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Jurickson Profar trade: A few more thoughts

Responding to some criticisms of the Jurickson Profar trade from Rangers fans

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Jurickson Profar trade with the Texas Rangers, the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays news came out just 24 hours ago, and we are all still processing the information. The deal has been met with a good deal of criticism and skepticism by a lot of Rangers fans, and I have seen several of the same points raised.

On a personal level, I’m fairly agnostic on the deal — I think its an okay trade, though a lot of how good it is depends on how you evaluate the pieces the Rangers got back, particularly lefthanded pitcher Brock Burke.

That being said, I do want to address a few of the issues that have been brought up in this regard, and offer my thoughts on what I suspect the Rangers thinking was. I’ve mentioned several of these things in the comments here, so this may be old news to some of you, but I feel its worth including as a post.

Why deal Profar for this package now, when he’s likely to improve and continue to break out and establish himself as a star?

Because Profar isn’t likely to improve and continue to break out and establish himself as a star. What he did in 2018 is probably around what you can expect him to do going forward.

The above is a bit tautologistic, so let me expand. Yes, I know that Profar will be 26 next season. He missed time. Last year was his first time getting full time at bats at the major league level. He’s in, or entering, his prime, and thus, it is argued, he will continue to improve on the .254/.335/.458 slash line he put up last season.

However...Jurickson Profar is not your raw, toolsy guy who spent his early years trying to develop skills. Profar has always been advanced, developed, a guy who from day one was more skill-oriented than tool-oriented. He handled full season ball as a teenager well, and was a #1 prospect in large part because of how low the risk with him was perceived to be, how major-league ready he was, how baseball-savvy his game was...not because of a huge ceiling that you were hoping he could achieve if it all came together.

The Jurickson Profar we see now is, quite likely, the Jurickson Profar. There may be room for some growth and some development, but he was someone whose development came early on the aging curve. He doesn’t appear, at least to me, and I suspect to the Rangers, and to MLB in general, to be someone with a lot more growth potential. This is who he likely is.

And that’s a good player! He was a 3 win player last year, and is probably a good bet to be a 2-4 win player for the next half-decade, at least. But I don’t think the baseball world sees him as having a bunch of untapped potential remaining.

Along those lines, there’s at least some reason to believe his slash line in 2018 was better than what should be expected from him going forward. Statcast has a stat called xwOBA — it determines what a player’s wOBA would be expected to be given his batted ball results, his walks, and his strikeouts. Jurickson Profar’s wOBA last year was .341, while his xwOBA was .321 — of 141 players with at least 500 plate appearances last year, only 34 out-performed their xwOBA to the extent Profar did.

So unless there’s some reason to believe Profar can consistently outperform what he would expected to do in regards to getting on base and hitting for power with his batted ball profile, some regression would be expected going forward. He could, in fact, continue to improve and develop, offensively, in 2019, and still not match the numbers he put up in 2019.

This deal isn’t anything special — why not hold onto him until the trade deadline and deal him to a contender then, when you can command more?

Profar isn’t a rental. He’s under team control through 2020. There’s no pressure to make a deal right could hold him, let him play the first few months of the season, and then have contenders get into a bidding war in July for his services, and get much more in return, so the theory goes.

Setting aside the obvious potential issues — that Profar gets hurt or regresses, tanking his trade value — I don’t think he’s the type of player who fetches more at the deadline than he does in the offseason.

There are certain types of players who have particular value at the trade deadline. Every contender is usually looking for starting pitching. Every contender is usually looking for bullpen help. Every contender can usually find a spot in the outfield for a really good hitter.

But second base isn’t quite the same situation. You don’t see contenders desperate to make a deal for a second baseman at the deadline. You don’t have playoff teams lining up to out-bid each other to land someone to play the keystone. Its a position that is easier to fill internally, and where there are often plenty of viable options. There are exceptions — Milwaukee acquired Jonathan Schoop at the deadline last season, overpaid for him, and ended up non-tendering him — but most teams will just go find an Ian Kinsler or a Chase Utley or a Howie Kendrick if they need a second baseman.

One can argue that, well, Profar isn’t just a second baseman, he can play any of the infield positions, and left field as well. Except no one is going to trade significant assets for Profar to be their first baseman or left fielder — his bat doesn’t provide value at those positions. And since his shoulder surgery, there appear to be doubts about whether Profar has the arm to be a reliable option at shortstop or third base going forward.

We all remember Profar’s adventures throwing from third base last year, and how ugly that was — and the advanced numbers don’t help his cause. (Small Sample Size Alert!) In 410 innings at third base last year, Profar had a -5 DRS and a -4.6 UZR. That would put him on pace to be one of the worst defensive third baseman in the majors. And the numbers at shortstop aren’t really any better...he was -8 in DRS in 544 innings there in 2018, and -3.0 in UZR.

Teams generally don’t see Profar as a great option at shortstop or third base...they see him as a second baseman who can play those other positions if you need him to. Maybe you roll the dice and play him at third base to start 2019 and hope he improves to the point that teams change their mind...but I don’t know that that’s much more than wishful thinking.

