After a slow five-game start to his Rangers career, Carlos Gomez hit .330/.414/.608 over his remaining 28 regular season games, which was nearly as productive as Ian Desmond’s best 28-game stretch here (.382/.439/.655), a June run during which Desmond was being talked about as a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year and for a multi-year contract rivaling the nine-figure deal he’d turned down from Washington in 2014.
And yet, perhaps because 2015 and the Houston portion of his 2016 — a much deeper sample than his Rangers run — had gone so poorly, Gomez wasn’t able to parlay his strong finish this year into anything more than a one-year deal at $11.5 million.
Texas was thrilled to be the team he took the deal from — he talked at season’s end about his desire to return (“They changed me and made me a better player, a better person, a better human being. . . . This month and a half changed my career completely. . . . Of course I want to come back”) — and I’d suggest that if the Rangers had made news last night that they’d signed (rather than re-signed) a player with Gomez’s plus ability to defend in center field, with his pre-2015 track record of flashing five tools, with the positive clubhouse impact he made over that final month-plus, with his conceivable ability to be this contending team’s best player, needing only to commit one year to the dynamic 31-year-old, fans here would be doing flips.
I’m surprised Gomez couldn’t get two or maybe even three years at a slightly lower AAV — and maybe he could, but is betting on himself to put up an .850 OPS over a full 2017 so he can parlay that into a mega-contract next winter — but then again, I don’t fully understand a market that pays Mitch Moreland for one year the same amount ($5.5 million) that lefty relief specialist Marc Rzepczynski gets for each of the next two years.
Then again, the idea that Gomez, who was released by the Astros in early August while flailing to a .210/.272/.322 line, would land a fraction of $11.5 million four months later was borderline unimaginable. He’s getting twice what Boston will pay Moreland, and nobody could have seen that coming in the summer.
Landing the center fielder on a short-term commitment advances the Rangers’ winter blueprint. The focus now shifts squarely to the rotation, and at some point a right-handed bat to plug in at first base or an outfield corner. Desmond is still arguably a possibility (though Jon Heyman [FanRag] reports this morning that he “has [an] opportunity elsewhere” and will be moving on, following up on a Jim Bowden [ESPN/XM] tweet that Desmond has “narrowed his focus to just one team and he and his representatives are now in the process of finalizing his deal today”), and the club could even target another center fielder (Billy Hamilton and Travis Jankowski are getting more mention here than Andrew McCutchen, Lorenzo Cain, Ender Inciarte, or Adam Eaton) and shift Gomez to left field, where he spent most of his Texas time last summer.
Consider the Hamilton idea. The Rangers are reportedly also talking to the Reds about starting pitchers Anthony DeSclafani and Dan Straily. Cincinnati is reportedly interested in reliever Jeremy Jeffress. And (just my own observation and nothing more) the Reds have Delino DeShields managing their AAA club. Would they be interested in the younger DeShields coming back in a deal involving Hamilton?
My guess is that Jeffress and DeShields wouldn’t be enough to land Hamilton and either DeSclafani or Straily. But maybe there’s a deal to be built around those names.
As for Jankowski, T.R. Sullivan (MLB.com) notes that San Diego likes Hanser Alberto. Sullivan adds: “Padres/Rangers talk much but never make deals.”
At first base, will Texas go big on someone like Edwin Encarnacion (Jeff Passan [Yahoo]: “At this point, [there’s] no team even willing to go three years [and] $60 million”) or Mike Napoli? The decision not to compete on Moreland’s $5.5 million deal with Boston suggests the club is either planning to make a bigger impact move there — or to stay internal and go cost-effective with a mix of Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar, and Joey Gallo at the position, and either allocate those dollars to the corner outfield/DH spot . . . or to a starting pitcher via trade.
The Encarnacion market is fascinating. I’m not going to take the time this morning to figure out how many hitters have a higher OPS the last five seasons than his .912 (or his 193 homers and 550 RBI), or how many legitimate sluggers strike out fewer than 100 times and walk 80 times a year, but the Astros went elsewhere (Carlos Beltran), the Yankees went elsewhere (Matt Holliday), the Red Sox went elsewhere (Moreland), the Indians are said to be looking for a more inexpensive solution, and the Blue Jays (possibly focused on Dexter Fowler) have reportedly told Encarnacion’s representatives that they’re out.
Now, all of that could change, but the situation is leading lots of national reporters to write things along the lines of this Buster Olney (ESPN) comment:
“[W]ith the Jays pivoting away from Edwin Encarnacion and the Orioles stalled in talks with Mark Trumbo, the Rangers look like an oasis for some free agents looking for a landing spot. Texas might have a chance to land players at prices far lower than what those players initially asked for, because there are free agents who need the Rangers more than the Rangers need them.”
Desmond and Gomez are perhaps Exhibits A and B, at least from a recency standpoint.
I still think Encarnacion is probably a longshot (even disregarding the prospect of Texas forfeiting the number 29 pick in June), but nobody considered Desmond a candidate here last December.
Or the first 28 days of February.
But if Texas addresses the rotation at this point with a trade that doesn’t add meaningfully to the payroll?
Would Encarnacion take a Cespedes-like three-year deal with a one-year opt-out?
Would the Rangers do it, knowing they’d get zero draft pick compensation if Encarnacion opted out next winter and signed somewhere else, since under the new CBA rules he can never again be given a Qualifying Offer?
This morning, Marly Rivera (ESPN Deportes) reports that both Texas and Cleveland are in talks with Encarnacion, whom Bob Nightengale (USA Today) says “the Rangers have wanted to acquire . . . for years.”
Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) suggests that as Encarnacion’s price drops, Houston could get involved again, moving Yulieski Gurriel to left field and Beltran to DH, opening first base up for Encarnacion.
According to Jon Heyman (FanRag Sports), two National League teams have checked in as well.
Best stay tuned.
No need to keep tabs on the Chris Sale derby any longer, as Boston parted with Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech and two other prospects for the lefthander, a package that neither Texas nor 28 other teams could (or, in a few cases, would) compete with.
Could the insanely valuable return Chicago got for Sale prompt Texas to dangle Yu Darvish out there to teams who had been in on Sale but fell short? No, probably, but the Rangers always listen.
(I threw out a crazy idea that not even I could really get behind two months ago: Darvish, Profar, Gallo, Jose Leclerc, and Yeyson Yrizarri to Tampa Bay for Chris Archer, Logan Forsythe, and Brent Honeywell. You can click that link for the arguable rationale for the two teams, though again . . . not happening.)
Evan Grant (Dallas Morning News) suggests Texas needs to sign Darvish to an extension now (he proposes five or six years at about $30 million annually) or consider trading him before the season starts. Notably, he reports that Darvish “has given the Rangers the indication he’s open to conversations about an extension. Maybe even amenable to one.”
I like hearing that.
And I liked hearing that Carlos Gomez is coming back. It’s possible that his late-season run here was a dead cat bounce and that he’ll struggle in 2017 the way he did in 2015 and most of 2016. If so, Texas can move on after one year, and probably will.
But it’s also possible that the mechanical adjustments he made here with Anthony Iapoce and Justin Mashore and the clubhouse fit he felt here that he never felt in Houston signal that the player we saw in September, reminiscent of the Brewers star that the Astros loaded up in trade for after they’d failed to trade for Cole Hamels, is indeed back, and that the Rangers are set to benefit in the lineup and in the outfield and in the room, all while keeping payroll commitments in relative check as they turn their attention to the rotation and the middle of the lineup.
It’s just one more step in a winter that’s not finished. And it’s a good one.