Rangers Review: DH

Sammy Sammy Sammy.  Did he keep the team together, or was he the waving of a white flag before the season even began?  Jason Botts finally got a shot, did little with it, but deserves more of a chance.  Sosa will not be here when the team starts winning, despite his desire to sign a five year deal and retire as a Ranger.  Botts might be, if they just leave him alone and let him play.  He had a .981 OPS at AAA, with an incredible .436 OBP, and yet the first thing he hears from Washington is that he takes too many pitches.  Let him do what he does, every day, and you’ll get a whole lot more production that you might expect.

Sammy Sosa:  I think at the end of last year the management had a meeting, realized they weren’t going to go anywhere in 2007, and tried to see what they could do to bring in fans and attract attention.  So they signed Sosa.  That sound you heard when it was announced was a combination of Rangers fans groaning with embarrassment and the rest of the league laughing.  He was bad for the team from day one.  Oh, the Rangers will tell you he’s a great team-mate, a changed person, an RBI machine, blah blah blah.  But the fact is he cannot hit any more, not even with a corked bat, and just took time away from Jason Botts.  He didn’t even bring in the fans, there was a decided lack of enthusiasm when he hit #600, actually the only reason I was cheering him on to get there was so that they would finally sit him down and bring up Botts.  Which they did, but it was about a year too late.  There’s talk of bringing him back, Washington is a big fan, but the fact that he isn’t attracting attention from anyone else should give you a clue.  Even when the Rangers were trying to trade him at the deadline, as a killer of lefties, they didn’t get anyone to bite.  He has too much baggage, and he’s fallen too far, to be worth bringing back.  Ask yourself this:  what is a guy who hit .252, with a 99 OPS+, really worth?  I’ll tell you:  he’s worth just about what Catalanotto or Wilkerson were worth this year (except at five or eight years older, much more likely to collapse next year).  So how much more is his name worth?  And, by the way, if you take Victor Diaz’s numbers and project them to Sosa’s at-bats, you have the same guy, except Diaz would have 15 more home runs, 10 more RBIs, and is 13 years younger so is much more likely to improve.  There is talk about Sosa being an RBI machine, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true, and I intend to look at that at some point over the winter.  Ultimately a team that’s rebuilding shouldn’t be bringing in 38 year old former sluggers.

Jason Botts:  The little engine that could, Botts has done everything asked of him and more, but never gets the shot at the big leagues.  He could end up with three or four MVPs by the time he’s done, unfortunately they’ll be minor league MVPs, because the Rangers keep passing him over.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you keep a top prospect on the farm too long, he’s going to end up mad at you, and when it comes time for free agency he’s going to go somewhere else and have his good years there.  Or worse, you decide to trade him (Travis Hafner) and you don’t even get the advantage of the good cheap years.  If Botts had been brought up to stay two years ago, he’d have a whole lot of experience, the Rangers wouldn’t have wasted time and money on Sosa, and Botts would be a leader on this team.  Instead, he tore apart AAA again, and finally got brought up then jerked around by the manager, who much preferred Sosa.

Others:  Hank Blalock got some games here in September, after coming back from injury.  Catalanotto, Michael Young, Victor Diaz, Teixeira and Wilkerson all spent a little time DHing, either to give them some rest from the field or to get their bat in the lineup.

Minor leagues:  If you’re pegged as a DH in the minors, you’re in trouble.  After all, at least if you can field you have an additional skill to showcase, but if you’re just a hitter, and things go bad, you’ll be out of there.  Having said that, it’s better to be a DH than not to play at all, and you might be able to make something of yourself (see Jack Cust for an example).  In general though, DH is shared by a bunch of players taking a day off from fielding, so there aren’t many true DH prospects, especially the lower you go.  Botts, Diaz and Kevin West spent most of the DH time in AAA.  In AA Jim Fasano, Salomon Manriquez, Anthony Webster and Taylor Teagarden all got at least 15 games there, all resting from other positions.  Teagarden had spent a lot of time there in High-A as well, taking time off from catching where he is a legitimate prospect.  Several players in Low-A got a number of games there, the highlight being Chad Tracy, who spent much more time in left.  It was Ian Gac in Spokane, playing there or first, which is a fairly typical split (first basemen usually being the worst fielders, and becoming DH’s later in their careers).  Gac is only 21 though.  There was too much spread in rookie ball, Reece Creswell getting the most with 10 games there, and hitting pretty well.  The other was first round pick Michael Main, drafted as a pitcher but wanting to hit too, so they let him play there a little just to keep him happy (a foolish decision, because you risk injuring a top pick, plus he doesn’t get to sit on the bench and listen and learn from the coaches).

2008:  Lots of stories say they’ll bring back Sosa, which would be a fool’s plan.  He’s reduced to only hitting against lefties, and while he does that well, re-signing him would simply block someone else who should be given the chance to play, and determine if they will be useful in the future.  Botts is the person most likely to suffer if Sosa returns.  Botts is in danger of becoming another Travis Hafner, someone who is so messed around by the Rangers that when they’re given a chance elsewhere, they turn out to be MVP caliber.

2009 and beyond:  Botts should be given the chance, and if he is, has the potential to be the DH for several years.  If not, it’s going to be a parade.  As it probably should be, because really no-one wants to be a DH, they normally only get there if they can hit but can’t field.  Usually older players, which is why the minors are so empty of regular DH’s.  Of all the players, Taylor Teagarden is probably the most intriguing, because he can DH on the days he is not catching.  DH is not really a position you should plan for though, it’s really just whoever is left over after all your fielders are assigned.  Or at least, that’s what it should be, because ideally all of your players should be able to play a position well enough that they can rotate through the DH to get a rest, not to hide their fielding.

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