BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The General Manager meetings were barely over when a spate of trades began. Usually, the meetings get exploratory talks going that lay the ground work for future deals. This year however, the future arrived quickly.
The Rangers jumped in this week with a five player deal. They sent center fielder Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass to the Mariners for reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and a player to be named later. GM Jon Daniels says the player to be named later is a significant part of the transaction.
It looks like a good trade for both teams. Certainly, Martin never developed into the player the Rangers envisioned when they signed the Cuban defector to a $15 million contract. He was slow to develop defensively, though he has become a solid defensive center fielder. He has one of the best center field throwing arms in the American League. However offensively, he never showed much consistency. This season, he appeared in 95 games and hit .219 with five home runs, 25 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 19 attempts. He has appeared with the Rangers in five seasons and has a career average of .255 with 20 home runs and 120 RBIs in 429 games.
This season was especially disappointing. He was the starting center fielder when the season began coming off his best season in 2014 when he hit .274 in a career high 155 games. However, he played so poorly that he lost his center field job to Delino DeShields, Jr. DeShields sparked the Rangers offense with his speed and energy. Defensively, DeShields is far inferior with a terrible throwing arm and still much to learn about tracking fly balls.
However, the Rangers’ batting order is too left-handed. The DeShields – Martin swap in center field brought another right handed bat to the batting order. There is also the salary consideration. Martin is arbitration eligible and will likely be awarded a $4 – $5 million contract for next year. DeShields just completed his rookie season, so will be making the Major League minimum or a bit more. That’s at least a $3.5 million payroll saving that can be applied to another area of the team.
Lastly, Martin did not endear himself to management at season’s end. He was sent to AAA in August, but was called back up in September. However, he made just one Ranger appearance as a pinch runner. The Rangers didn’t select him for the Division Series playoff roster, but wanted him to go to continue his workouts in Arizona in case of an injury. He was also a candidate to be added to the playoff roster had the Rangers advanced past the Division Series. Martin was upset over not being included on the playoff roster and refused the assignment. That basically sealed his fate that he would not be returning to the Rangers.
From Seattle’s standpoint, they receive a very good defensive center fielder, a must in spacious Safeco Field. One of the most successful stints in the Majors for Martin was the close of the 2014 season after Tim Bogar took over the Rangers’ managerial helm when Ron Washington resigned. Bogar has resurfaced as the Mariners’ bench coach for next season. Perhaps it was just time for Martin to get a fresh start in a new organization. Seattle hopes he can fulfill the promise so many have seen in him over the years.
Daniels had indicated that he wanted to add an experienced arm to the bullpen. Actually, the back end of the Rangers’ pen was pretty stout by season’s end with Shawn Tolleson as the closer, with right-handers Keone Kela and Sam Dyson, and lefty Jake Diekman as set up men. But a team just can’t have too many good bullpen arms, and Wilhelmsen is one. He has appeared in 267 games over the past five seasons. He started twice and has saved 67 with a 2.97 ERA in his career. This past season, he appeared in 53 games with a 2-2 record, 13 saves and a 3.19 ERA. Daniels said the Rangers scouted Wilhelmsen a number of years ago looking at him as a starting pitcher, but that they are considering him just for the bullpen at this time.
Jones is a speedy outfielder that could figure in the Rangers’ plans next season. There is some thought that the Rangers may upgrade defensively in center field, perhaps moving DeShields to left. Jones could figure in that decision. However, Lewis Brinson is regarded as the long term center fielder on this team. Brinson played at High A, AA, and AAA this past season. He has since participated in the Arizona Fall League before moving on to winter ball in Latin America. Daniels said that Brinson could forge his way onto the Major League roster at some point next season, but that it will not happen by opening day.
The player to be named later is said to be a significant part of the deal. Daniels says this player will contend for an Opening Day roster spot next spring. He will likely be identified after completion of the Rule 5 draft on December 9.
HARDWARE: Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister was named the American League Manager of the Year by the BBWAA this week. The other two finalists were Minnesota’s Paul Molitor and Houston’s A. J. Hinch. All three did outstanding jobs, and any of the three could have won. The 21 game win turnaround by the worst to first Rangers was the second largest in the Majors this season. Interestingly, the Cubs had the biggest improved win total, and their manager, Joe Maddon, was the National League Manager of the Year. The two previous Ranger managers to win the award are Buck Showalter in 2004 and Johnny Oates, who shared the award with the Yankees’ Joe Torre in 1996.
Adrian Beltre finished seventh in the MVP voting. Shawn Tolleson received votes for the Cy Young award and finished 10th in the balloting.