And one other thing to keep in mind here...the Rangers were sellers at the deadline the past two seasons. They tried to move Profar in 2017 in July at the deadline, when he was playing well in AAA, and couldn’t find a good deal. They couldn’t find a deal they liked at the 2018 deadline, when Profar had been playing well and had two and a half years of team control remaining. What reason is there to think that July, 2019, was going to see teams suddenly offer that much more than what was on the table now?

This package was underwhelming. The Rangers could have at least gotten quality over quantity, or waited until later in the winter, or in July, to make a deal if they were going to settle for this.

Jon Daniels said yesterday that this was quality and quantity. You may disagree, given that Profar didn’t bring back a top 100 prospect, and given that the lead piece, Brock Burke, wasn’t on any prospect maps prior to 2018.

But that overlooks the fact that Burke pitched really, really well in 2018. Arbitrary endpoints and all, but from May 15 through the end of the season, splitting time between high-A and AA, Burke put up a 1.95 ERA in 106 IP, striking out 119, walking 27 and allowing just 3 home runs. Burke allowed opposing batters to slash .215/.272/.289 the rest of the way. The Rangers could (and, I suspect, likely do) see him as being in a situation similar to Joe Palumbo after the 2016 season — a guy who took a big step forward and is poised to break out in a big way.

If you think the Rangers messed up because Jurickson Profar will have more value in July, 2019, you have to take into account the likelihood that the organization believes Brock Burke will have more value in July, 2019.

The other pieces fit what the Rangers are after right now — Eli White was described by Baseball America as the best pure hitter in the A’s system, and has the defensive versatility the organization is seeking right now, while Kyle Bird is a high-spin guy, and we know they love the high-spin pitchers. But one gets the sense the Rangers were willing to risk the chance that they were selling on Profar before his value was maximized in order to land Brock Burke while they could buy relatively low.

Meanwhile, neither the Rays nor A’s seemed inclined to wait until February while Texas continued to shop Profar around. The A’s needed to fill their hole at second base, and if the Rangers weren’t going to deal Profar, Oakland wasn’t likely to hang around and hope Texas changed their mind while other second basemen went off the board. Tampa was faced with a 40 man roster crunch, and needed to clear spots to add Charlie Morton (who they had agreed to a deal with and had to add to the 40 man roster). The Rays and A’s weren’t going to let this deal stay on the table for six more weeks while the Rangers shopped Profar around.

If the Rangers liked Burke so much, why not just keep Profar and trade with the Rays directly?

Burke was the centerpiece of this deal. So why not give the Rays the draft pick they got from Milwaukee for Alex Claudio and Rollie Lacy (who went to Tampa in the Profar deal) and one of their extra relievers, get Burke, and keep Profar?

First of all, competitive balance picks can only be traded by the team that they were awarded to — thus, they can only be traded once. Texas can’t trade the pick they got from Milwaukee — if the Rays wanted to acquire a pick, Texas had to bring another team in. (Also, for those asking why the Rangers don’t just go buy picks from other teams, that’s also prohibited).

Secondly, I suspect the Rangers did try to do a deal with the Rays to get Burke without giving up Profar. David Frost, the Oakland A’s general manager, said the A’s dealt only with Texas, with the Rangers’ front office negotiating with Oakland and Tampa. This doesn’t appear to be something the A’s and Rays did with the Rangers just jumping in...this appears to be a deal the Rangers were the driver of, and given how hard three-team deals are to pull off, one can reasonably assume this happened because the Rangers couldn’t get a deal they liked by working with each team individually.

Third, I suspect the Rays valued Emilio Pagan, the reliever they got from the A’s, more than Rangers fans are acknowledging. Pagan is a righthander who had a solid year for Seattle in 2017, but who had an ugly 4.35 ERA and 4.92 FIP for Oakland in 2018. On the surface, he appears to be a random arm.

However, Pagan uniquely fits the Rays’ pitching strategy. He has extreme splits — in the majors, righthanders are slashing .193/.237/.336 against him, while lefties are slashing .280.342/.601. The Rays, of course, used the “opener” strategy quite a bit last year...but what folks overlook is that the opener strategy is particularly effective against teams that are particularly righty- or lefty-heavy. As Zach Kram noted in the Ringer, teams like the Angels and Astros, that have a very righthanded-heavy top of the lineup, are especially vulnerable to having a team start the game with an opener who is extremely effective against righthanders...such as Emilio Pagan. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pagan work a number of games for the Rays in 2019 as an opener, in these situations.

Why are you so adamantly defending this deal?

As I noted above, I’m fairly agnostic on this deal. I don’t think it is a great trade for Texas, though it could turn into one, and I don’t think it is an awful trade for Texas, though it could turn into one.

What I am trying to do, however, is understand the thought process behind the deal, and why this particular trade was made at this time. I think its useful to grok the reasoning behind the decisions that are made, the rationale for the deal. It doesn’t mean that the Rangers reasoning and rationale is correct, or that the trade will work out...but the Rangers front office isn’t filled with a bunch of dummies. They are smart people, and there are reasons behind the moves they make.

We don’t have to agree with the reasons, but I think its worth examining and understanding the reasons.