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February 29, 2012

Prospectus Preview

AL West 2012 Preseason Preview

by Jason Parks and Jason Wojciechowski

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ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

PECOTA Team Projections
Record: 89-73
Team WARP: 45.7
Runs Scored: 719
Runs Allowed: 648​
Team FRAA: 37.6

1) If you were to take Mike Trout to the prom, what would be the first song you would dance to? Also, what do you expect from the 20-year-old in 2012?

Jason Parks: Probably something from the Pet Shop Boys, perhaps “West End Girls.”  If the Angels give Trout 500+ at-bats, he’s going to shine and struggle throughout the season, mostly due to his youth and inexperience at the level. Trout is insanely talented, but you can’t expect a 20-year-old to mash major-league pitching without falling on his face a few times along the way. With enough time to fail and adjust, Trout should emerge as the best position player on the team not named Pujols. He’s an impact talent.

Jason Wojciechowski: Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me." This answer has the added benefit of having actually been played at Trout's senior prom. In 2009. Because of Vernon Wells's short skirt, high heels, and position as cheer captain, what I expect from Mike Trout is a whole bunch of Triple-A.

2) Best rotation in the American League West, best rotation in the American League, or best rotation in baseball?

JP: Let’s start with best rotation in the division; I can make that case. As far as pure talent goes, I’m not sold the Angels can match the Rays, with Moore, Price, Hellickson, and Shields. With youth comes inexperience and developmental setbacks, so the Rays might fall and the Angels might emerge as the best rotation by the end of the season. I’m still not prepared to award them that distinction now.

JW: I'll give them just the division for the nonce, noting that Jerome Friggin' Williams is apparently the team's fifth starter. The flip side of that rather ugly coin is that nobody can fool themselves into thinking that Williams is awesome. When a pitcher becomes available on the trade market in July, the Angels won't have any trouble shoving a reclamation project like Williams aside for a new shiny toy. I shouldn't shortchange the actual good players in the rotation, though, because the top three (in some order, not that it matters) of Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson is fierce, with not a PECOTA-projected ERA greater than 3.11 among them. The Rays go deeper, with anywhere from five to seven starters who are legitimate assets, but only the vaunted Phillies can match the top of Anaheim's staff.

3) Is 2012 the year Vernon Wells gets his groove back, or is 2012 the year Vernon Wells once again fails to hit over .220?

JP: I don’t see the dance steps returning, no. I think Wells will put his seat to the wood more than his bat in 2012. 

JW: Even/odd-year patterns probably don't have an explanation beyond randomness, but Wells has looked completely done in three straight odd years, putting up True Averages of .249, .253, and .247 in 2007, 2009, 2011. He bounced back in 2008 and 2010, so I'm not ready to say that the 33-year-old is fully and completely through. I'm sure he doesn't have another five-WARP season in him (2006 being the last time he managed it), but bouncing back to the 2.0-to-2.5 range shouldn't be considered entirely out of the question.

4) Albert Pujols is clearly awesome, and CJ Wilson clearly thinks he’s awesome, but how awesome will they make the Angels in 2012? Is this a team that will compete for a division title or will the Rangers once again put their name on the banner?

JP: The Rangers have taken control of this division, and that grip will extend to 2012 and beyond. The Angels have a monster bat and a monster rookie on offense, and a rotation that should keep them in most games. But the Angels as a team don’t reach base at a high clip, so I don’t know where the runs are going to come from, even with Uncle Albert sending 40 bombs into the rocks. I think it’s going to be a frustrating year, one that finds the pitching staff living up to the hype and the bats not carrying their share of load. By the end of the season, the Angels can say they were close, but they will once again be looking up at the Rangers atop the division.

JW: The Angels are certainly a legitimate contender in the West. Their run-prevention far outpaces their hitting, but that's a valid way to build a team, and Jerry Dipoto is no lackwit. The Chris Iannetta acquisition, for instance, was a savvy way to add some on-base ability to the lineup. The teams look pretty neck-and-neck to me, though the Angels are scarily all-eggs-in-Albert-Pujols on offense. If he were to pull a Mo Vaughn, the Anaheimers would be in far more trouble than if Ian Kinsler or Josh Hamilton or Adrian Beltre or Mike Napoli were to get hurt. The length of the list of "possible best hitters" for the Rangers illustrates the point.

