On Lewis Brinson and baseball’s biggest challenge
Question: What’s the hardest part of baseball?
Make no mistake, baseball is difficult. We don’t appreciate often the difficulty of the game that 162 times a year our favorite professionals make look easy. From throwing and hitting a curveball, to fielding a fly ball in the lights, to a manager and all his various in game decisions. All of this is done under the brightest of lights and highest of expectations.
With all respect to those endeavors, the hardest job is in the front office. It’s the job of seeing a player or prospect and having to perceive in different moments regarding their value. They assess worth in the present, while projecting out any value changes in the months and years ahead. A baseball general manager is a lot like a poker player: There’s skill and knowledge involved, but luck and chance push back to create a torrential chaos that affects the lives and livelihoods of so many people.
Jon Daniels experienced that first hand. After the 2005 season, Daniels dealt a .229 hitting Adrian Gonzalez and others to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Gonzalez proceeded to take off putting up a near decade of quality seasons, while I still have to check the spelling on Otsuka. Not a great projecting moment for a young GM.
He’s been on the other side as well. In 2010 he dealt Justin Smoak in the trade that brought Cliff Lee to Texas. Smoak, another prized Rangers first base prospect, hadn’t lived up to his hype in half a season with the big club. Lee led Texas to their first AL pennant in a magical season, while Smoak floundered with his new club before bringing his unique brand of adequateness to Toronto.
All of this demonstrates that the endeavor of projecting and analyzing players is essential but fragile. Even with the tools at our disposal being better than ever, we’re never able to say with certainty that player X will turn into player Y. The unpredictable nature of humanity is a hindrance to doing so. We do it anyway however. Front office types do it because that’s what they’re paid for; writers and fans do it because it’s fun.
Remember all of this as I try and trade Lewis Brinson to solve one of Texas’ biggest upcoming problems.
One of the popular names in the Rangers farm system, Brinson is having a down year on the stat sheet but the tools are steadfast. He profiles as an elite center field defender, with his biggest concern being an inconsistent bat. For a more detailed outlook, check out this piece from the SDI prospect series and this one from Chris Connor. They’ve done a great job going in depth on Brinson to date.
With all of that knowledge, the fact remains that we have no clue what Brinson will be in five years. We don’t even know what he’ll be in one year. What we do know however is that right now the baseball world thinks highly of him. He’s also the victim of Ian Desmond’s success. Desmond’s been a revelation since moving to center in place of the slumping Delino DeShields. He’s hit like fire and fielded the position with ease. Mix that with Nomar Mazara’s stellar rookie campaign and the impending return of Shin-Soo Choo, and Brinson goes from virtual lock to man without a country.
That adds up to Brinson’s value to Texas being not in what he can provide them on the field, but what he can provide someone else. There are plenty of teams that could use a cost controlled center fielder with oodles of talent and potential. There’s not many of those out there.
To part with Brinson, Texas needs one thing: A frontline starting pitcher. Yu Darvish is gone after 2017; Derek Holland could be with a team option looming at the end of this year. Colby Lewis is only getting older, and the farm system is a little barren when it comes to producing top of the rotation pitchers. Lulu Ortiz looks the part but isn’t past Frisco yet; Dillon Tate hasn’t even seen Dr. Pepper Ballpark.
So what teams fit the Rangers need? Glad you asked:
Oakland Athletics/Sonny Gray: Whenever there’s a trade involving a good major league player for prospects, Billy Beane and the As are drawn to it like lawyers in bad suits to ambulances. They’re perpetually looking to keep costs low, which would make more sense if they’d reinvest that money into their abhorrent stadium’s plumbing.
Gray posted a 5.8 WAR season in 2015, but riddled by bad luck and a DL stint this year. The 26 year won’t see free agency until 2020. Oakland’s system is talent devoid after the Jon Lester, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jason Hammel trades two years ago. Coco Crisp’s neck could fall off any day now, and Billy Burns is an above average Craig Gentry. A package with Brinson would appeal to Oakland.
Cleveland Indians/Danny Salazar: Texas’ most frequent trade partner makes an appearance here as they’ve got what Texas needs, and needs what Texas has. Salazar is a young right handed strikeout artist, averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine. In addition to that, he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher this season at a 50% GB rate. He’s got an extra year of control at 25 years old, so his price would be higher.
Cleveland has another player Texas could want in Carlos Santana. Santana is a free agent at the end of the year, but is a better overall hitter than Moreland. He’s also 5th in the AL in walks, so he knows how to get on base. This is a move for now and later, but the upgrade of Santana over Mitch Moreland could make this more appealing for the Rangers.
Cleveland’s outfield situation is tenuous. Rajai Davis is about to draw Social Security yet still plays. Michael Brantley is becoming injury prone, Marlon Byrd is suspended until next year, and Lonnie Chisenhall is marauding as an outfielder. Acquiring Brinson would add more speed to a lineup that is already loaded with it, and stabilize the outfield of the Tribe for years to come.
Tampa Bay Rays/Chris Archer: Speaking of teams that don’t like to pay major leaguers, Tampa Bay falls square into this category. Archer is having a down year despite average over 10 punchouts per nine. It’s part bad luck with a BABIP at .324, and part control as his walk rate has jumped up almost two since his stellar 2015 campaign.
What makes this appealing yet troublesome in a deal for Texas is Archer signed an extension in 2014 that bought out his arbitration years and included two team options for his age 31 and 32 seasons. That’s great for Texas as those would cost $9 million and $11 million respectively, but it also decreases the incentive for Tampa to trade him for cost reasons.
What could poke this along for Tampa is the ability to shift Kevin Kiermaier to a corner spot in an effort to reduce injuries. He would replace Desmond Jennings, who could hit the broad side of a barn this year. Jennings’ slash of .171/.237/.268 won’t cut it for long, and Brinson offers a solution provided you restock the Tampa cupboard with some young pitching.
The easy part is identifying good players and matching up with them. Figuring out how much they’ll cost you, while crossing that with how you value what they covet is the part where most trades implode. There’s no guarantee that the players above will perform in Arlington as they have already. That’s the game within the game.
The hardest part, if you will.