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Signed OF-R Carlos Gomez to a one-year, $11.5 million contract. [12/6]
The Rangers had two right-handed outfielders hit the open market, and this is the one they kept.
Gomez was deployed as a tactical anti-Astros weapon last season, first by the Astros themselves, but later by the Rangers. Unbearably bad during his run with the other Texas team, moving to the Rangers midseason saw Gomez re-embrace his power-hitting roots, posting a .307 True Average over his 33 games in Arlington. Where he had turned away from putting the ball in the air and driving it with authority in Houston, he seemed to right that ship a bit in his late-season sample. The problem with Gomez is not that his track record is sketchy, but rather that it was so bad in his time with the Astros. Replacement-level performance is simply not an acceptable option for teams in the Lone Star state.
So that’s why Gomez gets a contract similar to aged slugger Matt Holliday despite going into his age-31 season. He has more defensive value (especially if the Rangers keep him away from center field), much more time remaining in him, and several seasons of plus offensive value in the rearview mirror. His risk factors–which also include the health scares that put off a prospective deal to the Mets two years ago–are significant enough to depress his market value and put him on a pillow contract. A powerful offensive season puts him in line for a sizable raise next year, but there’s also a chance he’ll demonstrate a new normal of good-but-not-great offense and … that’s it. And those guys are a dime a dozen.
Did the Rangers truly choose Gomez over Ian Desmond, who’s off to higher ground? If so, they certainly took on more performance risk in the short term instead of taking on years of whatever Desmond’s versatility might bring to the team. It’s not yet safe to trust that Gomez will rebound with enough value to approximate his peak–or even that he can maintain the pace of a two-WARP hitter–but this is a relatively paltry price to pay for a “show me” season. And if Go-Go goes back to hitting grounders while stumbling about in the outfield instead of cracking huge hits, at least the Rangers can make a different decision next year.
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Signed 1B/OF-R Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million contract. [12/7]
The Rangers had two right-handed outfielders hit the open market, and this is the one they let walk.
And lo, Desmond finally gets the half-decade, big-money deal that he passed up years ago. It’s just that this Ian Desmond had transformed from the Nationals’ shortstop with an angry bat to the Rangers’ outfielder with bonus versatility. An All-Star this past year, Desmond’s value came almost entirely on the strength of a wicked first half, with an ugly .237/.283/.347 line after the break. His overall offensive output was about league average (.261 TAv), which works for a shortstop or a superlative defensive outfielder, but what exactly is Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockie? Is he either of those things, by placement or by talent?
There are two words that get all the play in the wake of Desmond’s signing: first base. The Rockies have a hole there, but not so much at any of the other six positions Desmond is theoretically able to play. This is problematic: one of the axioms of sabermetrics is that moving from a more demanding defensive position to a less demanding one tends to decrease a player’s value. In less than 12 months, Desmond slid from the second-most important and valuable defensive position on the diamond to the least. Going from shortstop to first base typically costs a player about two wins of value, if there’s no shift in defensive ratings from one position to the other. It’s tough to imagine that there’s a powerful ratings shift for Desmond from one position to another, though he was an indifferent shortstop at best, looked outmatched in center field, but played a good corner outfield.
His range and athleticism–two boosts to that defensive value–probably would get undervalued at first, even though he has infield experience and likely above-average range for the position. What we’re talking about here is a legitimate dropoff from his 2016 performance when it comes to defense: he’s unlikely to rate as highly at first as he did in left field, a less valuable position. As a first baseman, Desmond will be required to lean even more heavily on his bat, which is a tough ask. Remember: he’s a league-average hitter, which is not what you want from any first baseman, glove or no.
And even if the Rockies are trying to dissemble with their statements about Desmond at first, he’s unlikely to be more than a fill-in at the two positions where he could be most valuable given his skill set: second and third base. If you’re going to pay a premium on Desmond–and in addition to the $70 million, the Rockies also gave up a top-15 draft pick–it might be because of his versatility. By placing him at first base with a shot at the outfield, you chuck that chunk of his value in the dumpster. What’s left is an OK right-handed hitter, something you can find for a lot cheaper in this particular free agent market.
Let’s close up with a macro-level view of the Rockies. What’s the plan here? Committing a medium-sized salary to a player with questions the way Desmond has doesn’t make all that much sense for a team that might want to be building to something bigger down the line. Cost also doesn’t just translate to money–the team gave up their first-round pick, while other, similar first base options might not have cost them that asset. Perhaps the Rockies are also going to target other compensation-required free agents this offseason, or perhaps they’re going to offload their farm system to make a run at contention. But like so many moves in the team’s relatively short history, this is a puzzler. There’s a chance this move makes the team better, but the cost of that improvement is steeper than the Manitou Incline.
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