5) Mark Trumbo finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2011 despite an OBP of .291 and lost his hold on the first base job thanks to some hoser named Albert. With a position switch in the cards, how will a player who was considered a below-average first baseman transition to a more demanding defensive position at the hot corner? This isn’t going to end well, is it?

JP: Is that true? Well, um, Trumbo is going to be horrible at third base. I thought he was below-average at first, and those positional demands pale in comparison to the hot corner. Considering the team’s deep queue of aging outfielders who will require DH at-bats, it makes sense to explore ways to get Trumbo’s power into the lineup. But putting him at third isn’t going to end well. Trading him at this point makes the most sense, especially if you are of the belief that he isn’t a very good offensive force, despite the home runs.

JW: The idea that Trumbo's bat is so valuable that it requires shoehorning into whatever defensive position you have available is amusing. Which is not to say he's a bad hitter! Statheads rightly focus on his horrendous off-base ability, but the massive power allowed him to post a .278 TAv last year, just a tad below the major-league average at first base. But Trumbo is not Miguel Cabrera to Albert Pujols's Prince Fielder—the bat isn't so special that a team should be willing to take a -10 (to pick a number) hit at a different defensive position, particularly when that team is the Angels, who have perfectly a perfectly solid Alberto Callaspo at third base, a slightly lesser hitter overall (with a vastly different shape to his performance), but one who has shown he can handle the hot corner. Left field is the same, except that Trumbo and Vernon Wells might well be working out with the same Grip 'n' Rip Like The Pros hitting instructional video in the offseason. I don't see any real point to letting Trumbo take time from Callaspo, and if you're playing him in left over Wells, well, why aren't you playing Trout there instead?

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

PECOTA Team Projections
Record: 72-90
Team WARP: 26.8
Runs Scored: 656
Runs Allowed: 738
Team FRAA: 15.5

1) Will Yoenis Cespedes leg-press his way to positive production in 2012, or will the promotional video star fail to live up to the hype in his debut season?

JP: His video was very impressive, and scouts I’ve spoken with rave about his future, but I haven’t seen him play yet, and to be honest, I’m a little skeptical. I’ve seen the video, and I know about the jumps, and the squats, and the Chris Brown song, but what I’m curious about is the ability to hit a baseball thrown by a major-league arm. Cespedes has legit plus power, and if he connects he could send 25+ out of the yard this season. But will that massive power we’ve all heard about appear outside batting practice once the 26-year-old Cuban faces velocity on the inner-half, or complicated sequences that feature curveballs with vertical depth or sliders with two-plane break, or changeups from lefties that start on the plate and fade away from the barrel? With Cespedes, I will have doubts until he erases them, which many people expect him to do right out of the chute in 2012. Until then, I’ll just re-watch the promotional video and call it performance art. 

JW: In being technically responsive to the question while avoiding the intent of it, I'm more interested in Cespedes's defense than his bat this year. Let's say the dude has the massive in-game power that everyone talks about, and let's further say that he has the contact issues that everyone worries about, which lead to on-base issues. Then you've got a hitter with a performance shaped like a Mark— Reynolds or Trumbo, take your pick. Those are first basemen, though, or terrible third basemen. If Cespedes can hit like them while playing a legitimate center field, then the A's will get their money's worth while marketing him as if he's a star.

2) In an off-season trade, the A’s sent 23-year-old rotation horse RHP Trevor Cahill to the D-Backs for top prospect RHP Jarrod Parker (along with Ryan Cook and Colin Cowgill), a move designed to make them cheaper while bringing in a pitcher with a higher ultimate ceiling. With Parker ready to contribute and a rotation written in pencil, what are you expecting from him in 2012?

