallout that might conceivably stem from his apparent position. If you don't want to read a somewhat meandering post about such matters that probably elicits more questions than it answers, then that's fine. That's why I write other posts here and there towards which you can focus your attention. Or you can do whatever you want, which is a course of action that I've always been a huge proponent of myself.
Eleven days ago, word began to proliferate that the Rangers -- who were (and still are) operating with a three-man bench -- were mulling over the idea of a Profar call-up, and the same afternoon that those rumors hit the wire, Ron Washington issued what seemed tantamount to a hasty dismissal, remarking that "Profar's name never came up ... we'll decide when the need comes up." A few hours later, Jon Daniels confirmed that Profar was one of the utility infielder candidates they were discussing.
Two days after that, Ron Washington went on the Ben & Skin Show on ESPN 103.3 FM, and aside from reaffirming his loyalty to Michael Young, Washington further clarified his respective positions on Mike Olt and Profar:
“You look at the personnel we have and the club I put out there, are the guys that are sitting on the bench, are they better than what I have out there?” Washington said. “It’s not only numbers on the field, it’s the presence, it’s how you make your teammates feel, the way the clubhouse is being run. We’re still in first place. We’re 18, 19 games above .500 and we’re talking of changes? He’s a young kid with potential and I’m going to get him as much playing time as I possibly can, but we’re in a pennant race.”
Washington said he lets a player’s career help him judge how long to stick by him.
“He has a track record,” Washington said. “That’s what I rely on. I rely on what a guy has done, how he handles failure and in failure, you teach other people how to handle failure. He’s helping other guys on this team understand how you go about your business when failing.”
... Ben Rogers: “Am I out of my mind?”
Ron Washington: “Yeah [responding to Ben's suggestion that Profar come up and play three times a week as a means of buying some additional rest for Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler]. This kid played low A ball last year. He’s a talent. There’s no doubt about that. He’s experiencing right now what it’s like to have a full season at Double-A. Until we as the Texas Rangers make a decision that the kid is coming here, I think the speculation is way out of line. This kid should concentrate on playing baseball at Double-A and not reading that he’s coming to the major leagues.”
On Wednesday, Matt Mosley published a story on FOXSportsSouthwest.com that went into even more exhaustive detail on Washington's various positions, with Washington citing his "baseball loyalty" to Young, and with Mosley suggesting that Washington feels a greater sense of loyalty to his veterans because of the perceived injustices that Washington experienced as a veteran ballplayer himself.
Mosley also mentioned that, at this point in the season, Washington was going to stick with the players who had carried the ballclub to this point and "only integrate young players such as Olt if an injury occurs," and indicated that while Jon Daniels and the rest of the front office might bristle at Washington's playing time arrangements, Daniels has "too much respect" for Washington to pressure him on that front:
"You have to look at what type of team we have. We're trying to win a championship. If we were 10 games out of first place, some of those guys would be getting to play more. But their time will come down the road. [Profar] needs to be in Double-A leading that group of players. He's definitely a talent, but the only way he would be playing for us is if we were 10-15 games out."
Evan Grant, for what it's worth, seems to confirm that there are people within the front office who want to see Olt get more playing time, but since everyone considers that matter to fall within Washington's purview, it's a moot issue. The front office gives the players to Washington, and Washington deploys the players in the manner he sees fit, and that's just how the dynamic works.
So, that's where we stand right now. Before last night's game, Olt had started just three times since August 7th, but the Twins will deploy two lefties during this weekend set (Scott Diamond last night, and Brian Duensing) that should buy Olt at least a couple of starts, and he has also been the recipient of some late-game defensive sub work in the field. Yeah, sure, I'd still prefer to see Olt get the start closer to 50 percent of the time than 25-30 percent of the time, but it's been made abundantly clear that that won't happen, and winning (more specifically, winning six out of eight games) has a funny way of drowning out some of the near-term discontent.
