A little taste of success, when combined with an expanding budget, can make for an interesting off-season. The Texas Rangers experienced that in the off-season, first bidding nine figures for Cliff Lee, and then signing Adrian Beltre to a five-year, $80 million contract. Yet it’s one lesser move, and a non-move, that have really spurred the Rangers lately.
After the Rangers signed Beltre and essentially removed Michael Young from third base, the third position he’s played for them, he predictably requested a trade. Rumors of a Rockies trade abounded, but never came to fruition. Eventually both parties agreed to drop it, instead using Young at DH and wherever needed in the infield.
About 20 days after the Beltre signing, the Rangers swung a trade, swapping reliever Frank Francisco for Mike Napoli. The Blue Jays had recently acquired Napoli from the Angels, but decided that they’d rather have Francisco in their bullpen than Napoli as their DH and sometimes catcher. The Rangers, who were likely dismayed to have Francisco accept their arbitration offer, were glad to add Napoli’s bat, even if it would be tough to find him playing time.
On July 22nd Beltre hurt his hamstring running to third and has been on the DL ever since. He was hitting well overall at the time, a .353 wOBA in 421 PA, including a .318/.342/.654 (.419 wOBA) during a 114-PA hot streak. At the time the Rangers held a three-game lead over the Angels, so such an injury might have been seen as a major blow. That is, if the Rangers didn’t have a contingency plan in place.
The fix came naturally. Young, who had been mostly flipping between first and DH, became the primary third baseman. Napoli, who had been taking some reps at DH but was mostly the backup catcher, started filling the DH spot more often. He also filled Young’s half of the first base platoon with Mitch Moreland. As a result the Rangers haven’t missed a beat since losing Beltre. They’re 17-13, which is nearly identical to their season record of 74-56.
Young was in the midst of an excellent season when Beltre got hurt. (He got hurt, in fact, on a Young double.) To that point he had a .372 wOBA through 420 PA, or 18.6 runs above average. Since the injury he has been on fire as well, mostly singling his way to a .385 wOBA in 133 PA. But Young wasn’t the real replacement in this equation. While he slid into Beltre’s position, he was already a regular in the lineup. The real beneficiary was Napoli.
While an injury did cost Napoli 20 or so days, his playing time was still limited. He had started just 49 of the team’s 100 games as of July 22nd, and had pinch hit in another eight. His production, particularly in terms of power, had been monstrous in that limited time, though, a .399 wOBA and 13.4 runs above average. Since the injury, though, he’s truly proven his worth. He has started in 28 of the team’s 30 games, and one of those was the day after the injury, when the Rangers were trying out Chris Davis. In 115 PA he has produced a .450 wOBA and 12.2 runs above average. That’s right in line with what Beltre has produced all season.
No team is glad to suffer injuries, especially ones that keep a player off the field for more than a month. The Rangers would prefer to have Beltre healthy and playing, but while he’s recovering they’ve fared just fine. Young has continued his excellent season, and Napoli has stepped up in a big way. This past winter the Rangers might have made their headlines with the Beltre deal, but it’s the Napoli acquisition that has really put them over the top. He’s put together the season of his career, and just at the right time.
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