JP: I doubt Parker starts the season in the 2012 rotation, but he could be there by early summer, and given his deep arsenal and electric stuff, he has a chance to make an impact. He’s going to struggle because his command isn’t always sharp, and despite a deep arsenal, the secondary pitches don’t always fire at the same time. Inconsistency is part of the developmental process, and the A’s elected to go for the cheaper (riskier) player with upside rather than keep the durable and average pitcher who was about to get expensive. I am a Cahill fan, so on the surface I thought Arizona got the better deal. But Parker has the better stuff, so in the end, Oakland might be able to say their gamble paid off.

JW: Billy Beane has not been shy about letting pitchers pitch as soon as they're ready. Still, there's no rush, and while Parker did make his major-league debut, he has yet to toss a ball in Triple-A. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in Sacramento until the first Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, or Dallas Braden injury. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised to see Parker start the year in the rotation with Brad Peacock waiting in the wings. Either way, the fastball is enough to dream on—I saw him in Lake Elsinore one cold night in 2009 before he was promoted to Double-A. His heater had me excited enough that I momentarily forgot all about the sweatshirt I'd left at the motel. If you want me to put a number on his 2012 ERA, I'll be more optimistic than PECOTA and say 4.2.

3) RHP Brandon McCarthy pitched a career high 170.2 innings in 2011, only landing on the disabled list one time with a stress fracture in his shoulder. Do you credit the peaceful vibes of the Bay Area, the Oakland coaching staff, or McCarthy’s Twitter presence for his relative good health? Can BMac match or eclipse that impressive workload and on-the-field production in 2012?

JP: I give all the credit to the vibes. It has to be the vibes, right?

JW: McCarthy actually gave a great description of his injury in an interview with bloggers, including the fact that it feels like someone stabbed him in the back with a knife. More relevant to the question, he says that he (or the team, or his team, or someone) found a doctor last year with "some theories" about how to fix his weird scapula issue. Most importantly, those theories seem to have worked in the second half of the year. Who knows, of course. Maybe he just got lucky last year, maybe there was something else going on in his body that won't be repeated, maybe the sun was shining just the right way for all of September. Still, the fact that a treatment was found and appears to have fixed McCarthy once is enough to give A's fans hope that he's fixed for good. (At least as to the particular weird issue of his stress fracture—all other possible pitcher injuries are still on the table.)

4) Does Manny have anything left in the tank? Is he a good candidate for a first-half rip and flip?

JP: Manny always has something left in the tank. As a baseball fan, I’m just glad Manny will get to wear a uniform in 2012, even if a solid first-half performance (after his 50-game suspension) could land him in another one at the deadline. It’s a low-risk potential rip and flip, and if the A’s can turn a minor-league invite into a quality prospect at the break, they win. If they can draw a few extra fans because of Manny, they win. If Manny fails to make the team or impress once he does, well, the A’s still win.

JW: I don't believe in one-year contracts leading to good prospects at the trade deadline. I especially don't believe in this when you're talking about a 40-year-old who will only have an opportunity to play for two months before the deadline, since he's not eligible to come back from his suspension until May 30th. I really especially don't believe in this when you're talking about a designated hitter with perceived attitude issues and a history of PED suspensions. I'd imagine there are front offices who'd hang up on Billy Beane if he called looking to flip him, and there are plenty of others who, feelings about Manny's personality aside, simply have the spot filled. How many contenders don't already have a DH? I think Manny's in Oakland to provide some on-base ability and some homers toward the team's drive for a respectably middle-class finish if one of the youngsters (or the Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes combination) doesn't seize the designated hitter position.

5) Can the A’s front-office survive a potential 100-loss season without losing its Hollywood shine? After all, Billy Beane has Brad Pitt’s face and Bill James’s brain, but his team hasn’t had a winning record since 2006, and based on the roster construction for 2012, it might be a very long season for the A’s. Will the dream of a new stadium and subsequent financial resources make up for the disappointments of recent campaigns?

