Think about the teams that need to make the most of the year ahead. The Red Sox, certainly, will now be under a lot of pressure to roll through the playoffs. That’s the consequence of working how they’ve worked. The Royals will face a lot of pressure in a different way, because it looks almost certain that 2018 and beyond will be a challenge. For Kansas City, this could be their last competitive season in a while. And then you get the Rangers. The Rangers’ situation and the Royals’ situation aren’t too dissimilar. The Rangers are probably a little better off, but the long-term picture isn’t so sunny. This’ll probably be the last year with Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy.
So the Rangers need to maximize what they have. They also need to try to do that without doing any more harm to the long-term outlook. Enter Carlos Gomez on a one-year deal. It’ll be an important year for both parties. Gomez is looking for a pillow season, a chance to re-establish some value in a friendly place so that next offseason he could really score. The Rangers are trying to give it what could be one last go. Gomez still isn’t without his big giant upside, as the Rangers try to keep up with the Astros.
When you look back, the story is a funny one. The Astros paid a heavy price to acquire Gomez from Milwaukee, and over a full-season equivalent, he gave them 0.6 WAR. So then they let him go for free, and he went to a rival, and he gave the Rangers 1.2 WAR. There’s no reason the Astros should’ve expected any of that, but, baseball turns in some weird-ass directions. Gomez had a very encouraging finish in Texas, and the Rangers are looking for him to carry that forward. The Astros saw almost exclusively a bad version of Carlos Gomez. The Rangers saw a player who did barely anything wrong.
How you feel about this depends on how you feel about that final month and change. If you think it was just a random spike, then Gomez is clearly a player in substantial decline. If you think joining the Rangers allowed Gomez to get himself sorted out, this is a bargain! Either interpretation would be perfectly reasonable. There’s evidence in support of both. It makes sense that the Rangers would be a little more optimistic than the general market.
I’m sure, at first, Gomez didn’t want to settle for a one-year contract. But the market clearly determined his stock is way down, relative to where it was. The market wasn’t buying too much into the late-season resurgence. Last year, overall, Gomez’s wRC+ was sandwiched between Rajai Davis and Travis Jankowski. Over the past two years, his wRC+ has been sandwiched between Jarrod Dyson and Austin Jackson. He’s been a below-average hitter, and his defense hasn’t been where it used to be. Taking the numbers for what they are, there are red flags scattered throughout Gomez’s profile.
Now consider the other perspective. When Gomez went from the Astros to the Rangers, everything improved. He made more contact, and he made better contact. The coaching staff worked to calm him down, so there were fewer over-exaggerated swings. Gomez the Ranger was plenty more balanced, and those are easy things to believe in. You always look for improvements that coincide with team changes.
If there’s one thing the Texas stint accomplished, it did serve to reduce concern that Gomez is just breaking down physically. That was one of the worries when he fell apart in Houston, and for him to play like he did, that doesn’t fit the story so well. But there has to be some kind of explanation for what happened. At the right side of this plot, you can tell when Gomez changed employer.
The bat started finding the ball more often, and unlike when that happened earlier in the year, the ball also stayed off of the ground. Gomez is supposed to be a power hitter. For the final month or so, he resembled a power hitter. That’s a power-hitting center fielder with playable everyday defense. Any team would love that in the outfield.
But, there’s always a but. Gomez wasn’t the only player in baseball who had that sort of finish. Relative to his first five months, Adrian Beltre also spent September hitting the ball more and putting it powerfully into the air. Asdrubal Cabrera had the exact same thing happen with the Mets. Curtis Granderson also had the exact same thing happen with the Mets. To what extent do you believe the Septembers from Beltre, Cabrera, and Granderson? And then there’s Carlos Gomez himself.
Into late August in 2015, Gomez had an 86 wRC+. He made contact with 75% of his swings, and he put the ball on the ground 45% of the time. Yet over the month+ left, Gomez had a 156 wRC+. He made contact with 82% of his swings, and he put the ball on the ground 32% of the time. Gomez, in 2015, had more or less the same finish that he had in 2016. It was all very encouraging. Then the following year he was a nightmare out of the gate, and he had a one-win season. The last time Gomez finished like this, it didn’t really mean anything at all.
That’s why Gomez wound up with a one-year deal. Teams just don’t believe in him enough. They pretty much all passed on him this past August, and then their minds weren’t sufficiently changed. If Gomez wants to sign for a bigger guarantee, he needs to have four strong months, or five strong months. That’s what 2017 will be about, as the Rangers will hope that he’s deeply motivated. A big year for Gomez would help him land the deal he wanted this winter. And it would also help the Rangers stave off what looks to be coming. For Texas, this is good. This is a one-year commitment that cost less than Matt Holliday. There’s not a lot for them to lose. It’s when this contract is up that there’ll really be questions.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.