Winter Patience Paying Early Dividends
Two clichés to ponder:
“Patience is a virtue.”
“You can’t win the division in April, but you can lose it.”
The first has most certainly come into play in being able to use the second. Several of the Rangers’ moves over the winter have come into play already in this first month of the season. Yes, despite public clamorings to pull the trigger on some high dollar moves this past off-season, Jon Daniels held fast and wound up making some value moves that weren’t aimed at bringing in the next franchise slugger or staff ace. He wasn’t even concerned with bringing in the “surefire” bet as a role player.
Instead, Daniels went with pitchers and players that were unconventionally going to fit his ballclub and fill in a gap that the team needed at the moment. Why?
Because, honestly, there’s still time.
Yes, even with the regular season approaching as Spring Training wound down, Daniels certainly had the October aspirations of the team in mind, but also understood and understands that Hot Stove Part Two, the Trade Deadline, is just as vital as the Winter.
So, while there were more attractive names out on the market, more opportune times to make deals between November and March, Daniels took gambles on a few players that have already come through big time in April.
Ian Desmond – LF
- Cost of Acquisition: $8 million, 1st Round Draft Pick
There were any number of outfielders the Rangers could have gone out and gotten to provide right-handed pop and play a decent left field in the absence of Josh Hamilton. Truth be told, they did make that move – a fairly easy, $1.65 million deal for a year of Justin Ruggiano. That was even before they knew Hamilton would miss the first quarter of the season. Ruggiano was going to be the primary fourth outfielder, then, with Hamilton out, looked to be the primary left fielder.
Daniels could have struck earlier in the Winter to get someone like Alex Gordon – but that was a lot of years and a lot of money. He could have gone and signed Austin Jackson (they tried, but he denied, wanting more center field time), Rajai Davis, Ryan Raburn, or any other numerous role-player outfielders, but were they really going to do much to improve the team overall? Could any of the aforementioned outfielders really a better option than Ryan Rua? This wasn’t a move that Daniels needed to make necessarily, except for the all-too-familiar edict of, “If there’s an opportunity to improve, we’ll take it.”
That opportunity came in the form of surprisingly-still-available Ian Desmond. Once offered a $100+ million extension to stay with the Washington Nationals at shortstop, the three-time Silver Slugger figured early in the off-season that he would have to agree to work in the outfield to expand his list of potential employers, especially since he would cost a draft pick to sign. That became his last resort, as nobody wanted to spend as much as Desmond was asking on a 30-year-old shortstop, and when Spring Training kicked off and Texas was still interested in using him as an outfielder, Desmond acquiesced and joined the Rangers.
Thus far, his bat hasn’t picked up entirely, but he definitely hasn’t been a black hole in left field, has proven that his athleticism will allow him to play center field, and his presence in the lineup is enough to change the way pitchers throw to those around him. With something of a breakout game in the series finale against Houston, going 2-for-4 with his first homer with the club, Desmond could be heating up, just in time to finish out April strong and help keep this club at the top of the division to end the month. With a deep and talented farm system, the loss of a draft pick can very easily be absorbed by a great year from a guy with a lot to prove.
A.J. Griffin – SP
- Cost of Acquisition: $507,500
Yes, if you look at his prior salary history, DFA claim A.J. Griffin is currently making less than what he was making the last time he pitched in the majors. After missing two seasons, post-Tommy John surgery, the Oakland Athletics deemed Griffin expendable, not wanting to take the time to have him work his way back from injury to be a Major League contributor.
With the number 5 starter position up for grabs, a minimum commitment made sense for both sides. Instead of getting someone like Zack Greinke (who, by the way, hasn’t been super stellar for Arizona), for a lot of money and a lot of years, the Rangers took a chance on Griffin, who, when he was an active pitcher, was definitely top of the rotation material. With Oakland, Griffin posted a 21-11 record with a 3.60 ERA and a 3.22 K/BB ratio. It’s unlikely that Griffin will get back to this level during his time with the Rangers, especially with Yu Darvish‘s return on the horizon, but to this point, Griffin’s continued quality outings, which means increased confidence, seems to mean that this time without Darvish will not be felt nearly as badly as originally thought.
Bryan Holaday – C
From practically the outset of the Winter, the talk was all over about the Rangers acquiring Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The problem with all of this talk was that the Brewers were under no pressure to trade Lucroy, a bargain for 2016 at $4 million with a $5.25 million option for 2017. Having literally conceded the 2016 season (via an open letter to the fans from the general manager), the Brewers could ask for a truckload of prospects in return for their franchise catcher. As deep as the Rangers’ farm system is, the team had already unloaded several players in exchange for Cole Hamels.
When primary catcher Robinson Chirinos landed on the DL with a fractured forearm, talks of acquiring another catcher continued. Instead of pulling the trigger on a Lucroy trade, Jon Daniels went a talked to another team – the Detroit Tigers – about their backup catcher, TCU alum, and Texas native Bryan Holaday. Holaday was the third string catcher in the organization and deemed expendable. Daniels, however, didn’t jump at the first proposal that Al Avila put on the table. Detroit had asked for catching prospect Brett Nicholas. Instead, Daniels displayed patience and sold Avila on the fact that last year’s backup catcher Bobby Wilson was a Major League ready backstop and was able to ship him out. Now, not only does Daniels have Bryan Holaday through 2021, but instead of being short a catching prospect, Nicholas is up at the Major League level, backing up Holaday. Both have proven to be competent at the plate and have already developed a great rapport with the pitching staff.
Adrian Beltre – 3B
- Cost of Acquisition/Extension: $36 million over 2 years
Oh, you thought this was just about signings and trades? Talk heated up at the start of Spring Training about extending the Rangers’ Captain – no, not the horse, the third baseman (although, arguably, Beltre has been a horse). Entering into the final, and option year of his initial contract with the Rangers, an option year that was exercised prior to last year, both Beltre and the Rangers expressed mutual interest in continuing the relationship they had forged until the 17-year veteran was ready to retire.
Initially, an extension was expected to be reached during Spring Training. Beltre had already let on that he did not want to negotiate during the season – he wanted to say “yes” or “no.” As time dragged on, the only thing to report was that there was nothing to report. Beltre was looking for something along the lines of the kind of money that Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval was earning – ranging between $17.6 – $18.6 million.
Most assumed that would mean that Beltre would be asking for at least $20 million per year, likely for three years. A little over a week into the season, Beltre continued to produce, as he had been known to do in contract years, and it didn’t look like anything was going to be done for Beltre’s future with the team. Then, Sandoval went on the disabled list on April 15th. Perhaps it was the mortality of Sandoval made tangible, or perhaps it was that it was just the definite notion that Sandoval wasn’t that great of a third baseman. Beltre, soon after, accepted a two-year extension with the club for just $18 million. Could Beltre, who, like a fine wine, gets better with age, have fetched more on the open market? Sure. But with Daniels not rushing into signing The Captain for about $6-7 million more than he did, the Rangers can ensure that Beltre retires as a Ranger.
As far as the rest of the season goes, don’t expect any big dealings from Daniels’ camp until much closer to the trade deadline. The team that is formed following the August 1st deadline is not likely to be the same one that swept the Astros this past week. One thing is for sure, though, the personnel will not have been chosen hastily.