The literal answer to this question is, naturally, no. The perfect 5th outfielder is probably Ichiro Suzuki, or somebody similarly great. Obviously, that’s a pipe dream. In a league with 30 teams, the top 100 outfielders have found their places before teams can begin filling their 5th outfielder position. The Texas Rangers fulfilled their 5th outfielder need on Monday, adding Endy Chavez.
Chavez is, of course, no Ichiro. Chavez does, however, fill the position of fifth outfielder nearly perfectly for Texas. With David Murphy currently set to be the team’s 4th outfielder, the team would have been hard pressed to find an adequate defensive center fielder if the young Julio Borbon either lost time due to injury or was ineffective. Chavez is historically an excellent defender in CF, and he fills that void in the Rangers’ bench.
His bat isn’t great. With an almost complete lack of power (.097 career ISO), Chavez is limited to slapping out singles and taking the occasional walk. He can steal some bases, as shown by his 9 SBs against only 1 CS last season in only 182 PAs and an 82.6% SB rate since 2007. Even with the best of BABIP luck, his absolute ceiling is probably as an average hitter. His more likely wRC+ range of 85-90 still allows him to profile as a 1.0 to 1.5 win player over a full season. That makes him well worth a bench spot, especially on a $1 million deal.
He’s nearly the perfect fifth outfielder. In my view, the perfect fifth outfielder, much like Chavez, can fill in at all 3 outfield spots, is a suitable pinch runner or defensive replacement in the last inning, and won’t kill you at the plate, even if he might be below average. Above all, he can give all this production without much of a marginal cost.
The only place where Chavez diverges from my ideal 5th outfielder is in handedness. Between Murphy, Borbon, and Josh Hamilton, 3 out of the 4 current outfielders on the team were left handed, just as Chavez is. This limits platoon opportunities in an injury situation, but this is a minor quibble at best. A right handed hitter may have fit the situation better, but given how well Chavez fits in other more important areas, this isn’t important enough to make him a bad fit overall.
This is only the latest in a series of excellent move for the Rangers over the course of this offseason. The AL West is certainly shaping up as one of the most exciting divisions in baseball this year.
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