Rangers Review: Left Field

The position of a thousand ballplayers.  Frank Catalanotto was brought back with presumably the intent he’d be the starting left fielder.  That experiment lasted a very short time, and once again proved the old saying that you can’t go back again.  He hit nothing early on, and after he came back from a stint on the DL he shared time with a lot of other players.  The fact that twelve different players got at least an inning in left (and five of them got at least a hundred) should tell you how bad the situation there was.  Oh for the good old days, when you could count on Rusty Greer being out there every day.

Frank Catalanotto summary:  Frankie dragged himself up to a 101 OPS+, after a miserable start and then injury.  As noted above, it was one of those predictable things:  fan favorite returns after several years elsewhere, and struggles to make an impact.  Actually, he hit a lot better than you think, if you consider the exchange rate between here and Toronto, where he spent the last four years.  He is in decline, and age 33, which means we’ve got another two years of this or worse to come on his contract.  An arguably foolish free agent signing by Jon Daniels, especially giving him a three year deal.  In September he was given a look at first, which tells you what they were thinking about him, since his range in left was abysmal.  Doesn’t have the legs for left, or the bat for first or DH, so expect him to play a little everywhere, where he’s likely to be a millstone for the team until 2009.

Brad Wilkerson summary:  As mentioned in the first base review, Wilkerson is a free agent this year, and may or may not be back.  He’s had a couple of years of injury, so he hasn’t shown what he can do, but he still managed to hit 20 homers in 338 at-bats.  Project that over a full year and he’s a 35 home run guy – but will you be able to get a full year out of him?  He’s at the point where I’d be willing to give him a one year deal.  I’d go two years, but we already have Cat signed for two more years, and they’re two very similar players.  If we got him relatively cheap, then it would be a good deal, but if not, there’s plenty of other players who can put up the numbers he does (maybe excluding the home runs, but certainly the same OPS) for a lot less money.

Jason Botts summary:  Blocked by Sammy Sosa until they finally brought him up in August.  Should have been here a year ago, and then there would have been no need for Sosa.  Still trying to find a position, shuttled back and forth between left and DH while he was here.  He spent August struggling, then hit well in September, following a career trend of taking a month to adjust to a new level.  Wasted by the Rangers in AAA for two years, he could have solved a lot of problems in Arlington.  Will he stay in left?  His range was actually good, although a small sample size.  He could be the everyday DH, or he could stay in left.  I don’t know if they’ve had any thought of trying him at first, which is currently a gaping hole.  He’s got a bat that has to be in the lineup, and they need to leave him alone and let him play, not try and tinker here and there (Ron Washington’s stupid comment was that he takes too many pitches for someone in an RBI slot).  My biggest fear is that they’ll re-sign Sosa, and send Botts back to AAA (not sure but he may be out of options), or worse, trade him, and he’ll end up being another Travis Hafner.

Matt Kata summary:  For a couple of weeks he was a star.  For a couple of weeks he was average.  For a couple of weeks he was bad.  Then he was gone, and resurfaced in Pittsburgh, which should tell you all you need to know about him.  Kata is very much a replacement level player, the 26th man on any team that would have him, really just roster filler while you’re trying to find someone to play the position.  He played all over the field (all the infield positions as well as left), which gives him a little utility, but it would be better to have someone play one position and play it well.

Others:  Nelson Cruz, Marlon Byrd, David Murphy, Jerry Hairston, Victor Diaz, Desi Relaford, Freddy Guzman, and Gerald Laird.  Need I say more?  All of those guys played in right at some point.  All covered at other positions.

Minor Leagues:  Probably the worst position in the minors, which combined with the performance on the major league levels spells a lot of trouble.  The guys who did well in AAA have already been up with the big club, leaving the marginal people down below.  Victor Diaz had a hundred at-bats in Arlington (with 9 home runs), then went down to AAA and hit well down there, although playing left, right and DH about equally.  Jason Botts had blown everyone away there as well.  Marlon Byrd, Kevin Mahar, and Kevin West all played there too, in fact left at AAA was as unsettled as left in the big leagues.  In AA Steven Murphy got the bulk of the playing time, and was a little below average with it.  Eleven different players got a game in left in High-A, Tom Berkery having the most with 30 games.  None of them were outstanding.  Chad Tracy played most of the left in Low-A, but also played several other positions.  He ended up hitting a little above average.  Steven Marquardt and Tim Rodriguez split time at Spokane, neither outshone the other.  Miguel Alfonzo rounded out a very poor left-field system in rookie ball, he actually hit pretty decently.

2008:  Catalanotto is the leading candidate, unless he moves to first, which may just be the preferable option.  Botts would be next in line, then probably Murphy.  Washington said this is one of the spots that needs an upgrade (he said that about a lot of spots though), and it’s probably one of the easier ones to fill in terms of free agents.  Could we see a marquee guy here next year?  For that matter, Barry Bonds is available.  No, I’m not suggesting Bonds, what I’m really trying to say is that for left field in 2008, your guess is as good as mine.  Since there is a surplus of center fielders available as free agents this winter, I would actually expect the Rangers to go for someone there and let Murphy/Byrd/Botts (in that order) share time in left.

2009 and beyond:  There is little or nothing coming through the minor league system to play left.  Combine that with little or nothing at the major league level, and you have a recipe for a big splash at the position.  If the Rangers do as I suggest for 2008, then the guys sharing the position (Botts, Byrd, Murphy) will all be playing for more time in 2009.  My hope would be that Murphy grabs the job full-time by 2009, Botts is the DH, someone like Andruw Jones (or preferably someone younger and cheaper) is playing center and Byrd is filling in all over the place.

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