Joey Gallo, the Last of the Rangers, Heads to New York

On Wednesday night, the New York Yankees pulled off a blockbuster trade, grabbing outfielder Joey Gallo from the Texas Rangers in a deal that will also see the Yankees pick up lefty reliever Joely Rodríguez once it is made official. Heading to Texas are pitcher Glenn Otto and infielders Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver, and Josh Smith. In his seventh season in Texas, Gallo has already set a personal best in WAR at 3.4, thanks to a .223/.379/.490, 25 home run effort coupled with continued Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field.

We’re focusing on the major league part of the trade here; for more information on the players moving to Texas, fellow FanGraphiér Kevin Goldstein has published his analysis.

To my eyes, Gallo’s departure brings to an end what has been to this point the most successful epoch in Texas Rangers history. Gallo wasn’t a part of the teams that twice reached the World Series (the first such appearances in franchise history) or won 90 games for four consecutive seasons, but he was a leading part of the vanguard that was supposed to succeed Texas’ core of veteran talent. Many in history have seized a throne, but to build a dynasty, you need to pass it on to the next generation. If the Rangers could transition smoothly from the Adrian Beltre/Josh Hamilton/Michael Young/Ian Kinsler era to one spearheaded by some of the gaggle of talent that included Gallo, Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, Lewis Brinson, Craig Gentry, Michael Choice, Nomar Mazara, and Luis Sardiñas (I could keep going), Texas’ legacy would be complete, potentially allowing them to grab a championship in the process.

But it wasn’t meant to be. The Rangers flopped in 2014 thanks to injury, and most of the above-mentioned prospects were either traded to fill short-term needs or failed to develop into the players Texas hoped they would. Brinson was sent to Milwaukee for a year and a half of Jonathan Lucroy. Alfaro, Nick Williams, and others went to Philly for Cole Hamels. Choice was sold to the Indians; Sardiñas helped bring Yovani Gallardo over from the Brewers. Odor and Mazara developed enough to make the majors, only to regress and fade from the team’s plans. But Gallo stayed and developed, and while he may not have become an MVP candidate, he was approaching the Rangers’ top 20 all-time in position player WAR and likely would have pulled up just behind Mike Hargrove by season’s end.

Still, as Gallo bloomed, the team around him deteriorated. The franchise’s attempts to hang on to as many veterans as they could and quickly retool failed, and now they find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a much more extensive rebuild. Texas certainly doesn’t look like an empire, but neither did Rome in the end. The Western Roman Empire faded, and the title of emperor became a plaything of provincial warlords. When Constantinople fell a thousand years later, the Eastern European Empire, which had long since become Greek, consisted of little more than a depopulated capital and some scattered islands. Historians love to dub various figures in Roman history, supposedly the last ones to embody the power and values of their civilization, the “Last of the Romans.” Arlington’s reach never extended so far, but the Rangers faithful watching Gallo depart might understand the impulse.

In return for Gallo, Texas will acquire a bevy of prospects, though as I noted, the group’s exact composition is still in flux. Going for quantity and upside rather than putting all of their eggs in one basket is the best strategy for the Rangers at this point. The team needs talent literally everywhere and it doesn’t necessarily have to develop quickly. Sure, getting Jasson Dominguez from the Yankees might have been even better, but the Rangers weren’t going to get Jasson Dominguez from the Yankees. My colleague Kevin Goldstein will go deeper on the prospects heading to Texas once the group is finalized.

As for what drew New York to Gallo, the need is obvious. Coming into the season, there were good reasons to think that the Yankees, while a formidable team, had significant downside. For example, apart from Gerrit Cole, pretty much every starter likely to pitch in the majors had an injury history that raised serious concerns. But pitching isn’t where the Yankees actually ended up struggling. Rather, it’s been an offense that ranks 13th in the American League in runs scored that has been the biggest issue. The Yankees hit 306 home runs in 2019, but are on pace for nearly a hundred fewer this season.

Gallo’s talents fit the Yankees so well that if this were a Hollywood script, his addition would be rejected as being too formulaic of a plot twist. The team needs another outfielder, and while Gallo can also man first base, you can get the most from his talent when he plays on the grass. The Bombers haven’t had an exclusively left-handed tour de force in their lineup since Robinson Canó and Curtis Granderson nearly a decade ago. The closest player has been Brett Gardner, and he’s dropped off a cliff performance-wise. The consequence is that the Yankees have a .698 OPS against right-handed pitching, their eighth-worst mark of the divisional era. They can still crush lefties — they have the second-best wRC+ in baseball against southpaws — but righties still make up the majority of pitchers. Plus, the current iteration of Yankee Stadium has always been a great park for lefty homers thanks to the short right field porch. That’s a nice fit for Gallo, a big launch angle guy who isn’t one for liners that just clear the wall.

And contrary to the general feeling surrounding the team these days, the Yankees have a great shot to make the playoffs this season. Sure, the likely path involves beating out the A’s, Jays, and Mariners for a road game against the Rays or Red Sox, but you can make a good argument that the Yankees are the best team of that second Wild Card group, and they’re not far off the pace. I’d also argue that this would be a good trade even if 2021 were a hopeless exercise; a real battle for the AL East crown in 2022 is the more valuable prize.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick Avg Draft Pos
Tampa Bay Rays 95 67 .586 55.3% 37.9% 93.1% 11.3% 0.0% 26.4
Boston Red Sox 93 69 2 .574 37.1% 50.4% 87.5% 8.8% 0.0% 25.3
New York Yankees 88 74 7 .543 5.0% 35.1% 40.1% 2.5% 0.0% 20.6
Toronto Blue Jays 87 75 8 .537 2.7% 23.3% 26.0% 1.5% 0.0% 19.3
Baltimore Orioles 60 102 35 .370 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 17.2% 2.6

Now to reiterate, grabbing a postseason spot in 2021 is not a hopeless exercise for the Yankees. Gallo is a significant enough addition to give the team a bump of 11 percentage points in their playoff odds, from 29% to 40%, and that’s about as much as you’ll see from any realistic July trade.

But wait, there’s more! The Yankees also picked up a lefty reliever in Joely Rodríguez. Personally I’d prefer acquiring John King, the throw-in reliever from an earlier version of this trade, but with the Yankees going right up against the pretend-it’s-not-a-salary-cap with the Gallo addition, the key attributes here were being left-handed and extremely inexpensive. New York has a good bullpen, but is a little light on lefties. It has also been really hard to trust Zack Britton or the just-exiled Justin Wilson lately. Rodríguez has an ugly ERA in 2021, but he can hit 95 mph and does have a respectable 3.76 FIP. He was more than adequate for the Rangers in 12 games in 2020 and in two seasons in Japan. King would probably have been the safer pick, but Rodríguez still keeps the Yankees from having to put too many eggs in the Lucas Luetge basket.

The Yankees are reportedly giving up a number of interesting prospects, but they’re mostly high-ceiling players with a great deal of risk, and it’s hard for an organization that never truly rebuilds to really take advantage of these types outside of trading for players they need. And trading for players they need is precisely what they’ve done here. Indeed, there’s perhaps no one acquirable in baseball they needed more.

As for Texas fans, it’s a fond farewell for their only recent prospect to depart a star, Joey Gallo, the Last of the Rangers.

Note: This article has been updated to include the exact names of the minor leaguers, which were not known at publication time.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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johndarc
Member
johndarc

What a romantic elegy for Gallo’s days in Texas.

With that said, can’t wait for him to mash dingers that go over the wall and out of the park entirely, short porch or not.

jdr
Member
jdr

Quite a lot of waxing poetic in this article!