2011 Rangers' Experiment: To Lee or Not to Lee
Shameless title, I know, but I've wanted to use that for a while...so I did!
I've been wanting to write this piece for a long time, before the season started in fact. But I knew it would be better and much more credible if I waited until after the season. Waiting to see how it all played out, and now I can FIRMLY say that not resigning Cliff Lee was the best thing for the Rangers out of that "hurricane storm" last year. In fact having him sign in the National League worked out even better for the Rangers, like the cherry on top.
Easy now...don't yell and e-mail me yet. Wait, let me explain. I have no ill-will toward Mr. Lee, I respect his decision to play for a team he wants to play for, wish him the best, and thankful for what he "did" do here. However, I'll take what Jon Daniels and his staff did after Lee inked with the Phillies.
Let's say for a minute that Cliff Lee never told his agent that he wanted to go back to Philadelphia and they never worked out that deal, but instead he took his next option, Texas. Yes, I can say that, because Cliff even said that if Philadelphia didn't give him what he wanted he going back to Texas, NOT NEW YORK! That deal would have been for seven years and around $161-165MM. Setting the Rangers rotation for 2011 as Lee, CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Tommy Hunter (at that time).
But what would have happened next? Well before I dive into that, I want to state that I'm about to take some liberties. Liberties that can be argued both ways, BUT these are liberties based upon factual stats, historical Ranger's front office decisions, and 2010-11 performances.
On January 4th, 2011, the Rangers gave free agent 3B Adrian Beltre a 6-year/$96MM contract. This NEVER happens if Lee is a Ranger. Therefore Michael Young would have remained at third for 2011, no trade talks with the Rockies EVER would have happened, and without needing much rope, Beltre would have signed with the Angels. Let that sink in for a moment, Young and his average third base defensive skills and having to play in the field everyday and Beltre's with his eventually 2011 performance in a Halos uniform. I'll come back to a more statistical breakdown once the chess pieces are all set.
After Beltre signed with the Rangers, the Angels responded by trading away C/1B Mike Napoli and OF Juan Rivera for Toronto Blue Jays OF Vernon Wells, a move that subsequently made Napoli a Ranger. The argument can easily be made both ways, but I believe non of that takes place. The Angels brought Wells in because they wanted to add a big bat to compliment Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter, but they missed out signing Beltre or Carl Crawford. Therefore with the signing of Beltre, I don't see the Angels making this trade because 1) Beltre would be the big bat they wanted to add and 2) paying both Beltre and Wells' contract would have been very difficult. I don't think most would disagree that Wells is NOT an Angel if Beltre is, but the split come on Napoli. Understanding the problems between manager and player, it can be argued that the Angels still trade away Napoli before the season and four days later the Rangers trade for him. In my opinion I think the Angels never make this trade because they already got their big bat.
Next, with Young staying at 3B, the Rangers are in need of a DH. The leading candidate all offseason was resigning Vladimir Guerrero to serve as the DH, and after the money spent on Lee, I see this happening. Therefore the Rangers only offensive addition would have been C Yorvit Torrealba. I've thought about the possibility of Lance Berkman instead of Vlad, but that would have been financially difficult because of how much the Rangers spent on Lee. No way is Texas then able to sign international talents Leonys "Cohiba" Martin, Nomar Mazara, or Ronald Guzman, maybe one of them. Remember we are talking about the 2011 payroll, not where we are today with the 2012 projected payroll.
These transactions set the table fo 2011 and the Rangers would have gone into the season with Lee and Vlad in uniform, and Beltre and Napoli as Angels.
Playing out the season: Remember that in March, Hunter got injured and was scheduled to miss six weeks, in response Texas moved Alexi Ogando into the rotation. With the Lee signing, I doubt this ever happens. Hunter would still have gotten hurt, but instead of Ogando, the Rangers' would have moved Matt Harrison back into the rotation, and left Ogando to be Neftali Feliz's setup man. In fact, the Feliz and Ogando experiements as starters likely never happens. The Rangers rotation for 2011 would have been and remained ALL season as Lee, Wilson, Lewis, Holland, and Harrison. Therefore essentially you could argue that signing Lee would have directly replaced Ogando's numbers for 2011:
- Cliff Lee - 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 232.2 IP, 238 Ks, 42 BB, 1.03 WHIP , and .229 opponent's batting average
- Alexi Ogando - 13-8, 3.51 ERA, 169 IP, 126 Ks, 43 BB, 1.14 WHIP, and .234 opponent's batting average
Now before analyzing this too much, of course it must be factored in that the two pitchers were in different ballparks and leagues, so of course the numbers would be a tad different, but for argument's sake, let's say Lee in the Rangers rotation instead of Ogando has these exact same numbers. Is this THAT much of an improvement? Yes, Lee is a better pitcher and his numbers are better, and having him reduces the bullpen innings, but he would also be making more than 25-times as much as Ogando. Therefore we must now factor in "no Beltre."
