Within a matter of days, the Texas Rangers went from holding all the cards to being left out in the cold this winter. This free-agency period seemed to be hinging on what direction the Rangers were heading. Were they going to pull off a mega-deal for Justin Upton? Were they going to offer a massive contract to Josh Hamilton to lock him up for the rest of this decade? Or were they going to make Zack Greinke one of the highest-paid right-handers of all time? In the end, none of these directions came to fruition, and Rangers fans, as well as the front office, are now stuck trying to talk themselves into over-paying Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher. Or going from Greinke as an option, to Anibal Sanchez. Yikes! Oh yeah, there is also that juggernaut known as the Angels to contend with for the rest of this decade.
This mess all began Tuesday when one of the most bizarre three-team trades happened. The Reds shipped Drew Stubbs and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius to the Indians for Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald, fixing the top of the order for the Reds for next season. Choo becomes a top 15-20 fantasy outfielder. His .373 OBP is exactly what the Reds needed. The Reds found out the hard way that you cannot win championships with sub-.300 OBP guys. This gives the whole top of the order an uptick in RBIs, and Choo should crack 100 runs scored this season. Needless to say, Reds fans are beyond ecstatic about Choo.
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The other side of this trade sends Gregorius, LHP Tony Sipp and 1B Lars Anderson to the Diamondbacks for Trevor Bauer, RHP Matt Albers and RHP Bryan Shaw. Gregorius should, at least, be competing with Cliff Pennington, but neither one will play any significance in fantasy. Arizona feels they found their shortstop of the future, which means Upton is essentially off of the market. The big surprise and winner out of this trade has to be Bauer.
Bauer should easily begin the season in the starting rotation with Cleveland, whereas he would have likely spent the entire season in the minors if he stayed in Arizona. The more news coming out about Bauer being unwilling to make adjustments and being difficult to work with is enough to put up some red flags about drafting him next season. If it is any indication, Arizona just gave up their number-three overall pick for nearly nothing (because when you can get a defensive shortstop who may not be able to play everyday for an elite pitching prospect, you gotta do it). Bauer only pitched 16.1 innings in the majors last year, which led to a 6.06 ERA with a 1.65 WHIP. He should have a much longer leash in Cleveland because they have nobody else to turn to.
With the Uptondeal essentially off the table after the Bauer trade, most (including myself) reasoned it was only a matter of days before Josh Hamilton was locked up by the Rangers. We all were right about the timing, except it was not the Rangers, it was the Angels. Now armed with another big bat, the Angels’ projected top-five batting order is Mike Trout, Erick Aybar, Albert Pujols, Hamilton and Mark Trumbo, which looks like an All-Star team. All of these guys should see a bump in value; nonetheless, Hamilton should benefit most of all.
The second half of last season, teams attacked Hamilton on the outside. His O-Swing%, the percentage he swung at pitches outside the strike zone, was at a career-high of 45.4. His O-Contact%, the percentage of contact made from pitches outside the zone, was also a career-low 52.1. If you compare that to his 2010 AL MVP year, he had an O-Swing% of 37.3 and an O-Contact% of 62.7 (a career high). Now that he is in this lineup (moving from the three-spot to the four-spot also helps), expect Hamilton to chase less outside the zone and make better contact. Hamilton could be in for a monster season.
Lost in the chaos of the past few days is the mess the Rangers find themselves in. No frontline pitcher and no star outfielder puts a lot of pressure on this organization. From a long-term organizational standpoint, it was probably best to let Hamilton walk, depending on how they handle the upcoming weeks. I’m sure Scott Boras is drooling about a potential big payday Bourn may get if he can get his client to Texas. Swisherseems like a better fit for their needs because he can also handle first base if need be. However, they must surrender a draft pick with Swisher. Either way, I like the fantasy value of either one of these guys if they end up in Arlington. Texas has one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the league. However, the third route, which won’t make any major headlines, is to find someone to fill in for a year and reassess next season. It’s not the big-headline-shutting-down-Twitter type of move we all want, but it may end up being the most logical.