And given the insight that the front office has into Ron Washington's thought processes and M.O. (insight that we're not privy to), and its foreknowledge as far as how it believed Washington would utilize Olt, I find it hard to imagine that they were blindsided or caught totally off guard by the limited role into which Olt has been cast, or that it even has much basis for being disappointed. Can you still truly be disappointed if you get exactly what you were expecting to get all along?
The one question that does cross my mind to that end, though, is what Olt's role looks like next year (provided that he's still here), given that there's a good chance of Michael Young still being on the roster as the everyday DH by that point. He can have utility here as a four-corners guy, but he's still a young player who needs repetition and structure in order to maximize his offensive skill set, and that playing time is likely to come in sparing amounts at the corner outfield spots in 2013, leaving backup work at third base, platoon work at first base, and ... well, not much else, one wouldn't think.
That could still amount to a decent chunk of playing time, but if you envision Olt as much more than a 250-300 PA guy next season (and even that isn't necessarily a lock, looking at the roster right now and thinking about what it could look like going forward), in what would be his age-24 season, you're looking every single which way to try and offload Michael Young in the off-season and free up plate appearances.
And that, in turn, could ultimately boil down to selling Young on the ultra-cheap and eating 90-100 percent of the remaining money on his deal (one would presume this would only take place after the Rangers forced his hand on his expected 2013 playing time and told him he would be relegated to part-time status), which may or may not end up being accompanied by another nasty squabble relayed to us through the press. But that's one of the reasons why, if you think Young needs to go, and you harbor any hope of a team approaching Texas with an offer on Young that they might seriously contemplate, why you want him to have a strong, impactful finish to the season.
Of course, a strong finish to the season -- if that should actually transpire -- probably also rallies Young's supporters within the organization and encourages the thought that the Rangers should go ahead and ride it out with Young in 2013 and not disrupt the status quo before it's absolutely necessary. This, at the end of the day, may be the likelier eventuality, and I think that's why I don't look at Olt as a lead-pipe lock to open up next season on the active roster. That's probably still the likeliest outcome as far as Olt is concerned, given that he should be one of the 25 best players in the organization by that juncture, but the Rangers could, in theory, decide that service time considerations and the need to get Olt consistent, everyday work at the plate (particularly against right-handers) are more important than the additional benefit they would gain from Olt being on the active roster.
Or a trade could still happen. It probably won't, but it wouldn't be the first time that something like that hit us out of left field. That would all come down to whether a team seeking a young, controllable talent at the hot corner had finally become willing enough to pay whatever hefty price the Rangers have assigned to him. Probably not, but it's always on the table.
The other extended thought that arises from Washington's comments is that he doesn't at all seem to be on board with the notion of Profar being summoned to the majors this season, much less receiving legitimate playing time in a backup capacity during the lead-up to October, or even being someone that Washington trusts with back-up/pinch-running/pinch-hitting responsibilities in the actual post-season environment.
I speculated some days ago that this felt like a spot where Washington -- and perhaps the rest of the coaching staff as a whole -- would greatly prefer a veteran, proven entity, and that it didn't make a whole lot of sense to believe that Washington would suddenly (a) allocate even 1-2 starts a week to a 19-year-old shortstop at this late juncture in the season, or (b) entrust that utility infielder spot to someone who had never before played above AA-ball, who's an exceptionally talented individual but is still young and prone to young-ballplayer mistakes that just won't fly in October. I think that still holds true at this point, and I wonder if Washington's overt resistance to the idea is basically his way of saying to management, "Yeah, get me a veteran utility guy, but don't give me Profar."
And while I'm projecting forward a bit here from Washington's comments, if he's emphatically against the idea of getting Profar a few starts a week as a means of buying a little extra rest for Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, then he's probably not too terribly keen on Profar getting even 1-2 starts a week at the big league level over the final six weeks of the season -- and if that's the case, and if Profar wouldn't receive the sliver of playing time necessary for Washington and company to form even a preliminary evaluation of what he is right now and what he could provide in October, then I don't know how they could possibly feel comfortable relying upon Profar to occupy even a marginal post-season role.
