J.P. Arencibia, and patience.

The great Dan Szymborski (ESPN) tweeted, on the heels of Friday’s news that Texas had agreed to terms with non-tendered Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, that he couldn’t believe he was describing the much-maligned 27-year-old as a “steal,” but his 2014 projection of 1.5 WAR (wins above replacement) as a ballplayer playing his home games in Arlington was worth, for Szymborski, more than the reported $1.8 million base ($2.1 million with incentives) that Texas will apparently pay on his one-year free agent deal, once he passes his physical at some point during this week’s Winter Meetings.

Szymborski projects a .227/.270/.428 slash line for Arencibia in 2014.

In his final healthy season as a Ranger (2009), Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit .233/.290/.371.

The same day that word of the Rangers’ agreement with Arencibia leaked, the Marlins announced a three-year, $21 million deal with Saltalamacchia.

Much is made of how difficult it is to walk Arencibia.  And it is.  Last year, in 497 plate appearances, he drew all of 18 free passes.

Last year, in 520 plate appearances, A.J. Pierzynski drew 11 walks.

Nine, if you toss out the two intentional ones.

Two days before Arencibia-to-the-Rangers made news, Pierzynski — nine years years older than Arencibia — signed with Boston as Saltalamacchia’s replacement.  The Red Sox will pay Pierzynski $8.25 million to play in 2014.

Here’s the part where I tell you that I’m not going to try and persuade you that Texas has just figured something out that Toronto completely missed.  This isn’t the Angels trading Mike Napoli and Frosty Rivera for Vernon Wells, and it’s not the Blue Jays trading Napoli for Frankie Francisco.  There’s a reason Arencibia was non-tendered last week, to just about nobody’s surprise, as he was entering his first arbitration-eligible winter.

It would have surprised just as few if Texas had non-tendered Saltalamacchia after the 2010 season, when he earned his own arbitration eligibility for the first time.

But the Rangers traded him four months before that, for three Low Class A Greenville Drive teammates: 22-year-old first baseman Chris McGuiness, 20-year-old righthander Roman Mendez, and 21-year-old catcher Michael Thomas.  McGuiness has since played in 10 big league games, with no guarantee of more.  Mendez will pitch in the big leagues, but he hasn’t yet.  Thomas, whom the Rangers acquired with the idea of converting to pitcher, is out of pro ball.

Saltalamacchia, who for years had been mentioned as a Boston target, wasn’t traded for much.

Arencibia, similarly tied to Texas for years, wasn’t even traded, despite rumored talks last week between the Rangers and Jays that didn’t produce a deal because, reportedly, Texas couldn’t agree with Arencibia on a deal to avoid arbitration.  (Of course, that’s exactly what happened after Toronto non-tendered him on Monday, not willing to pay him ian arbitration-driven salary projected to be in the $2.8 million range.)

When the Red Sox acquired Saltalamacchia from Texas, they had Victor Martinez behind the plate, as Jason Varitek missed virtually all of the second half with a broken foot.  But Boston only gave Saltalamacchia five starts at catcher, fewer than third catcher Kevin Cash got that season (19 starts) and just as many as journeymen Dusty Brown (three) and Gustavo Molina (two) combined.  Saltalamacchia was a Boston roll of the dice — for later.

And, again, he’s going to make $21 million over the next three seasons.  (Though Boston preferred giving Pierzynski more in 2014 to avoid a lengthier commitment to Saltalamacchia.)  He’ll next be a free agent going into 2017, his age 32 season.  That’s the same year Arencibia will first be able to test free agency.  He’ll be 31.

This isn’t to suggest Arencibia will end up making that sort of money three years from now.

But the Rangers do control him until then — if they want him.  They can cut him loose at any time, too.

What Texas was looking for, by all accounts, was a durable sidekick who could keep Geovany Soto from having to catch 130 times and who could handle the load if Soto were to miss any extended time due to injury.  Arencibia, who is eighth in baseball in catcher starts in his three full seasons of 2011-13 (Saltalamacchia is 12th, despite missing no time due to injury), fits the profile.  For less than the $3.05 million Soto will earn.

And what if he figures things out like Saltalamacchia did?  Longshot, but not out of the question.

Think back to what Saltalamacchia was.  A former first-round pick, with all the expectations that come with that.  An offense-first catcher who wasn’t producing the way he was supposed to.  A decent arm but not the most complete player behind the plate.  A high-end talent — but a disappointment.

It’s not unlike Arencibia’s profile.

Saltalamacchia’s best season at the plate with Atlanta/Texas (.732 OPA in 2007, his rookie season) was less productive than his worst season with Boston (.737 OPS, in 2011).  Could Arencibia also find new life in a new place?

