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The DeRosa Conundrum

I've been, as I think everyone knows, a Dumpmaster Doubter. All season, I've been saying that the crash was inevitable, that he's coming back to Earth and will resume his career offensive level, that of a nice utility player but not a starting-caliber player, shortly.

And after today's huge game, he's now sporting a .327/.381/.525 line. Yes, he missed the first month of the season, and his playing time was sporadic earlier on, but he's got 88 games on the year, and while he slumped in the month of July, he's on fire again right now.

DeRosa's season screams "fluke," of course...he's a 31 year old career journeyman who bombed in 2004, when Atlanta gave him the chance to play third base everyday. He came into the season with a career .263/.319/.380 line in over 1200 career plate appearances. He's a proven commodity, but what he's proven is that he's a bench player.

At least, until now.

This season complicates matters...and if Mark DeRosa were just arbitration-eligible, it wouldn't matter. The Rangers could go to arbitration with him, get him on a one year deal for relatively cheap, and move forward. If 2006 is a fluke, DeRosa goes back into a utility role. If not, you can use him as a Chone Figgins-type, playing every day but in different positions, or make him the team's starting right fielder.

But DeRosa is a free agent after the season. He can play all the infield positions, meaning that he's a potential option for a number of other clubs in free agency. And as a guy who, over the course of his career, hasn't made a whole lot of money by baseball standards (about $3 million, total, including 2006), he's probably going to be looking to cash in on a big payday. Given his age, he's likely to only get one shot at a big multi-year deal...if he signs a three-year deal after this season, that will take him thru his age 34 season.

So the question is, what do you do about DeRosa this offseason, if you are the Rangers? Or, for that matter, another team, a team that is in the market for an infielder who can hit, a team like the Mets or Cubs (who both need a second baseman) or the Padres or Astros (likely in the market for a third baseman after the season)?

Much has been made of DeRosa morphing into Mike Young this season, of him re-working his swing and offensive approach to try to copy what Mike Young has done. And DeRosa's stat line this year is remarkably similar to Mike Young's 2004 and 2005 lines (.313/.353/.483 and .331/.385/.513, respectively).

The improvement is really pretty simple...DeRosa's walk rate isn't any different in 2006 than it has been historically. Coming into the 2006 season, he had averaged 1 walk for every 13.8 ABs, versus 1 walk for every 12.7 ABs in 2006. And DeRosa's home run rate hasn't spiked dramatically...

But DeRosa's batting average and isolated power have both jumped dramatically...his average is 64 points higher this year than over the rest of his career, and his ISO is 75 points higher. His improvement is driven by a marked increase in singles and doubles.

There's no telling if this is sustainable or not, and that what makes bidding on Mark DeRosa this offseason so dicey. I have no idea what DeRosa is going to make as a free agent, and I'm really at a loss as to what I'd offer him on a multi-year deal. If he's going to keep hitting like he has in 2006 for the next 3-4 years, then he's a $10 million per year player. But I don't think there's a team out there that would do that...

And the remarkable thing is, there's a recent precedent for what Mark DeRosa is doing. In 2003, a 31 year old career utilityman named Melvin Mora had a breakout year, posting a .320 EQA when healthy, after not having ever posted an EQA better than .268 before then...and the .268 EQA was posted by Mora the previous year.

Mark DeRosa, meanwhile, has never posted an EQA better than .268 before 2006...and the .268 EQA was posted by DeRosa last year.

Creepy, huh?

In any case...I don't know what to do with DeRosa. I think the Rangers' ideal scenario would be for him to test the market and end up accepting arbitration. The Rangers would end up bringing him back at about $3-4 million for one year, giving him a chance to get regular playing time in a variety of positions, and give him the opportunity to show that 2006 isn't a fluke.

I imagine that, if there isn't a quality three year offer out there, DeRosa might be tempted to accept arbitration...he could come back and spend another year with Rudy Jaramillo (who he's given a lot of credit to for his improvement), and spend another year hitting in a great hitter's park (although it is worth noting another oddity...DeRosa posted an 1144 OPS at TBIA last year, versus 494 on the road, but this season has a 986 road OPS and an 817 home OPS).

But accepting a one year deal could jeopardize DeRosa's best chance of collecting a big payday...he'd likely be betting millions on repeating his 2006 season.

So, bottom line...I've got nothing here. The DeRosa situation mystifies me. I have no idea what the Rangers should do, and I have no idea what will happen with him this offseason.