JP: The baseball industry is full of A’s apologists, some with good reason and some blind to all failures, unable to see anything but the genius of the approach and the achievements of the past. I like the A’s as a team, and I appreciate the brains in the front office, but eventually the team needs to return to a competitive level. The A’s have been hamstrung by financial restrictions for years and somehow managed to keep the talent on the field competitive, finishing with a .500 record in 2010. But after a disappointing 2011 season and an offseason that saw the team once again purge itself of quality major-league talent, and facing a 2012 season where losing 100 games is a realistic possibility, it’s natural and responsible to question the front office that assembled those squads.

I think a 100-loss season smudges Billy Beane’s handsome legacy, regardless of the payroll restrictions that suffocate the team. At this point, the A’s front office execs are Hollywood heroes, men capable of taking a bad situation and exploiting inefficiencies in the market to remain competitive. They have been very successful in the past, but this is the present, and as much as people love a fairytale, they also love to poke holes in the myth.

JW: I don't think anything the A's do this year will or should change any perceptions of Billy Beane one way or the other. The current version of the team isn't trying. If they lose 100 games, well, they traded all their good pitchers. Of course they lost 100 games! Legacy-damaging years are seasons like 2009 and 2011, when Beane traded for Matt Holliday or Josh Willingham but the team went nowhere due to under-performance in other parts of the roster (partially stemming from a series of mediocre drafts in the years prior), injury, and all the other issues that befall a bad team.

Billy Beane has a different mandate than anyone else in baseball. It's not entirely clear what that mandate is, to be honest (much as they're not trying to win, they're also not trying to lose, contra the Astros), but it seems pretty clear that it isn’t "do what you must in order to make the playoffs." Only Lew Wolff knows what he's told Beane to accomplish, on what timetable, and how much of his job is strictly baseball-driven. The rest of us are just playing at knowing.

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

PECOTA Team Projections
Record: 72-90
Team WARP: 25.7
Team TAv: 0.262
Runs Scored: 624
Runs Allowed: 710​
Team FRAA: 11.0

1) Were the Mariners smart to sell Michael Pineda early, or will the loss of a potential frontline starter come back to bite the team?

JP: Landing Montero was a huge move and a much-needed boost for a lackluster offense. I love Pineda, and I might ask for his hand in marriage someday down the line. Standing at that size, with that feel for pitching, that explosive a fastball, that promising a slider, and with those kind of results at such a young age, Pineda is a very difficult player to part with. He’s a quality number-two starter right now, and if the changeup can take a step forward, he could develop into a legit number-one. What has more value: A legit top-of-the-rotation starter or a legit cleanup hitter, a player capable of 30+ homers and .300+ average?

I think it was smart for Seattle to go with the bat, a safer bet to contribute for the next six years. With Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker in the system, it’s conceivable that Pineda’s production won’t be missed in the long term. However, not having that arm penciled in as your number-two in 2012 is going to be felt, regardless of how explosive Montero is as a rookie. In the end, both teams will win this trade. The Yankees traded one of the best hitting prospects in the game for one of the most impressive young arms in the game. Both players have limitations and weaknesses that could limit their overall effectiveness. This is rare, but unless an injury occurs, I think both teams will be happy with the move years down the line.

JW: The A.L. West has three teams in sizable markets and three teams that act the part (though there's not 100% percent overlap in those sets), and they're about to add the team that plays in the fourth-largest city in the country and hired Mike Fast to boot. This isn't, in other words, the A.L. Central, and nobody's going anywhere unless they make bold moves. Trading a young, highly regarded, highly successful pitcher for one of the epsilon best bats in the minor leagues, even one without a defensive home, practically defines the term "bold." I don't know if it'll work out. Nobody knows if it'll work out, Jack Zduriencik included, but with Seattle's minor-league pitching depth and the possibility (which nobody would know better than the Mariners themselves) that Pineda has already hit his ceiling, this kind of alignment-of-assets trade makes all the sense in the world.

