This offseason, Josh Hamilton gave Texas fans exactly what a large number of them claimed they wanted: his departure. Unlike when Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols left their respective teams, there was no false hope of a contract extension the year before; no hopes masquerading as reasonable claims that Hamilton would stay in the area because he owned a restaurant. From an outsider’s perspective, at least, it seemed like it would be a mutually amicable breakup.
But then instead of Detroit or Baltimore or somewhere in the National League, Hamilton went to the Angels, and that put an end to all that nonsense. Hamilton had not only left Texas, he’d landed in the one place Rangers fans really didn’t need a guy with his bat landing -- Anaheim, their primary rival for the division.
Even worse, the Rangers’ lineup sans Hamilton and Mike Napoli, whose contract with Boston is still on hold for various mysterious reasons that are likely health-related, is ... somewhat dire. The best slugger remaining on the team is aging 3B Adrian Beltre, and RF Nelson Cruz and 2B Ian Kinsler, mainstays of the Ranger offense in years past, suffered major down years at the plate in 2012. If, instead of complementing a Hamilton/Beltre core, they have to replace his production, the Rangers could fast find themselves in dire need of runs.
Pitching-wise, starter Colby Lewis will miss the first part of the season, but Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando should keep things locked down well enough until he’s back. It’s really the hitting that’s giving people pause about the team’s playoff aspirations going into 2013. There’s still time for the Rangers to turn things around, however.
The first thing to do would be to sign Nick Swisher. Swisher’s 124 OPS+* is the 15th best in baseball from an outfielder over the past three seasons, and most of the players above him on that list -- players like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, some guy named Josh Hamilton -- aren’t going to be hitting free agency any time soon. Swisher’s arrival would put him in left field, not right, since left is harder to play in Arlington, push David Murphy across the diamond to right, and make Cruz the designated hitter. The common wisdom would also have the combination of Arlington and moving out of the AL East improving Swisher’s numbers by a tidy amount, though I’m always skeptical of simplifying environmental adjustments too much.
*OPS+ is a rating scale for hitters that uses 100 to denote the performance of an “average MLB hitter,” with each point above or below 100 representing a percentage point. Swisher’s 124 means he was 24% better than the league average batting line over the past three years. That’s pretty good.
Combined with a rebound from Cruz and Kinsler -- though for Nelson, it’s starting to look like 2010 was the exception, not the rule -- that should be enough offense to at least keep the Rangers in the mix into the final weeks of the season, especially given the new Wild Card rules. But if Texas really wants to upgrade on offense, and doesn’t mind burning through a couple blocked prospects to do so, there might be a bit of wiggle room for them to get … creative.
The top of the Rangers farm system right now, discounting any of the inevitable promotions to the major league level next year, looks like this:
Jurickson Profar, SS. The consensus best position player prospect in baseball with the graduations of Trout, Harper, and Machado (and there were very few Machado holdouts).
Mike Olt, 3B. Strong bat with good defense for the position, but he could lose substantial value if forced to play in a corner.
Martin Perez, LHP. Spent a brief in the majors and has had some struggles -- his ceiling looks more like a mid-rotation starter than a #2 now, but there’s a good chance he’ll hit it.
Leonys Martin, CF, a decent bet to be the Texas centerfielder -- at least in a platoon -- on Opening Day 2013.
RHP Justin Grimm, who has rocketed up through the Texas system and was starting games for the major league squad less than two years after throwing his first pitch as a Ranger in A Ball.
It is, all in all, a good top of the system. However, the top two prospects are blocked at their positions of highest value in Texas by legit major leaguers Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, and Perez and Grimm are pitching prospects -- you look at one of those wrong and he’s liable to tear something in his elbow.
Now, down in Miami there’s a young man by the name of Giancarlo Stanton, and he does not appear to be very happy there, considering the Marlins just traded half the damn team to Toronto while in the throes of a near-fatal case of buyer’s remorse. Should the Marlins and their joyless miser of an owner consider Stanton’s obvious displeasure enough of an issue to land him on the trade market, there’d be an easy fit in Texas. Jon Daniels, the current general manager of the Rangers, would probably die before doing something like, say, trading Profar, Olt, and either Perez and Grimm for Stanton, but as theoretical GM I have the advantage of not being Jon Daniels. In Stanton, Texas would be adding a guy who’s been in legitimate contention for the NL MVP award the past two seasons and led baseball in slugging percentage in 2012, and who would bring immediate credibility and stability back to the heart of the Texas lineup. With Stanton and Swisher in the corners either Murphy and Cruz would have to learn to play 1B, since Kinsler would be staying put at 2B, but if that’s the only problem you have around the diamond (that, and Kinsler quickly approaching that time in every 2B’s life where he’s perpetually injured forever if he’s not already there), you’re sitting pretty.
Trading Profar and Olt would also represent a wholesale selling out to win now that the current Rangers management has never endorsed, but honestly I’m with the Blue Jays on this one: from Toronto to Texas, flags fly forever, and there’s no better time than now.