Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager has been on the injured list since leaving mid-game on April 11 after straining a hamstring running to second base. Seager was off to a hot start — he was slashing .359/.469/.538 in 49 plate appearances — and we have been counting the days until his return.
Manager Bruce Bochy said yesterday that Seager, who is doing baseball activities, was 7-10 days away from being back, which is more or less consistent with the four week estimate that was reported at the time of the injury. Seager will step back into the shortstop role that was initially filled by Josh Smith, but which Ezequiel Duran has handled of late, and back to the second spot in the batting order, where a rotating cast of characters has basically been keeping the spot warm for him.
Duran has responded to this opportunity for additional playing time in Seager’s absence, essentially squeezing Smith out of the interim shortstop role. Duran is posting a .324/.351/.507 this year, good for a 139 wRC+ and a .372 wOBA. There are a couple of caveats there — he has 19 Ks against just 1 walk on the year, which probably isn’t a sustainable ratio, and his xwOBA is .338, so he’s outperforming what would be expected based on his batted ball quality. Still, I think we’d all take a .338 wOBA from Duran this year without complaining.
The ongoing left field/DH situation is such that, barring a big slump over the next week, Duran is likely to be in the starting lineup the majority of the time in one of those two spots. That leaves one spot in the lineup for one of Robbie Grossman, Travis Jankowski, Bubba Thompson, Josh Smith and Brad Miller, along with them getting playing time as needed in the other outfield spots.
One of those five players will, barring injury to someone else, have to be dropped from the active roster when Seager returns. One would guess that it would either be Thompson, who could be optioned to AAA Round Rock, or Miller, who would be released. Neither player has hit this year. Bubba provides you with defense and speed off the bench, which Miller doesn’t. That said, Jankowski also provides you with speed and defense off the bench, and if whoever stays on the active roster is barely going to play anyway, you might want to send down Bubba to get playing time and let Miller get three PAs a week in the majors.
Sometime after Seager returns Mitch Garver is also supposed to be back, which will require a couple of decisions. First is whether Garver is going to catch regularly — presumably in a backup role, given what Jonah Heim has been doing — or if he’s going to primarily be a DH and backup 1B. If he’s going to catch regularly, then presumably Sandy Leon gets dropped.
Given Garver’s injury history and the lack of a solid DH, though, it may make more sense to keep him primarily in a DH/backup 1B role. In that case, Leon has to stay, and one more of the guys listed above would have to go. Whichever of Miller and Bubba doesn’t go when Seager returns would seem most likely, though if the team feels comfortable with Duran as it’s only backup infielder, Josh Smith could be sent down to Round Rock instead.
All this, of course, assumes everyone stays healthy, which usually isn’t the case. And so all this could end up being made moot if a roster spot opens up because someone else goes down.