2) Is this the season that Felix Hernandez’s arm detaches at the shoulder and flies into the opposing team’s dugout? 1388 innings pitched before his 26th birthday is quite impressive, but the workload has prompted some to suggest that the Mariners should explore the trade market for the Venezuelan ace before he starts to break down. Thoughts?

JP: It’s hard for me to sit here and guess about a future injury based on workload. Yes, Felix’s arm could fly off and kill a small child in the stands. The father will tell the story for years. But his arm might stay attached, and he might maintain his level of play for another ten years. Should they trade the ace? Possibly. Players shouldn’t be off limits, regardless of who they are or what they mean to your team. If you can exploit the market for a haul that will better your team, exploring a trade should always be an option.

Hypothetical: the Mariners aren’t set to compete in 2012, but they have a nucleus of young, cost-effective talent on the roster and in the upper minors. The Cardinals call and want Felix. They are willing to offer a package of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and Oscar Taveras just to start the discussion. Shouldn’t the Mariners at least listen to such an offer and perhaps pull the trigger on the deal if the end result makes them a better team? Always be willing to trade the players you aren’t willing to trade.

JW: The only difficulty I see in trading Felix Hernandez, assuming a king's ransom (I know you see what I did there) can be obtained, is that he's been a Mariner for so long and been so successful that non-baseball considerations may come into play. He is far and away the best player on the team, and as far as I can tell from my own Washington-based family and the Internet, his popularity at least matches his actual baseball value, and might outstrip it. To return to the A's for a second: trading a good player (Trevor Cahill) for prospects causes gnashing of teeth; trading a popular good player (Gio Gonzalez) for prospects causes fans to wail and moan about refusing to buy tickets until things change, especially if that trade comes after the previous one.

Do the Mariners want to subject their team to the media scrutiny and fan backlash that would come with sending King Felix to St. Louis or wherever else he might be wanted? Is there a dollar value that can be placed on this consideration? It's worth thinking about, because G.M.'s and owners are no more robots than players are, Living Spreadsheet Paul DePodesta aside.

3) In 2012, Justin Smoak finishes the season with a slash line of ___/___/____, and his doubters are proven______?

JP: .265/.350/.425. Who cares about the doubters? Smoak probably isn’t a first-division type anymore, but he’s a solid-average regular, and he’ll start to show that ceiling in 2012.

JW: .239/.336/.386. Yes, okay, fine, I just took his PECOTA projection and distributed 17 additional points across his line because 17 is the best number. What of it? I'm not sure there are "doubters" anymore, so much as there are realists. Smoak's probably not a star, but he can still hope for adequacy at first base, and the Mariners have some time to figure it out. I do have one small bit of advice for him, if he's reading: you should hit the ball harder.

4) Ichiro: Where da gold at? Anything left in the tank?

JP: In my next life, I plan on coming back as a leprechaun in Mobile, Alabama. As for Ichiro, no, I think he’s done. One of my all-time favorite players to watch, but his skill-set is deflating, and his production is going with it.

JW: I have no idea what this question means, but I do know that Ichiro has not only had a fork stuck in his back, he's been put back in the oven for more broiling. The fork has melted, and Ichiro is completely over-done. His high-average, no-walks, no-power game isn't worth much in real life, but he's still endlessly entertaining, especially when his lookalike shows up and starts getting his hands on live balls. He could still make a run at 3000 hits despite not debuting in the United States until his age-27 season, but Mariners fans should hope that said run will come in another uniform, because he'll be a drag on any team with hopes of contention.

5) If the Mariners go forward with Jesus Montero as a catcher to start the season, when will the Venezuelan slugger move off the position: the first day of the season, the first week of the season, or the first month?

JP: I’ve seen Montero behind the plate, and it’s not pretty. That said, it doesn’t have to be pretty to be passable. He can catch and throw, and he’s not ignorant of the mental responsibilities associated with the position. He’s just not very athletic, and his footwork is subpar, which affects his throwing accuracy and blocking skills. I think his bat has enough wallop to justify an early move to DH, or perhaps to first base if Smoak’s game doesn’t take a step forward. I understand the value you receive when you can get Montero’s bat from a premium defensive position. But the value you are getting out of the position itself is below average, and given the physical demands behind the plate, you are removing the one positive source of value from the lineup once a week in order to rest the player. Montero’s a DH. It’s just a matter of when.

