With the 2019 Texas Rangers season now over, I’m going to do a series of posts handing out grades to every player who appeared for the Rangers this year. I’m starting with pitchers, will go in alphabetical order, and then will do position players in alphabetical order.
Grades will be based on a combination of performance, expectations, and my own whims at the moment I happen to be typing this up. They aren’t to be taken too seriously.
We finally wrapped up pitchers with Part XI...
And so today, are doing Part XII, which is the first group of position players...
ELVIS ANDRUS — D
I don’t really want to dwell on Elvis. We know what the deal is. After two very strong offensive seasons in 2016 and 2017, he regressed in 2018, and didn’t hit well in 2019, either (.275/.313/.393). He had a 1.4 fWAR and a 1.9 bWAR in 2019. That’s not good enough.
ASDRUBAL CABRERA — D
A weird season for Cabrera. Signed to a one year, $3.5 million deal as a stop gap to play third base in 2019, Cabrera was originally discussed as a potential backup infielder as well, who could move to second base or shortstop as necessary, which would allow the Rangers to carry either Matt Davidson or Patrick Wisdom (who are corner infielders) on the bench rather than a true utility infielder. As camp progressed, things shifted, and the brass indicated that Cabrera would be more comfortable staying just at third base.
Cabrera had not played a ton of third base prior to 2019 — he was originally a shortstop and had also played some second base — and he appeared to struggle some there, though UZR and DRS differ on whether he was good there or not. However comfortable he was there, he got off to a hot start for Texas, and had an 891 OPS three weeks into the season. He slumped after that, though, and after putting up a .236/.326/.364 slash line from May 1 until the end of July, Texas, out of the race, decided to release Cabrera and give Danny Santana, Nick Solak, Logan Forsythe and Isiah Kiner-Falefa reps there the rest of the way.
It worked out well for Cabrera, who was picked up by the Washington Nationals and ended up playing a fair amount for them down the stretch, primarily at second base, while slashing .323/.404/.565 and getting a World Series ring. He is back on the market this offseason, available to a team looking for a backup infielder or a second baseman. And the Rangers continue their hunt for a third baseman.
WILLIE CALHOUN — B
It was a complicated year for Willie Rakes. He came to camp in great shape and much improved defensively and on the base paths, having taken to heart the feedback about what he needed to do in order to be a major leaguer. Nevertheless, because of a numbers game he ended up being sent back to the minors, resulting in him being absent for a day or so during spring training, which drove a cycle of stories questioning his attitude, maturity, etc. Then he returned, said all the right things, and went to Nashville and did all the right things, earning a promotion six weeks into the season.
Calhoun lasted a week in the majors before landing on the injured list, had a brief rehab stint in early June, then returned to the majors in mid-June. He then was sent back down to AAA right after the All Star Break when Hunter Pence was activated, a move that was the cause of much consternation, given he had outplayed Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman, two guys who got to stay in the majors. Then, because someone used their monkey paw to wish for Calhoun to come back up, Joey Gallo needed hamate surgery, which opened up a roster spot for Calhoun to return.
Despite all the drama, Calhoun slashed .269/.323/.524 for the Rangers in 337 plate appearances, and is now viewed as having a solid place in the Rangers’ plans going forward.
It was an encouraging year for Calhoun. It was also not without some concerns. Calhoun put up a 0.5 fWAR and a 0.6 bWAR in 2019, due largely to the fact that, while his defense in left field and his base running are improved, they still are below average. And Statcast suggests Calhoun’s offensive performance wasn’t supported by the underlying contact quality and rates — Calhoun had a .328 xwOBA, in contrast to his .355 wOBA, which was the second biggest spread in that direction among Rangers position players.
So. Calhoun goes into 2020 expected to be a regular, either in left field or at DH. He’s got legit bat-to-ball skills that give him the potential to be an impact hitter. He’s also got weaknesses in the rest of his game which require him to be an impact hitter in order to be a key piece to a winning team, and will likely need to hit better than he did in 2019 in order to be an impact hitter.
Calhoun is going to get an opportunity, and he will likely be a major league regular for a while. The question is whether he’s going to be a role player/second division regular, someone who is useful while he is relatively cheap but not someone you make a cornerstone player, or if he’s going to make a leap forward.