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Thursday morning stuff

Well, for once, the big story today is not manager-related...

GMJ's agent says that Matthews will explore the free agent market, and apparently isn't going to cut a quick, hometown deal with the Rangers.

I've been giving this some thought, and I'm starting to think that if it takes $8-9 million per year for 3-4 years for the Rangers to bring GMJ back, they might be better off letting him walk.

I'm still not convinced that GMJ is much more than a very good 4th outfielder. He was great last year, but the previous time he had a seemingly "breakout" year -- in 2002, posting a .286 EQA for the Orioles -- he cratered the next season, and the Orioles dumped him.

GMJ posted a .295 EQA last year, his best season ever, and much better than his career .267 EQA. But the bulk of that increase seems to be batting average driven...his career line is .263/.336/.419, versus last year's .313/.371/.495 line. His 58 point spread between average and OBP is actually a tad lower than his 63 point historic spread, and his .182 ISO is not that much greater than his career .156 ISO.

Almost all of the increase in his offensive value last year was due to a fifty point jump in batting average...and batting average tends to show a lot of variation from year to year. Batting average-driven offensive increases are generally less likely to stick than power or walk driven increases in offensive performance.

So if you lock yourself into GMJ for a three or four year, big money deal, you may be committing to a guy who is really going to give you only about a .270 EQA over that period of time.

Which wouldn't be too bad of a problem if GMJ were a top-flight defensive centerfielder. And I know there seems to be a consensus out there amongst a lot of Rangers fans that GMJ was gold glove caliber in 2006 in center. But I have to question if that is really the case.

I know people question defensive stats, and how reliable they are, but 2006, GMJ was at the bottom of the A.L. in Zone Rating. He didn't grade out very high in defensive Win Shares. And BP's defensive metrics put him at a little below average.

And I know people are going to say, "Well didn't you watch the games, and see the catches he made!" in response. But it is worth remembering that GMJ's defensive reputation, coming into this year, was that he was a tweener...a guy who didn't hit well enough to play a defensive corner regularly, and didn't field well enough to play center regularly. And yes, he made some great catches...but Russell Branyan hits some really, really long home runs, and that doesn't make Branyan a Silver Slugger.

I am just not that sure that committing big dollars to GMJ is going to be worth it. I think you run a pretty significant risk of ending up with a Terrence Long situation, where you get stuck with a big contract for a fourth outfielder.

And I think there are some other options out there that are at least worth looking at. Kenny Lofton and Dave Roberts are both alternatives that should be relatively cheap, on a one year deal. Or you could roll with Fab 5 Freddy Guzman, who is going to give you zero power, but has shown some decent on base skills in the minors, and who (supposedly) is a very good defensive centerfielder.

Now, any of those -- but particularly Guzman -- leads to a likely offensive dropoff from last year. If you are going to go cheap at center, then I think you have to spend big on a corner outfielder, on a Bonds, Sheffield or Manny, to anchor the middle of your lineup. But I think, to an extent, that's necessary even if you bring GMJ back...because I don't think he's going to repeat his 2006 campaign in 2007, anyway.

Jean-Jacques Taylor disagrees with me, saying the Rangers need to give GMJ 3 years, $27 million, maybe a little more, if necessary. I think that would be a big mistake, but Taylor seems convinced that his 2006 performance is the real deal, and that GMJ is an elite defensive player.

Another thing worth noting...Kat O'Brien reports that the Rangers have made contract offers to GMJ, Mark DeRosa, and Vicente Padilla, but expect all three to declare for free agency.