JW: As a fan, I'd like to see Montero stick behind the plate long enough for PITCHf/x wizards to get a look at his pitch-framing skills, particularly as a test of scouting reports vs. stats. Realistically, the Mariners already have Miguel Olivo and John Jaso on hand, so there's no real need to mess around with theories and experimentation at the risk of injuring Montero or retarding his bat with the rigors of squatting 150 times a game. It would be nice at least to give Montero enough of a shot behind the plate to find out if he can be a backup catcher. Seattle could get some roster mileage out of having one full-time catcher, Montero as a DH who catches once a week, and a bench player in another role who can serve as an emergency catcher in case the starter is hurt and the team doesn't want to lose the DH by moving Montero behind the plate for the rest of the game. Kyle Seager can learn how to strap on the shin-guards, can't he?

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

PECOTA Team Projections
Record: 90-72
Team WARP: 47.2
Runs Scored: 829
Runs Allowed: 731​
Team FRAA: 26.8

1) Neftali Feliz 2012: Great closer or great starter?

JP: The transition from the bullpen to the rotation isn’t going to be all roses and appropriately heated bubble baths. Feliz has deficiencies in his arsenal that will be exploited in the rotation, and at times the frustration will make fans (and possibly team personnel) long for the days when he just took the ball and threw really hard. But a little extra patience could be well worth it, as Feliz has a special arm and a very high ceiling. The command needs to improve, and the secondary arsenal needs to restart its developmental engines, but the arm itself is so easy and electric that every start could provide the audience with something special.

JW: I'd be a little concerned about the negative movement in Feliz's component rates (the strikeouts dropping from 9.2 per nine to 7.8, and the walks increasing from 2.3 to 4.3) even if he were still a reliever, but it's hard to argue with his stuff, even accounting for the necessary decline in velocity that will come with pacing himself to survive a hundred pitches per outing. It'll be interesting to see if he has a changeup. He's thrown a whopping 151 of them in his major-league career. Having not yet answered the question, I'll say I'm optimistic without thinking he's going to be truly elite: I'd guess top-50 starter.

2) Two-part question: 1) Why are people still making Yu Darvish puns? It’s like awkwardly quoting Austin Powers in the modern age. 2) What can we expect from Darvish in 2012?

JP: 1). People can be awkward creatures. I like to judge them from a distance. 2) Darvish is going to be very good from the first gun, and as he acclimates and adjusts to the major-league game, he’s just going to get better. Darvish has the stuff to miss bats and intimidate the opposition, but he also has touch and feel, showing the ability to change speeds and manipulate movement in order to force weak contact. That’s true command. He could be a very good number-two starter on a championship level team in his first season, and a rotation patriarch soon thereafter.

JW: (1) Yu hush Yur mouth. (2) I have no idea. His stats in Japan are eye-popping, that's for sure, but beyond that, I defer to the people who actually scout pitchers for a living. Like ... oh, hey, Jason Parks.

3) Elvis Andrus has a world-class defensive skill-set and a world-class smile, but his offensive prowess hasn’t lived on the same plane. Is 2012 the year that Elvis’s bat takes a step forward and propels the 23-year-old into stardom?

JP: I think Elvis will continue to take developmental steps forward, but his offensive game has boundaries that time and effort can’t scale. Power is never going to be a huge part of his offensive package, despite having good strength and barreling ability. His path to the ball is quick and efficient, but his swing lacks much loft, and he doesn’t generate the torque necessary to send balls a spectacular distance. His swing is fluid and contact oriented, and as his comfort level increases and he refines his approach, Elvis could hit .300 with a respectable OBP. He is always going to be known for his wizardry in the field first and his ability to produce a high batting average second. If Elvis’s bat ever caught up to his glove, he’d be one of the best players in baseball, a 70+ defender at a premium defensive position and a 70+ offensive threat as well. That dream is unrealistic.

