This evening the Rangers announced the final moves, and pretty well indicated what the final 25 man roster on Opening Day will be. It is as follows:
C -- Mike Napoli, Yorvit Torrealba
IF -- Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Alberto Gonzalez, Brandon Snyder
OF -- David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Craig Gentry
SP -- Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz
RP -- Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara, Mark Lowe, Robbie Ross, Scott Feldman
With the news yesterday that Ross was going to make the team, the only real question was how the final three bench spots would be allocated. Today's announcement that Julio Borbon was being optioned and Alberto Gonzalez would have his contract purchased made clear that Gonzalez, Craig Gentry, and (for now) Brandon Snyder would round out the bench.
I have no opinion about the utility infielder battle. Yangervis Solarte garnered a lot of praise in spring training, but he doesn't play shortstop, which meant he was never really an option. Either Gonzalez or Luis Hernandez would have been fine, and neither is likely to get more than 75 plate appearances over the course of the season.
Craig Gentry was in danger of losing his roster spot, if you believe the media reports, after a poor spring, but I had my doubts that was ever really the case. The Rangers clearly weren't comfortable with either Borbon or Leonys Martin playing centerfield regularly, which left Gentry and Josh Hamilton as the only options. If Josh Hamilton were the regular centerfielder, the team would still need a backup centerfielder, and if Hamilton was the regular centerfielder, that meant David Murphy would be playing left field, which necessitated having a backup centerfielder who hit righthanded (since I don't believe the Rangers want Murphy playing against lefties). Therefore, even with his spring struggles, Gentry's job seemed fairly safe.
The curious decision is keeping Brandon Snyder on the 25 man roster. The Rangers professed to be seeking a righthanded hitting outfielder who could give them a quality bat off the bench. Snyder doesn't play the outfield, and while he's righthanded, he is not a good hitter:
|162 Game Avg.||162||375||334||30||91||30||0||0||41||30||71||.273||.351||.364||.715|
I'm at a loss as to see when Snyder would ever play, given this team and this roster. He's not a good enough hitter to warrant having him hit for Murphy or Moreland against a lefty, and his primary position is first base, where the Rangers have Moreland, Young, and Napoli all vying for playing time. You're not going to pinch run for him. He's not a defensive replacement. He's not going to start in place of your other bench options. Basically, he's here to play an inning or two once a week in a blowout, and as a placeholder until the Rangers find a real righthanded bench bat.
Snyder's primary virtue appears to be that he's not Julio Borbon, which is good enough to earn you a roster spot on the Rangers right now. While there is an argument being made that the Rangers don't need a lefty-hitting centerfielder on the roster with Gentry and Hamilton here, that ignores the fact that they spent the bulk of 2011 with Endy Chavez, Gentry, and Hamilton all on the roster and all playing centerfield. The fact that Borbon is not on the roster, but Snyder is, suggests that the Rangers either feel Borbon's skills will remain sharper if he's playing everyday in Round Rock, Borbon's trade value will be higher if he's playing every day in Round Rock (and producing) than if he's playing twice a week in Arlington, or that they're concerned about how Borbon's attitude would impact the rest of the team if he's the 25th man in Arlington, given that the team has made it pretty clear he has no future with the club. Or all three
What makes the Borbon situation trickier is that the Rangers are probably going to need him at some point in the relatively near future. Gentry, Hamilton and Cruz all have injury histories that suggest that they'll miss time, and its probably 50/50 that one of them will be on the disabled list by June 1. If one of them goes on the d.l., Borbon is the obvious choice to be called up.
A local writer -- I believe it was Evan Grant -- once wrote about the Buck Showalter Rangers that he had never been around a management group that focused and dwelled so much on what their players couldn't do, rather than what they could do. I wonder if that isn't somewhat at play with Borbon, and I also wonder whether his great performance in late 2009 ended up hurting his ability to stick here long-term. I always viewed Borbon as a light hitter who would provide quality defense in CF, not as a top-of-the-order catalyst who would change games with his speed and on base performance. I thought of him as a #9 hitter, not a leadoff guy, and I think that, as a result, I tended to see him as less as a disappointment than those who projected him as an offensive weapon. If Borbon had come up in 2009 and put up a .270 average with a .320 OBP, rather than a .312 and .376, I wonder if his subsequent performance would have been viewed as less of a failure, by the fans, the media, and the organization, and if he hadn't established unrealistic standards which he wasn't going to be able to fulfill.
In any case, I feel like the Rangers have one more move they are going to make, or are going to try to make. The Cubs are supposedly willing to eat some of the roughly $6 million that Marlon Byrd is owed this year in order to move him, and while he's not the player he used to be, he'd have more value than Brandon Snyder would. If the Rangers offered Borbon to the Cubs for Byrd, with the Cubs absorbing, say, $5 million of Byrd's deal, who says no? What if the Rangers offered Borbon to the Astros for Carlos Lee, will the Astros absorbing all but $1 million of Lee's deal? Who says no?
That said, I think this is a situation still in flux. The Rangers are going to likely be scouring the waiver wires and the trade market for a righthanded hitter who can play some outfield and can actually hit a little, and if they don't find someone between now and Opening Day, they're going to keep on searching until they find a solution. I continue to ask why the team didn't acquire the ever-elusive righthanded bench bat this offseason, but that is a question we're probably not going to ever get an answer to.