Could Chris Davis factor in for Texas this season? No question.
We didn't expect Davis to struggle like he did in 2009, or 2010. We didn't expect Justin Smoak to lose his command of the strike zone like he did in 2010. We have to leave room for the possibility that the league might adjust to Mitch Moreland at a more advanced pace than he adjusts himself. Moreland's having a great camp (.350/.458/.750), but Davis finished camp strong in 2009, too, coming off his own promising rookie season. It might not feel like a front-burner concern right now but, face it, Moreland could struggle.
Or he could get hurt.
Or Adrian Beltre could get hurt.
Or Mike Napoli could, or Michael Young could, or Ian Kinsler could, making Young the everyday second baseman for some stretch.
It's even conceivable that if there are a couple outfield injuries, the club might decide its best maneuver would be to put Moreland in right field, at least for a bit.
Take a look at Scott Lucas's fluid organizational depth chart, which sports a projected Round Rock lineup featuring the unproven Chad Tracy and lots of journeymen. It's not like the Express pitching staff, which could include two or three of Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, Matt Harrison, and Dave Bush, especially once Brandon Webb is ready, plus Pedro Strop and Tanner Scheppers. There are a couple Tracy equivalents in Cody Eppley and Zach Phillips, and plenty of Esteban German/Matt Kata types (Seth McClung, Brett Tomko, etc.), but the pitching depth, as it should be, is far more reassuring than what Texas has in position player reinforcements.
You don't want to have to fight through a dead spot offensively or defensively, or run with what amounts to a short-handed bench, if one of your frontline players goes down for three weeks.
Davis could be very important in 2011, and that one remaining option allows the Rangers to avoid what otherwise might have been a very challenging decision at the end of this month, one way or another.
And that leaves aside the possibility that St. Louis decides at some point this summer that it's not going to exercise Chris Carpenter's 2012 option, and isn't crazy about continuing to run David Freese out there at third base for the next three years while Zack Cox develops. Or that the White Sox aren't sold on young third baseman Brent Morel and, out of the race, put Mark Buehrle on the market. Or that, more immediately, Texas is willing to risk a deal with the Angels, who are said to be hunting for a left-handed bat.
Or that the Twins opt to shop Francisco Liriano and, even if they believe Justin Morneau can still be a two-way player long-term, covet a player out there from a third team that the Rangers might be able to acquire for a deal by using Davis (as in this winter's rumored attempt to acquire Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos this winter to facilitate a flip to Tampa Bay as part of a Matt Garza trade).
Or maybe there's a Young trade still to be made.
There are different ways that Davis can help the Rangers, and maybe significantly, this year. While it's wise not to make too much of an impressive eight-game run at the plate (.435/.480/.870) and in the field, I think we can all agree that this sort of small sample sure beats a .167/.167/.250 slash or a situation in which the club is trying to hide the player defensively.
And that it's especially true for a club that expects to win this season and will need more than 25 players to get it done, still has an option it can use on the player in 2011, and, in the words of the general manager, is getting asked about the 24-year-old quite a bit by other clubs who, gradually if not suddenly, may be growing disenchanted with their own infield corner situation and increasingly interested in the possibility that Chris Davis is in fact figuring a few things out.