Rangers Review: Center Field

With the loss of Gary Matthews Jr to free agency, a very smart decision by the Rangers since he took the Angels millions and performed well below that level, the Rangers were left with a hole which they attempted to fill in a way that had worked previously:  hire a veteran, trade him before the deadline, and let a bunch of others fill in for the rest of the year.  This time it was Kenny Lofton, and he did admirable service, not while he was playing, but by bringing back a decent prospect when he left.  Then the Rangers tried out several people, even announced they were giving some of them trials for the rest of the year, before finally splitting time mostly between Marlon Byrd and David Murphy.  As the season wound down, it felt like Murphy was getting more of the time, and that may be an indicator of where the future lies.

Kenny Lofton summary:  Hit and ran nicely while he was here, but was here for one reason, which was to get us a prospect when he was traded at the deadline.  Max Ramirez was that prospect, and he is immediately one of the Rangers’ top prospects, so Lofton did the job he was hired for.  Ended up in the post-season with the Indians, so they’ve got to be happy with the trade.

Marlon Byrd summary:  Came up in May, hit like a superstar for a month, then lived off that reputation for the rest of the year.  Finished with a 110 OPS+, but his true level is probably below that.  He’s a free agent, but someone the Rangers should try and re-sign, because he provides cover all over the outfield.  Not a superstar, never will be, but he will give you everything you ask of him, and will give you 110 percent (or 110 OPS+, which is about the same thing).  If he stays, he should split time in center with Murphy, and that won’t be a bad thing.

Jerry Hairston summary:  Played all over the place, and as mentioned before, didn’t do anything well.  He is one of those players who drift around all the bottom-feeder teams, not good enough to play for a true contender, but just good enough that all the bad teams (like the Rangers) will bring him in, in hopes that suddenly everything will click and he will have a career year.  It’s never going to happen.  They’d be better off bringing up a prospect and letting them play, that way they would at least give someone some good experience.  Fortunately he is a free agent.  Hopefully management will recognize his inability to play and let him leave quietly.

David Murphy summary:  Came over in the Gagne trade, was considered almost an afterthought at the time (behind Kason Gabbard), but turned out to be better than expected.  Spent time in all three outfield positions, including an extended trial in center, and hit very well with the bat.  His 135 OPS+ is tempered by his small sample size of just 103 at-bats, but he showed promise.  According to the Red Sox, he’d been labeled as a fourth outfielder, and although that should be the expectation for the future, he needs time to prove otherwise.  In with a chance at a starting spot next year, he may end up doing the same as this year, and moving all over the outfield depending on where he is needed at the time.

Others: Kevin Mahar spent most of his time there, I don’t remember why he was even up in the first place.  Freddie Guzman got a few innings at the end of the season, and Brad Wilkerson had filled in for two innings at one point.

Minors:  A system with a bunch of prospects, but none of them blue-chip, especially at the higher levels.  The biggest thing was drafting Julio Borbon and signing him to a major league contract, meaning he needs to be up with the Rangers within three years.  That’s a lot of pressure, for both sides.  Freddie Guzman had the job at AAA, had a lot of speed but didn’t really hit enough.  Another year there is in line, but he’s starting to get too old (26).  In Frisco Brandon Boggs did most of the work, and put together a very good season to keep himself on the radar.  In Bakersfield, there was a three-way split between Craig Gentry, Truan Mehl, and Terrance Blunt, none of whom outshone the others by themselves, but since Gentry spent time at Low-A as well, where he hit better, and had a combined 40 SB (with 10 CS), he would be the better of the three.  Apart from Gentry there was also David Paisano at Clinton, he was the other part in the Danks-McCarthy trade, and although he struggled he was the youngest player on the team (19), so has time to get better.  Spokane spread it around, Tim Smith probably being the standout, although draft pick Julio Borbon (he of the major league contract) got a few games in after signing.  In rookie Arizona Engel Beltre stood out, after coming over in the Teixeira trade, and leapt into Ranger prospectdom.  No-one else there did anything to be excited about.

2008:  The Rangers have a bunch of third or fourth outfielders, so rumors abound about free agents.  First it’s Torii Hunter from Minnesota, who lives in Dallas, saying he’d love to play here.  Then he says he wouldn’t.  Andruw Jones is available.  Mike Cameron, if you want to go short and old.  And plenty of others, center field is one of the most full positions in terms of free agents this year.  The Rangers should commit to Murphy (and to a lesser extent Byrd), with the knowledge they’re not going to contend.  But they’ll probably do one of two things:  a) hire someone cheap, and try and get something good in trade in July, a la the way they worked Lofton this year, or b) throw a ton of money at Torii or Andruw, absolutely destroying their rebuilding credibility, but making that splash to try and keep the fans and Michael Young happy.  If they do that, at least Murphy and Byrd will be able to move to left, which would solve another position too.

2009 and beyond:  If they sign someone long-term, that of course is who it will be.  If they sign someone for a year, then Murphy will get another shot late in 2008 to prove if he can handle it for 2009.  Otherwise, hopes are probably being pinned on Borbon, who will have to make a few quick strides to get into the job, and Beltre, although he is still just 17 and very much a long-term project.

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