That is not to say that Alberto Gonzalez is a superior option in a vacuum, mind you. To tell you the truth, I don't think Washington is terribly keen on Gonzalez being a component of his post-season roster, either. If we go down to the wire without an external option being summoned into the mix, though, I would bet on Gonzalez getting that utility infielder call ahead of Profar -- and for all the kvetching that might result from such a decision being made, Jason Parks has raised the issue of Profar not being a polished defensive product at this point in time, and rightly mentions that "the post-season isn’t a good time to experience the pains of the developmental process." I'd like to see Profar cast into that mix from the standpoint of him being one of the 25 best players in the organization, but I don't view it as a make-or-break, life-or-death matter.
The greatest benefit to getting Profar up on the roster, of course, would be the opportunity to buy him a month-long taste of the major league environment and hopefully accelerate the acclimation process to at least a minor degree. You wouldn't expect that taste of the majors to have such a profound effect upon his development that you absolutely have to hammer such a roster move through ("voyeurism can only teach you so much"), but it wouldn't hurt, and Double-A Frisco's season is now close enough to being over that you're not going to meaningfully hinder his longer-term development by pulling him away from his everyday shortstop assignment in the minors to ride pine in the majors.
One final thought does spring to mind here: we, for the most part, think highly enough of Profar and his position in the developmental process that we can envision him as the Rangers' starting shortstop as early as next spring. We believe that his chances of swimming rather than sinking upon receiving a full-time big league role are pretty sturdy. Almost all of the conjured hypotheticals that we've seen up to this point, though, have Profar playing shortstop or, less commonly, second base at the big league level in 2013 ... and, yeah, there's a decent chance that one of those scenarios actualizes, but Profar hasn't completely ripped the door from its hinges at Frisco, and despite his very advanced skill set and makeup, he'll still be just a few weeks past his 20th birthday at the outset of the 2013 season.
From a timing and a value-maximizing standpoint, it would help if the Rangers could decipher what their chances of locking up Elvis Andrus are and whether they're going to be willing to meet that price point, and then move forward with their plans based on that evaluation ... but the Rangers don't have to do that. They could hold steady with the Elvis/Kinsler status quo up the middle, keep Profar down on the farm for another year (or perhaps less), and just decide that whatever happens with Elvis/Profar happens. I don't think that is what will happen, but it's on the table. A lot of things are on the table. And if there's any thought in the front office that runs along such lines, then perhaps we don't see Profar up here in the next month after all, or even next spring.
Anyway, that's just some stuff floating around out there right now and my general sort of take on where things are on the Washington/Olt/Profar situation. Incidentally, the Star-Telegram was kind enough to pour just a little more lighter fluid onto that speculatory flame by querying Elvis Andrus on his future in Texas in this morning's paper:
Andrus loves being with the Rangers and would like to stay with the team, but knows that might not be realistic.
"It's still a business and if you can bring somebody younger and cheaper, every team will do it," Andrus said. "We'll see what they want and what they're thinking in the future."
Asked if the Rangers have discussed a long-term deal with him, Andrus said: "Yeah, always trying to sign long-term, but I'll be really in my prime whenever I'm a free agent. I think it's got to be fair both ways."
Yeah, we're going to be hearing about this for months to come. And it's going to drive us crazy.
With last night's triumph, the Rangers have ascended to a new season high-water mark of 22 games over .500, have fully rebuilt their six-game edge over the second-running Athletics, and have now momentarily reclaimed the No. 1 seed in the American League from the Yankees, who have dropped their last three games. That'll do just fine ... for now:
● I suppose Roy Oswalt gave the Rangers about as much as they could reasonably expect out of him (5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR, 77 pitches) last night, and yet again he was fine from a DIPS standpoint and everything, but it was still a strange sort of outing, as he was burned by mistakes of his own making (a wild pitch, a hit-by-pitch, and a botched rundown) and of his teammates (Adrian Beltre's throwing error, and Michael Kirkman's inability to prevent both baserunners that he inherited from Oswalt from scoring).