Forget the seven home runs he’s hit in 11 games at Rangers Ballpark.  It’s a small and virtually insignificant sample size, but it’s at least (really, at most) an indication that the power is there.  The only catchers with more than his 62 home runs in his three full seasons are Matt Wieters (67), Carlos Santana (65), and Brian McCann (64).  (Saltalamacchia is next, with 55.)

But so are the strikeouts.  Arencibia, over those three years, has fanned once every 3.48 plate appearances.  It’s the second-worst mark among catchers in all of baseball.

The worst?  Saltalamacchia (3.28).

And Arencibia’s walk frequency is also brutal.  His rate of one walk for every 18.82 plate appearances is second-worst among big league catchers the last three seasons.

Pierzynski’s rate (24.98) is worst.

Despite leading baseball in 2013 with 13 passed balls (he’d still have been tied for second without the three R.A. Dickey pitches he let by), Arencibia was said by Baseball Prospectus’s Ben Lindbergh to have “made major strides on defense last season,” particularly in the area of framing pitches, not an insignificant tool.  For what it’s worth, his defensive WAR rating has improved each year (0.3 to 0.9 to 1.2) — Saltalamacchia’s marks in Boston were 0.2, 0.0, and 0.2, and in two of his healthy seasons with Texas they were actually negative — and for comparison purposes, Soto had a –0.3 rating in his first summer with the Rangers and then a 0.6 last year.  Pierzynski was at 0.5 in 2013.

All that said, I’m not much on defensive metrics — in two of Yadier Molina’s Gold Glove seasons he had a defensive WAR lower than the 1.2 mark Arencibia put up last year — and even in the very small sample of games I’ve seen Arencibia catch, he seemed like an offensive catcher who you didn’t really have to gameplan around when he had the gear on.

Still, this is a player who carried an elite workload behind the plate for a team that had designs each year on contending, and it wasn’t because of any McCann, Santana, Buster Posey, or Yadi Molina type of damage he promised at the plate.

And maybe here, without the expectations that dogged him in Toronto, and without the same workload, and with a change of scenery and hitting coaches, Arencibia starts to fulfill a different level of promise, just as Saltalamacchia did when he moved on to Boston, unceremoniously.  Maybe Texas takes advantage of these three years of control, and it’s Arencibia who’s around to usher in the Jorge Alfaro era and help mentor him when he arrives.

Or maybe he’s Jeff Clement.

This is a player with historically frightening on-base numbers (.258 career, including .227 in 2013), so brutal that he’s a catcher with a greater home run rate the last three years than Robinson Cano or Joey Votto or Adam Jones, and was still non-tendered at age 27.

But here, in Texas, he’s no longer the former first-rounder who hasn’t turned into the star he was supposed to turn into, the young power-hitting catcher Toronto regularly refused to trade (while willingly moving Travis d’Arnaud), the disappointment the Jays non-tendered when they couldn’t find a team willing to give up anything for him.

Here, like Jason Frasor, Arencibia is a player outside the core of the team, who will earn less than the club’s average salary, but who has a real chance to make a contender better by filling a role.  Even if Arencibia doesn’t grow into the player he was once supposed to be, he can be a valuable piece in Texas, especially for the money — which helps Texas allocate more of it to other parts of the roster.

Then again, like Saltalamacchia, maybe all Arencibia needed was a different situation with different expectations, and a different voice, which I’m sure Dave Magadan is ready to offer.

I’m sure Dwayne Murphy and Chad Mottola, Arencibia’s hitting coaches in Toronto, preached patience at the plate.  Perhaps Magadan has a better time getting the message across, with the noise of those expectations silenced by the indignity of the non-tender.

There’s upside here, and someone was going to give Arencibia that next opportunity.

It’s Texas, and maybe that’s good.

Maybe not.

But maybe.

He seems to be the type of player that, if it were Oakland giving him a new Brandon Moss type of life, could explode.  Sort of like Gary Matthews Jr. and Marlon Byrd, here, back in the day.

I won’t forget the morning when I heard the news that the Rangers had agreed to terms with Arencibia, after years of rumors of significant trades that were somehow going to bring him to Texas.  I won’t forget it, not just because it was the same morning the landmark Cano/Mariners deal was announced.  I won’t forget it because it was also the morning when an ice storm left our home without power, sort of ironic I suppose since it’s the one thing Arencibia has been able to deliver consistently as a big leaguer, and even if it’s not all that ironic it at least carries some mnemonic weight for me.

The distance to the upside is greater than that to the other end with this acquisition, but the money — and the narrow role the player is being asked to fill — blunts that not-so-appealing reality.  Arencibia arrives to a whole new supply of patience, and it’s a different and certainly more forgiving type than the last one.  And while the trajectory of his career doesn’t make this a particularly exciting move, it’s one which I concede unironically that I’m starting to warm up to a bit.

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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