Early yesterday, Jon Daniels said he doesn't expect another 'major move' over the winter. Which is all well and fine and good, but it leaves a fairly glaring hole on the roster; as things stand right now, the Rangers would break camp with Mitch Moreland as their everyday DH (barring slipping in Engel Beltre or Jim Aducci every now and again).
wRC+, or 'weighted runs created,' measures a player's offense relative to the league average. So a 100 wRC+ is average, whereas a 130 wRC+ indicates a player provides 30% more offense than the average hitter. Mitch Moreland put up a 95 wRC+ last season. The only wRC+ worse among qualified DHs last year would belong to Paul Konerko, whose bat speed is currently measured in geologic time. What's worse, not adding a right-handed complement to Moreland as DH would mean he would take his 86 wRC+ against lefties up for a couple hundred plate appearances next season.
95 doesn't seem like a huge problem - the Rangers as a team only managed a wRC+ of 97 last year. But given that your DH's only job is to, you know, 'H', it's a really really terrible idea to have one who's worse than average at 'H'.
So, in short, there are very strong odds that either the team's DH isn't on the roster now, or there's a player out there who could displace a position player on the roster now to DH. The following words serve to examine some options for that.
Choo is the current Hansel, in that he's so hot right now
as far as rumors go. Over a twenty-minute span the other day, the story went from the Rangers making a seven year offer, to not having made an offer, to having made a five year offer, to not having made an offer AND feeling like they're probably out.
There's a reason Choo is angling for a seven year contract, and it's not entirely because Scott Boras is his representative in negotiations (although that's, like, a major reason). He's a very good baseball player. He's had an on-base percentage over .390 in four of the last six years, and he's had one year in the last six with a wRC+ under 130 (remember, 100 is average). He has the positional flexibility to play either corner spot (well) or center (slightly embarrassingly). Most likely, Choo would play right, moving Rios to left and Michael Choice either into a David Murphy-like heavy duty 4th OF role, or into a DH arrangement.
A seven year deal would pay him until his age 38 season, which is likely unreasonable, but the Rangers want him and are creative. Like the Rangers, I also want him but most of my creativity was expressed with pinto beans and Elmer's Glue in preschool.
Cruz has had his name entwined with Choo's over the past few days, as it seems he and Choo are options 1A and 1B for Texas. Lucky for me, you're very familiar with Cruz, because he's played his last 796 games here, so I don't have to even pull up statistical nuggets to describe him (other than the amount of games he's played here, I guess). It's likely that Cruz's aging, brittle hamstrings and theoretically drug-free season preparation lead him to a primary DH role if he were to re-sign, which is a waste of a fantastic arm and the most usage of the words 'bad routes' not in conjunction with Apple Maps.
Dunn is one of those players, like Lance Berkman and AJ Pierzynski last year, that I was just certain would end up in a Rangers uniform at some point. Partially because I have a noted love for True Three Outcome players, and Dunn either homered, walked, or struck out in almost 50% of his plate appearances last season. Unfortunately, 31% of those were the strikeout variety, and 12.5% were bases on balls (which was the second lowest of his career). Dunn is 34, strictly a DH, and owed 15 million dollars next year. However,
Chicago would likely be motivated to move him to save part of that 15 million, and both front offices are likely familiar with which prospects in the Rangers system the White Sox like due to the Rios trade negotiations.
It's possible Dunn is done (ha. ha.), given that his batting averages over the last three years were .159, .204, .219 (and his career mark is 238). Likewise, his groundball rate has been trending badly (32.5, 34, and 38.3 percent over the last three seasons, respectively). Still, a one-season renaissance in Arlington could lead to something like a 240/360/480 season, much better than you can realistically expect from Moreland. Plus, adding a pure DH like Dunn simplifies the lineup decisions for Washington, and would seem to push Choice to a full-time left field role, which is good for the future (assuming Choice is part of the future, which I feel is likely).
When it comes to career trajectories, breaking your leg celebrating, then having your franchise spend 240 million dollars to replace you, then being traded to Seattle is one of the worst I can picture (among baseball players, at least, because, man, let me tell you, it can be way worse for a race horse). Compounding matters is the fact that Seattle placed a qualifying offer on Morales, which means he'd cost a non-Mariners team a first round pick to sign (or, a second round pick of they were bad the year before, in which case the team probably shouldn't be signing a veteran DH).
However, Morales has something going for him that none of the other candidates can boast, which is switch-hittivity. Given that the Rangers are likely looking at platooning (to some degree) in left field and catcher, having a DH who can produce a platoon advantage in 100 per cent of his plate appearances (and be better than average while doing it) has some attractiveness. The team held a platoon advantage in 53 percent of all plate appearances last year, which seems impressive until you see that league average was 58. A full season of Jurickson Profar should help that somewhat, but it's a factor in Morales' favor.
And while the draft pick compensation factor is a turnoff, signing Morales would mean Cruz goes elsewhere, which means a first-round pick comes back. It's not ideal (especially since you'd be giving a division rival that pick) but it's worth considering.
Youk is probably the player on this list who terrifies me the most, and yet he's also got a great chance to be the best value of all. Last season, as a 34 year old, Youkilis walked in 6.8 percent of plate appearances, and struck out in 26.3%. The really scary thing, though, is he only amassed 118 of those plate appearances due to a back injury. Next season, he'll be 35, with the same back that was injured.
That said, as recently as 2011, Youkilis was an above-average hitter with no real weak spot in his production (126 wRC+, 373 OBP, .459 SLG). Even with an impared performance in 2012, he was average (103 wRC+, .336 OBP, .409 SLG). He'd probably sign for close to half of what Morales would cost, and a third of Cruz or Choo's current ask.
The team has made mention of welcoming Young back 'under the right circumstances'. My understanding of what the 'right' circumstances would be is with the understanding he's in a strict platoon with Moreland as DH, at one-fifth what Young probably feels like he deserves. That, or put him in a time machine and get the 28 year old version of himself. Given that time machines remain completely hidden in secret government bases and not made available to well-past-their-not-really-that-bright prime baseball players, it's safe to assume 'the right circumstances' probably don't exist in this universe.
Against lefties last year, Young produced at a 99 wRC+ clip. He didn't hit them hard (.399 SLG), but he walked (10.4%) almost as much as he struck out (11.7%) and might feel comfortable and happy in Arlington, enough to accept a (very) limited role and produce.
Then again, the first time Washington sits Prince so Young could play first, Fielder would likely bodyslam both Young and Washington at the same time, the spectacle of which would make a signing well worth it. This would happen by mid-May.
I might have spoiled this up way above, but my choice would be to find a middle ground with Choo (use Beltre's contract as a guide). That assumes a Scott Boras client would accept a shorter contract (probably for less dollars) than he's spent the last two months crowing about, so it's not very likely. More and more, I find myself warming to the idea of Morales; like I said, the draft pick compensation will cancel itself out, and I feel like Morales is a likely Mike Napoli type, in that he's in position to have a very good year and sign for a longer, larger deal after a one-year deal this season.
Now that that's said, get ready for 400 plate appearances by Micheal Young!
Joseph Ursery is a big fan of stats, barbecue and favorable platoon splits. He is not a fan of pitchers hitting. It's unnatural. You can follow him on Twitter at @thejoeursery.
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