He's not pitching terribly at this point, but he is still a frustrating quantity, and while I suppose we can never say never on the possibility of Oswalt finding some way to break back through and secure a post-season rotation spot (as some of us envisioned back when), yeah, that probably isn't happening.
Also, we received a delightful new addition to the growing oswaltface.jpg archive:
● This may be difficult to believe in light of the oft-frustrating nature of this ballclub in 2012, but the Rangers logged their 32nd comeback win last night (five more than last year), as they rallied from the virtually insurmountable deficit of 1-0 with some good middle-order production from Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre during the early-to-middle innings, and then completely blew the doors off the game in the eighth inning with a long procession of hits and walks and errors that all culminated in a six-run inning.
The "intentional walks are usually a really bad idea" theory also received another jolt of validation last night, as the Twins called for an intentional walk of David Murphy to load the bases with one out after Texas had gone ahead 5-4, and then watched helplessly as a fielding error pushed the score to 6-4, followed by Jared Burton walking in a run to push it to 7-4, and then three more runs to put the game all but out of reach. Fun inning for Texas, but just brutal for Minnesota.
● Since this isn't the longest of posts, I guess I'll mail this bullet point in with a handful of notes: Michael Young last night's game in the sixth inning to attend the birth of his third son, and he'll probably land on paternity leave ... Scott Diamond, who wasn't exactly pitching well to begin with, got ejected without warning last night after he sent a pitch sailing near Josh Hamilton's head (Roy Oswalt had plunked Joe Mauer in the prior half-inning) ... Mike Napoli is eligible to come off the disabled list on Sunday, but his strained left quad isn't back at 100 percent as of yet, and he won't be back until at least September 1st, if not later. See how informative that all was? Didn't you like it?
He's a brilliant player capable of performing extraordinary feats with a glove and a baseball and a bat, and perhaps that, more than anything else, why I don't find myself overwhelmingly surprised by what he accomplished at the Ballpark last night. Yeah, you're a filthy, awful liar if you claim to have ever looked at a pre-game lineup, eyeballed one name in particular, and thought to yourself in good conscience, "hmm, yeah, he's going yard three times tonight," but I wouldn't be shocked to learn of others who view Adrian Beltre's game in a manner similar to how I do. He did, after all, pull off the same feat only 10.5 months ago on a much grander stage in a ballpark far less conducive to home runs, so why not do it again?
And so it was that in a game brimming with several fairly significant moments and storylines (including, notably, Derek Holland getting his season a little bit further back on track with a sturdy seven-inning, three-run effort, as well as Mitch Moreland smashing a dagger-esque grand slam and David Murphy going berzerk again as part of his continued push towards a .400 OBP), Beltre completely dominated the narrative. He went yard in the first inning on a middle-away heater from Tommy Hunter (on a 94 mph pitch with some life to it, no less), and then he squared up a terrible hanging cutter from Hunter with nobody out in the fourth inning for No. 2, and then, backed into an 0-2 hole later on in the same inning, he teed off on a high-and-away Kevin Gregg fastball for No. 3.
Per the ESPN Stats & Info pitch database, Beltre hadn't homered on a pitch that high in the zone -- a pitch so high that it only nicked the uppermost edge of the regulation strike zone, and probably wouldn't have been called a strike if he had refrained from swinging -- since September 8th, 2010, a point in time at which he was playing out the string for the eventual third-place Red Sox. More curious, however, is the striking similarity between the pitch that Beltre clobbered for No. 3 last night and the pitch which he clobbered for No. 3 in the 2011 ALDS, as both Gregg and the Rays' Matt Moore tried to avert homer No. 3 with up-and-away heaters, and failed miserably to achieve that end:
And, of course, we had the usual cavalcade of fun-time statistics that flowed down from the Elias pipeline after all was said and done. He's just the fifth player in baseball history to clout three home runs in both a regular season and a post-season game, joining Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, and Albert Pujols in that vaguely odd club, and when you pair Beltre's game with Josh Hamilton's four-homer outburst earlier this season at Camden Yards, you find that the Rangers are just the second team in baseball history to record an individual three-homer and an individual four-homer game against the same team in a single season. That's even more esoteric, but, well, alright then.
