Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
How trading one of the best players in baseball after an incredible season could make sense.
Last week we discussed where the Texas Rangers would make room for their most elite prospect, Jurickson Profar, so it's only natural this week to move on to the second most exciting recent product of the farm, Mike Olt.
There are a few things that make Olt's situation different from Profar. For one, he is less of a mystery to someone who doesn't pay any attention to a prospect until he shows up on a Major League roster. Olt spent a significant period of time on the 2012 Rangers roster, coming up at the start of August seemingly to be a regular starter and bench option. He was, unfortunately, pretty darn terrible in his first stint in the Majors, though, hitting .152/.250/.182 with a dismal 16 wRC+. That led to less and less playing time, as he ended up with just 40 plate appearances on the season, and just two games started at his natural position of third base. Certainly, a showing like that probably did little to get fans excited.
Throw it out. 40 plate appearances is a tiny sample for any player. 40 scattered plate appearances for a rookie that end up being terrible should be little surprise, and pretty meaningless for your expectation. A bout with planter fascitiis certainly didn't help, either. If you are reading this, I'm willing to bet you know that, but just in case, I am saying these things to you. There is no less reason to be excited about Mike Olt than there was in July.
There was a lot of reason to be excited about him, too. With a 168 wRC+ -- adjusted for park, and 100 being league average -- Olt was the most destructive offensive force in the AA Texas League, and by a comfortable margin. He was a tremendously selective hitter, with nearly a .400 OBP, and a tremendously powerful player, leading the league with a .291 ISO. If Olt's defense is as elite as reported at third base, he can be a solid player simply by being an adequate bat. For the Frisco Rough Riders, he was far beyond adequate.
While that is certainly exciting, though, the cautionary note here is the second piece that makes his situation a tad different from Profar's. In 2012, Profar bashed around baseballs in AA at the age of 19. For Olt, it was as a 23 year old with college experience. There's a relatively large lack of ceiling here, with a player who is just a couple of years from what should be his baseball peak. There is not a lot of day dreaming about him being some once-in-a-lifetime legend like someone four years younger would provide. Thus, while there is reason to be excited, there is also less need to break a hole for him in the Texas lineup.
Speaking of which, there are more potential spots for Profar. If he moves down the defensive spectrum, he could still be at a second base or third base, where even a mediocre bat can be a good plus. If Olt moves down the spectrum, he most likely ends up as a corner outfielder or first baseman, where there is a lot less potential for his glove to make a difference, and a lot more demand for his bat to be more than solid.
Of course, while Profar is blocked by an aging second baseman coming off a down year and a shortstop with re-signability issues, Olt is blocked by a man who could have won the MVP in many seasons. So what do you do with him? He's too old to stash, and the room for him is not readily available.
Here's a modest proposal: How about trading Adrian Beltre?
That is certainly a painful idea, but, just as with last week's discussion, the Rangers have painful decisions to make. Beltre has been not just an entertaining member of the Texas Rangers the past two years, he has turned what seemed like a reasonable signing at the time to what seems like a great signing now. In 2012, his 6.6 Wins Above Replacement at FanGraphs ranked behind only Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, and Miguel Cabrera. He hit .321/.359/.561 with a 140 wRC+ while continuing to play some of the greatest defense this generation has ever seen. He was awesome.
Which makes him the perfect sell high candidate. Due $67 million over the next four years (assuming his 2016 option vests), Beltre is already 33. He is hitting an age when people fall off of cliffs. All it takes is losing a step for someone who derives his value from defense to take a huge hit. All it takes is a slower bat for someone with poor plate discipline to hit that wall of oldness. All it takes is a major injury to someone who is already experiencing more time on the DL the past couple of years than he is used to.
That doesn't mean you don't expect him to be good again in 2013, but it does mean there is a pretty good chance that he will be a gaping hole at some point before his time in Texas is up. If you can get anything for him now, you can get out from under some or all of that contract, and you already have a player set to move in to his spot.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Other teams are not (usually) stupid and know Beltre is not likely to be worth the rest of his contract going forward. Getting someone to bite might not just be hard, it could actually be impossible; at least for any reasonable return (including simply getting rid of the contract). Nevermind the PR hit for dealing one of the best players in baseball, and a super fan-friendly one at that. Moving from Beltre to Olt is almost certain to damage the record in 2013, as well.
Which is to say dealing Beltre is hard enough, and might not even actually be the right move. That said, he is on the Texas roster for the next four years if he isn't dealt, and that is four years where someone -- either he or Olt -- loses value by not playing his natural position. That 2013 hit could be worth it for the long-term health of the franchise.
At the very least, it's a relatively out-of-the-ordinary suggestion to keep us looking forward this hot stove season, instead of dwelling on the recent past.
Or you spend another 1,000+ words discussing why you should deal Olt instead because a guy without a massively high ceiling who just destroyed AA could also be a big sell high candidate. . .