Amidst Monday night’s flurry of trades, the Texas Rangers picked up a new catcher: Geovany Soto, formerly of the Chicago Cubs. The Rangers plucked the 29-year-old out of the North Side for the low price of Double-A right-hander Jake Brigham, a name absent from organization top prospect lists this season. Soto will take the roster spot of Yorvit Torrealba, designated for assignment by the Rangers to complete the move.
In 2008, Soto was NL Rookie of the Year, bringing home the honor with a 119 wRC+. Over the last four years, Soto has accumulated 11.0 WAR and a 108 wRC+ despite injuries limiting him to just 1,813 plate appearances. The injuries are back this year — a meniscus tear docked him 29 games — and the bat has disappeared. Soto is hitting just .199/.284/.347 (67 wRC+), leading one to wonder just exactly what he has left for hte Rangers.
The most attractive part of the acquisition for the Rangers has to be Soto’s service clock. This season marks Soto’s second arbitration year (he makes $4.3 million), giving the Rangers control over his 2013 should Soto find even a slice of his former self in Arlington. With Mike Napoli set to enter free agency as the best-hitting catcher on the market (assuming Brian McCann‘s option is picked up), Soto as contingency just makes him all the more attractive.
But that bat. The plan for Texas is visible and appreciable but holds no water if Soto can’t figure out how to hit again.
Soto is still walking (9.3%), he’s making better contact than ever (17.5% strikeout rate) and he still has above-average power, even though his .149 ISO is a career low. Soto suffering through BABIP is nothing new for a catcher — the position’s .286 BABIP is 10 points under the league’s — but his .209 mark is a career low by 37 points.
Along with the meniscus tear, Soto dealt with a back injury in April, and he has steadily increased his production with the recovery from each injury. He posted a 17 wRC+ in April, before taking two full days to rest his ailing back. Since then, he has a .227/.303/.395 line (86 wRC+) with consistent improvement as time passes, driven by his BABIP surfacing from sub-.200 depths:
The most encouraging split is since his June return from the meniscus tear — Soto is hitting .235/.311/.396 with a .254 BABIP (89 wRC+) in 23 games since June 18th. ZiPS projects a similar performance down the stretch — .230/.318/.393 (89 wRC+).
At the least, it marks an upgrade over the aging Torrealba, hitting just .236/.302/.342 (70 wRC+). Torrealba offers less upside, holding neither Soto’s history of success nor relative youth nor team-friendly contract. At the cost of a live Double-A arm buried in a deep system and a couple million dollars during a stretch run, Soto’s upside is well worth buying for the Rangers.