JW: I think it's worth pointing out that Andrus doesn't have to develop. He racked up 3.7 WARP last year with a .261 True Average, and that's with FRAA giving him "just" +2.6 on defense. If popular opinion is right and he's a +10 wizard, then you've got a four-win 22-year-old shortstop with a .361 slugging percentage in Arlington. I know Rangers fans got to watch Alex Rodriguez for a few years, but I wouldn't get greedy. Andrus is already really good.

4) The Rangers gave Cuban defector Leonys Martin a $15.5M major-league deal to be their center fielder of the future. Does that investment mature at the major-league level in 2012, or did the Rangers overpay for a fourth outfielder? Also, how much can Martin leg press?

JP: Leonys Martin failed to make a clever promotional video in which he leg presses his way into the hearts of North America, but he did have a successful debut season, even if fatigue affected his game once he reached Triple-A. I think it’s too early to say with any conviction that Martin is an overpaid fourth outfielder, but after multiple looks, it seems clear that he isn’t bound for superstardom. But a middle ground exists, and that is the most likely destination for Martin, a player with solid-average tools across the board and a good chance of transitioning those tools into solid-average production in the majors.

On defense, he has the quickness and straight-line speed to cover ground in center field, with a good glove and a very strong arm. At the plate, the swing is conducive for contact, and it’s not empty, as the Cuban has some secondary skills with solid power and some on-base ability. That’s not a star package, but it’s a major-league regular at a premium defensive position. The Rangers will gladly take that ceiling and go forward with a smile.

JW: Major-league center-fielders had a .266 combined True Average last year. To put some faces to that number: that's Jack Hannahan, Hideki Matsui, Maicer Izturis, and Kyle Seager in 2011. If Martin can handle center field and hit like Jack Hannahan, he's an asset. However monster his contract looks for an amateur, it's still just $15.5 million over five years. Michael Bourn's going to get a lot more than that on the free-agent market next year. To repeat the sentiment of my Elvis Andrus comment: Martin doesn't have to be very good to be a useful piece for a championship-level team, a guy you can plug in for cheap at a premium position and forget about while spending on elite players elsewhere.

5) Does Josh Hamilton’s off-season relapse and looming free agent status carry over to his play on the field? What will the Rangers get out of Hamilton in 2012, and will he be playing in Texas in 2013?

JP: With Hamilton, it’s all about health and less about head, at least on the field. If healthy, Hamilton will be very productive, and fans will demand that the former MVP remain with the Rangers for the duration of his career. The front office can’t afford to approach the negotiations as fans, as Hamilton’s emotional and physical fragility makes a long-term investment riskier than any potential reward. It will be up to Hamilton to stay in Texas, as I assume the Rangers will make a reasonable (short/small) offer to the former MVP, who at last count wanted to be paid like one of the best players in the game. If he wants to take his troubles to a new team, I assume the Rangers will wish him well, perhaps knowing that Hamilton understands and appreciates the role the organization has taken in keeping him focused and as productive as possible and might be inclined to reward that loyalty with loyalty of his own.

JW: Josh Hamilton has managed one complete season in his major-league career. We can speculate about the role of substance abuse on his games-played stats, or we can read the Injury History section of his player card and call him a medical risk regardless of the whys and wherefores. I don't see any reason to disbelieve Hamilton's PECOTA projection (3.2 WARP given the 555 plate appearances our depth charts currently allot for him), and I also don't see any reason for Jon Daniels to break the bank after 2012 for a 32+ corner outfielder with a body that's been through more pain and suffering than Wile E. Coyote's. There aren't as many dumb general managers as there used to be, which might actually be a blessing for Rangers fans: Hamilton may find fewer attractive offers for his services than a similar player would have 20 years ago, so perhaps Texas can get him on a reasonable-dollar three-year deal that won't cripple them if he breaks bad or just plain breaks.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Jason Wojciechowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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