With the Lee signing, Beltre going to the Angels, and Vlad returning to Texas as the DH, a few things must be looked at: 1) compare Beltre, Napoli, Vlad, and Torrealba's numbers, 2) Beltre and Young's third base defensive numbers, and 3) Young's hitting in 2010 and 2011:
2011 Hitting Comparisons (AVG/OBP/SLUG)
- Beltre - 124 Games, .296/.331/.561, 32 HRs, 33 doubles, 105 RBI, 82 runs, 144 hits, 25 walks
- Napoli - 113 Games, .320/.414/.631, 30 HRs, 25 doubles, 75 RBI, 72 runs, 118 hits, 58 walks
- Vlad - 145 Games, .290/.317/.417, 13 HRs, 30 doubles, 63 RBI, 60 runs, 163 hits, 17 walks
- Torrealba - 113 Games, .273/.306/.399, 7 HRs, 27 doubles, 37 RBI, 40 runs, 108 hits, 20 walks
Defensive Comparison (third base)
- Beltre (2011) - 112 Games, .965 Fielding%, 312 total chances, 11 errors, 24 double plays, 2.69 Range Factor
- Young (2011) - 40 Games, .950 Fielding%, 101 total chances, 5 errors, 9 double plays, 2.40 Range Factor
- Young (2010) - 155 Games, .950 Fielding%, 379 total chances, 19 errors, 26 double plays, 2.32 Range Factor
Michael Young's Hitting Comparison
- 2011 - 159 Games, .338/.380/.474, 11 HRs, 41 doubles, 106 RBI, 88 runs, 213 hits, 47 walks
- 2010 - 157 Games, /284/.330/.444, 21 HRs, 36 doubles, 91 RBI, 99 runs, 186 hits, 50 walks
OK...now think about how the season went and first look at Beltre and Napoli's hitting stats, and completely take that out of the Rangers production. That's 62 HRs, 58 2Bs, 180 RBI, 154 runs, and 262 hits...GONE!!! Replace that with Vlad's numbers and potentially an additional 30 games from Torrealba. Second, Beltre is a much more superior defensive third baseman than Young. I have no ill-will towards Michael at third, it's just not his native or secondary position, and Beltre won the 2011 Gold Gloves at 3B and overall in the AL. Third and finally, look at Young's hitting production, mainly average and number of hits, in 2010 he played in the field everyday and 2011 he DH most of the season, so only had to concentrate on hitting. 27 extra hits, 15 extra RBI, and a 54-point batting average increase from the same player a year older and arguably at the end of his "prime" years. Also, think about those Beltre and Napoli numbers added onto the Angels lack of run production in 2011, they would have had those two players instead of Wells (.218 AVG., 66 RBI, 110 hits) and Jeff Mathis (.174/.225/.259 - 3 HRs, 22 RBI, and 75:43 SO:H ratio).
The next adjustment would have come at the trade deadline. With Ogando spending the entire year in the bullpen, instead of the rotation, it's highly possible that the Rangers aren't as aggressive at the deadline. This is impossible to completely predict, without knowing exactly how Ogando would have pitched, but I'm willing to suggest he would have been a lockdown setup man. Therefore, I doubt the Rangers trade for Koji Uehara AND Mike Adams, but more than willing to agree for one of them. But which one? Uehara cost the Rangers Hunter and Chris Davis, Hunter (especially with Lee) was no longer needed as a starting pitcher and Davis tenure was all but over in Texas. Adams cost the Rangers two of their top four pitching prospects, Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland. One can make the argument for still doing that trade and acquiring Adams to go along with Feliz-Ogando, but I believe it would have more than likely been only Uehara. I believe Texas, no longer needing Hunter or Davis, nor needing a lockdown setup man would have done the Uehara trade and not the Adams.
In conclusion, does this new version of the 2011 Texas Rangers still win the AL West, ALDS over the Rays, ALCS over the Tigers, and maybe even beat the Cards in the World Series? Again impossible to predict. True, that having Lee pitch in the postseason instead of Wilson as the ace would have been better, but really Lee would have only replaced Harrison (1-2 in the postseason). Lee in Game Seven of the World Series would have been a much better option that Harrison, but does it get to that point? Remember take out Beltre and Napoli's bats, both their gloves and arms, and replace with Young at third, Vlad at DH, and more playing time for Torrealba and Mitch Moreland, and it becomes harder to see. The regular season stats, Beltre's ALDS Game 4 three home runs, his two HRs in the World Series, napoli's three-run HR in Game 3 of the ALDS, his World Series Game 2 heroics, or his 10 RBI in the Fall Classic...all GONE! Without all of those, do the Rangers even get to a point in which they are one strike away from winning the World Series?
As much as Cliff Lee would have brought to the table in 2011 for the Texas Rangers, I'm still happy the deal never got done. I said it before, still saying it, and will continue to say it over the next six years, Lee would have been a great ace for the Rangers for 2011-14, but what about 2015-17, would he still be a $25M pitcher? I have serious doubts. In the end, for me, it's very simple...I would NOT trade the ace pitching of Cliff Lee for Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli's leather and maple wood.