The Rangers’ Outfield: The biggest Question Going into 2016
Greetings. This is my inaugural post for SDI. I’m pleased to be here, and am excited that everyone will finally be able to read my vast and considerable Rangers wisdom. I plan to serve up hot opinions, thorough research and a good deal of humor (self-deprecating and otherwise.) It’s a proven recipe. I’ve just never taken it beyond Facebook and my own personal blog.
Josh Hamilton is a flake. This has never been in doubt, nor is it open to debate. It’s a law of science – like gravity. It’s not just his mental weakness that makes him unreliable. It’s his physical brittleness as well. I was vehemently opposed to the Rangers bringing Josh back, even at the dramatically reduced price. He has had such ophthalmological mysteries as “ocular keratitis,” “caffeine made my eyes dry,” “my eyes are too blue to see the ball in day games,” and “I slid head first into home and now my eyes won’t move when I turn my head.”
His knee is inflamed more than the never-extinguished Olympic Flame. He throws about 4 dozen bats into the stands every season. Spoiler alert: Josh is the reason that there is new netting behind the dugouts along first base line, not foul balls. He has zero self-control in his personal life or at the plate. The down and away slider is just as irresistible to him as drugs and alcohol are. He quit on this team in 2012, then trolled the entire Metroplex (and all Rangers fans) on his way out of town, and was terrible during his time with the Angels. He was so unreliable that the Angels were desperate to get him off the roster.
The first time Jerry Dipoto called Josh Daniels wanting to dump Hamilton back on the Rangers, I’d like to think that JD just hung up on him and laughed. Or laughed, then hung up and then laughed some more. Then Dipoto called back and made JD an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The temptation that Josh 2010 might still be hiding behind the guy who swings at every pitch no matter how low and outside it is, was just too great and the price was so low that JD somehow let himself be swindled by Dipoto.
That’s right… even the low salary of $6 million over three years is more than Josh is worth to this team. He’s not going to play enough games, get enough hits, drive in enough runs, or even get on base enough to justify the money spent or the at-bats that someone else could put to better use. Someone right-handed.
Thankfully, JD has finally emerged from the hypnosis that Dipoto perpetrated on him and signed Ian Desmond to be the every day left fielder. Good thing, as I believe the Rangers will be be pushing it to get more than 75 games out of Hamilton this season. If I were a betting man, I’d take the under.
Unfortunately, Ian Desmond played even fewer games in left field than Hamilton did last season. None. In fact, Desmond hasn’t even played one entire game in the outfield. But, he’s got a lot more to offer than Hamilton does. He’s physically reliable and he’s right-handed. And he’s a Good Dude™.
The concerns are that he’s never regularly played outfield before, and his production at the plate has declined considerably since his three consecutive Silver Slugger awards. I was really hoping the Rangers would have made a serious play for Justin Upton or Austin Jackson. The need for a right-handed bat with pop to play in the outfield is considerable.
It’s times like this that I miss Jeff Baker and his uncanny ability to brutalize left-handed pitching. He’s still a free agent, JD… might be worth a non-roster invite to spring training if nobody else has signed him in a couple weeks. Left field remains a huge question mark as spring training games are upon us. Will Desmond be able to step up and learn a position he’s never played in the big leagues? Will Josh Hamilton platoon with Desmond to face right-handed bats? At least we won’t have to watch Mike Napoli butcher routine fly balls in left field this season.
Delino DeShields exceeded even the highest expectations for 2015. It’s not often you hear about a Rule 5 draft pick paying off for the whole season like DeShields did for the Rangers. It was doubly delicious that JD plucked him from the enemy Astros.
DeShields lacks the physical defensive tools of Leonys Martin. He’s not as tall, he has an average-at-best arm, and though he’s fast, he doesn’t cover the field as well as Martin. This can be learned in time. At least the other outfielders can hear DeShields call for fly balls, which was a problem a lot more than it should have been due to Martin’s Tiny Tim voice. While DeShields is a downgrade defensively from Martin, I believe he is a considerable upgrade offensively. If DeShields can avoid the sophomore jinx and come close to last season’s performance, center field will be not be a question mark.
As vehemently as I was opposed to reacquiring Hamilton, I was equally fervent in my plea to JD to sign Shin-Soo Choo, both in 2013 and 2014. He’s one of my personal favorite players. The length and dollars in the contract were a concern but Choo is one of the hardest working players in baseball. This is the hallmark of the Korean work ethic shining through. It explains why he tried so hard to play every day despite a badly injured ankle in 2014, even though his injury was clearly causing problems at the plate.
Choo is famous for having significant injury problems every other year, which puts him on track to have injury problems in 2016. Will he be able to break the trend? If not, will Josh be able to fill in?
What about Justin Ruggiano? Where does he fit in to the mix? Likely as the 4th outfielder, at least for the first couple months of the season while Hamilton recovers from yet more knee inflammation. Can he play effectively every day if there is a plague of injuries like the Rangers had in 2014?
Will Ryan Rua see any time? Rua’s time will also be dependent on injuries – he’s not likely to see much time unless Hamilton and/or Choo have significant problems… or if one of the infielders gets hurt and Desmond is moved into the infield for significant time. And don’t think that possibility wasn’t part of JD’s thought process in signing Desmond. With Adrian Beltre aging and oft-injured, Rougned Odor still somewhat unseasoned, and Elvis Andrus being a general disappointment after signing his big contract and specifically having a monumental mental meltdown in Game 5 last year, chances are fair that we will see Desmond get some significant time in the infield dirt this season, opening yet more outfield time for someone else to fill.
Speaking of Desmond in the infield….
Next time, we will investigate the Elvis Andrus conundrum. How his 2015 season ended, how his off-season went, and where he is physically and mentally going into 2016.