Beltre is also the first Ranger to go yard three times at the Ballpark since Brad Wilkerson on July 21st, 2007, and it's this final piece of information that I'd like to spend a moment focusing on. Since the Ballpark opened for business at the outset of the 1994 season, we had seen 15 individual three-homer games -- 14 in the regular season, and then Albert Pujols during last year's World Series -- across a grand total of 26,887 individual instances where any batter received at least three plate appearances in a single game. That works out to one three-homer affair for every 1,792 instances.
Since that 2007 season, though, the ratio had plummeted to just one three-homer game for every 3,552 individual three-plus-PA games, as you had only Carlos Quentin going yard three times on May 24th of last year, and, once again, Pujols. That strikes me (and perhaps only me) as sort of interesting, because while we may not all have been paying close attention to this, the reality is that the Ballpark hasn't played all that close to neutral over the last few years -- per StatCorner's park factor data, the Ballpark's multi-year home run park factor is 118 for both left-handed and right-handed hitters, and while I get that scoring across baseball isn't what it used to be (and, for that matter, that the Rangers' pitching is a lot better than it used to be), this is still an environment ripe for aberrant, monstrous home run outbursts. Beltre did his part to normalize that ratio a bit last night.
The other thing that stood out to me about last night was this tweet by Dave Cameron:
With his three homers tonight, Adrian Beltre has pushed himself over +60 WAR for his career.He's 33.HOF a legit possibility.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) August 23, 2012
These days, we tend to look at 60 wins above replacement as a sort of quick-glance benchmark for Hall of Fame candidacy. It's not a hard and fast rule by any means, but, generally speaking, if you're below the 60 WAR line of demarcation and your career has just ended, it's likelier than not that you'll be facing an uphill battle of sorts with the BBWAA electorate. And, conversely, if you're north of that 60 WAR mark, your name is almost certainly going to be subjected to serious consideration (among saber-oriented types, at least), although that also doesn't guarantee you anything. Andruw Jones is sitting at 72.5 career fWAR, but I get the sense that he's still viewed as a borderline case within both sabermetric and more conventional circles of baseball discussion, in part because such a huge chunk of that number is tied to the defensive component and his assigned, highly debatable defensive value. *
[* I don't think anyone would bother to construct much of an argument against the idea that Andruw Jones is one of the greatest defensive center fielders that the game has ever seen. I suppose, then, that the real vexing question is something more along the lines of "is Andruw Jones' defense overvalued by WAR?" I'd snap off an instantaneous 'no,' but when you see numbers suggestive of Jones saving 35-plus runs defensively per season over multiple seasons in the late-90s, and you combine that with the lingering (and not entirely misplaced) distrust of defense valuation metrics, you have a situation where people, by and large, aren't going to blindly interpret the numbers as gospel.]
And you now see something kind of similar going on with Beltre, as more than one-quarter of his updated career fWAR total (60.0) is tied to defense. The lifetime batting line is good, but not elite (.278/.330/.470, 110 wRC+, 332 home runs), and while we have the statistical evidence in hand to support our hypothesis that Beltre is one of the greatest defensive third basemen of the last few generations, it still ultimately boils down to how much credit he'll get for that reputation from the electorate. He's a tad short on hardware, he doesn't have a World Series ring, and if his career ended tomorrow, he would lack the longevity and overall 'oomph' to make it over the top.
That's the thing, though. Beltre's not done as a major league ballplayer. He's pushing for another five-win campaign while in the midst of his age-33 season, and depending on how gracefully he ages, he could make a serious eventual push into 75-80 WAR territory, at which stage the opposition to Beltre going into the Hall of Fame would be decidedly tougher to find. It still sounds just a bit wild and a bit difficult to fathom on its surface, but Beltre has the opportunity to flesh out a potential Cooperstown resume over his next 3-4 years, and for the regular season-focused cynics out there who note that Beltre's three homers during last year's ALDS don't count towards his career numbers ... well, courtesy of last night, you now have a three-homer game that will count.