The Texas Rangers have finally traded Jurickson Profar. After holding onto him and refusing to include him in deals for the likes of Justin Upton and Zack Greinke, after trading Ian Kinsler to open up a spot for him only to see him miss two seasons, after continuing to hold onto him as he made his way back to the majors in a utility role, and then finally seeming him perform, in 2018, like the player they thought he could be, the Rangers finally pulled the trigger and have dealt the one-time top prospect in MLB, sending him to the Oakland A’s, along with A-ball pitcher Rollie Lacy.
(Take a moment and think how different Rangers history would have been if, in 2012, the Rangers had bitten the bullet and dealt Profar to the Brewers for Zack Greinke. They wouldn’t have traded Kyle Hendricks that year for Ryan Dempster. They would have held off the A’s in the A.L. West, giving them three division titles in a row with a team that was positioned to go deep into the playoffs. They wouldn’t have felt pressured to make the Matt Garza deal in 2013. Without Profar waiting in the wings, they wouldn’t have dumped Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder after the 2013 season.
Okay, maybe you shouldn’t take a moment and think about it.)
So why, now that Profar has seemingly shown you that he was worth the wait, deal Profar? Why not keep him and make him part of your core going forward?
There are two potential reasons, both of which I think factor into this decision. One is the belief that you are unlikely to extend Profar before he hits free agency. Profar is a Scott Boras client, and Boras clients are more likely to hit the free agent market, though they don’t always. That said, Jon Daniels said today that they had engaged with Profar in extension talks, but those talks didn’t really advance. If you can’t extend Profar now, when he’s two years from free agency, it makes sense to see what the market is for him.
The other factor, which probably played into what the Rangers were willing to offer Profar to extend, is that I’m not sure the team sees Profar as a great fit at third base long term. Profar’s throwing arm hasn’t been the same since his shoulder surgery, and throws from third last year were...an adventure. And in a small sample size, both DRS and UZR saw Profar as well below average defensively at third base. Profar’s best position long-term is probably second base, where the Rangers are committed to Rougned Odor. And the A’s, of course, will be playing him there.
(Insert obligatory “Nolan Arenado will be a free agent at the end of 2019” comment here)
The Rangers are in rebuilding mode, and you can argue that they should have held onto Profar at least through 2020, when the new ballpark is opening and when, it appears, the Rangers are planning on spending more in free agency and being more aggressive in seeking to contend. If you’re planning on being a contender in 2020 — which I think the Rangers would like to be — Profar has value to your team then.
That said, the players the Rangers got back in this deal also fit that time frame. Brock Burke, considered the top prospect the Rangers got in this trade, is a lefthanded starter will likely start the 2019 season in AA Frisco, and could be in the majors in September. He’s one of four quality starting pitching prospects — along with Taylor Hearn, Jonathan Hernandez and Joe Palumbo — who the Rangers now have who ended the 2018 season in AA, and who could potentially be contributing to a major league rotation at some point in the 2020 season. The consensus seems to be that Burke will be ranked in the Rangers’ farm system somewhere in the 5-10 range, in the same tier as those three.
Burke also has talked about the Driveline Baseball program he and other Rays prospects used as helping him significantly, and the Rangers were reported over the summer to be entering into a consulting agreement with Driveline.
Eli White, the infielder the Rangers acquired in this deal, spent all of 2018 at AA, and will probably start the 2019 in Nashville. He had a breakout year with the bat in 2018, can play a variety of positions, and was named the best defensive second baseman in the Texas League in 2018. He’s someone who we could see in the majors in 2019 or 2020. He’s also not exactly a throw-in...he was 8th on the A’s top 10 list per Baseball America, who compared him to Chris Taylor.
Burke and White also make the MLB Pipeline Rangers top 30 list, with MLB Pipeline slotting Burke at #6 and White at #12.
Kyle Bird, the lefty reliever the Rangers got in this deal from Tampa, is likely going to be in the mix for a bullpen job to start 2019 after spending most of the 2018 season in AAA. He strikes out a bunch and walks a bunch, but doesn’t appear to be a one inning or LOOGY guy. And he also, according to Eric Longenhagen, is a “big spin guy.” Yoel Espinal, meanwhile, is someone the Rangers considered taking in the Rule 5 draft, per Jared Sandler. Neither of them are going to make the pulse race, but Bird, in particular, could be filling a major league role fairly soon.
The Rangers also got $750,000 in international slot money in this deal, and that’s not insignificant, but for the most part, this deal adds pieces that, if they work out, should be in the majors in the next year or two. This is the Rangers dealing Profar for pieces that can help supplement the young position players — Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Ronald Guzman, Willie Calhoun, Isiah Kiner-Falefa — that are in the majors now.
Ultimately, how this deal is judged likely comes down to Brock Burke’s development. The Rangers have prioritized improving their starting pitching in the minors, and even if Bird becomes a solid reliever and White a nice versatile bench piece, if Burke doesn’t become a useful major league starting pitcher, this will likely be chalked up as a disappointing trade. The positive aspect of this, though, is that the Rangers are continuing to accumulate interesting starting pitching arms. If the Rangers just hit on a couple of the guys who will start 2019 in AA or AAA, that would be a huge win, and they are gathering enough in both talent and numbers to make that a more realistic possibility.